Everything to know about refrigerants: How Refrigerant Revolutionized Air Conditioning
Understanding the Fundamentals of Refrigeration
The compression refrigeration cycle transfers heat from one location to another, and the range of refrigerants available and the story of their development is quite captivating.
It has been observed that when you rub rubbing alcohol onto your skin, it feels cooler. Through experimentation, it was discovered that substances such as ether and alcohol, which evaporate quickly at atmospheric pressure, can provide a cooling sensation when they evaporate away. This is because boiling (transitioning from liquid to vapor) allows these substances to take away heat. In the same way, when we sweat, the heat on our skin is taken away when the sweat evaporates, which cools us down.
This is a cycle that can be continued; the alcohol, ether, or sweat evaporates as it cools, meaning that new material is necessary to keep the process going. Therefore, the challenge was to devise a method that could be used repeatedly without any of the "refrigerants" escaping into the air.
This particular method of refrigeration involves the use of a compressor to decrease the temperature of a confined space. In order to accomplish this, gas is compressed, which then causes its temperature to increase. The gas is then passed through a condenser, which cools it to the desired temperature. Finally, the gas is released into the space to be cooled, thus lowering the temperature of the space.
John Gorrie, a physician, created a compression refrigeration contraption, the first of its kind, which utilized air as the refrigerant. Pressurizing the air would cause it to heat up, and the heat could be discharged from it. To reduce the temperature, he "rarified" or lowered the pressure of the air, allowing it to absorb the heat from the water. In the end, this machine was capable of producing ice.
Dr. Gorrie's design had a few flaws. One of the primary ones was that he didn't capitalize on the heat-moving evaporation potential since he only used compression and expansion.
After Dr. Gorrie's invention, others started utilizing refrigerants such as ammonia, CO2, sulfur dioxide, and methyl chloride, which utilized the same compressing and expanding technique. This process allowed the refrigerant to boil in the evaporator, absorb the most heat, and then return to its liquid form in the condenser. Alternatives to this method, such as refrigeration that does not rely on compression but still uses refrigerants such as ammonia, also exist.
As the years have gone by, the materials used in refrigeration have evolved to be safer for both people and the environment. In the United States, the EPA Section 608 governs refrigerant handling and management. To be allowed to service air conditioning and refrigeration systems in the US, one must pass the EPA 608 exam and receive their certification card.
What are the differences from other types of Refrigerants?
A comparison can be seen in the image between R410a and R32. The two refrigerants have distinct qualities that distinguish them from one another. The most noteworthy difference is their respective global warming potentials, with R410a exhibiting a higher value than R32. Additionally, their chemical compositions and boiling points are not the same. R410a operates at a higher pressure than R32, while R32 has a higher efficiency than R410a.
What makes for a good refrigerant?
- Boiling and condensing occur at temperatures that can be conveniently adjusted with compression.
- It has a high latent heat of vaporization, which helps move heat effectively.
- It blends well with oil for ideal lubrication of the compressor.
- No explosions, combustion, poison, or environmental harm will result from its use.
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Given the rise of environmental regulations in the past quarter-century, there has been a movement to discover refrigerants that conform to the specified criteria, even when this requires exploring the potentially flammable and toxic selections.
Classifying Flammability and Toxicity
It is a blessing that refrigerants are clearly labeled. With proper care and implementation of the best practices, any potential problems can be avoided.
The indications are quite uncomplicated:
- Class A
- Coolants demonstrate low levels of toxicity
- Class B
- Coolants showcase high toxicity
- Class 1
- Refrigerants are not very flammable
- Class 2L
- Coolants have only "moderate" combustibility
- Class 2
- Refrigerants are slightly more flammable than 2L
- Class 3
- Coolants are highly flammable
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Ammonia is the most usual toxic refrigerant, and it is typically seen in outdated machines or in massive industrial operations.
R290, also known as propane, is becoming a popular choice for small, self-contained refrigeration units, such as vending machines and reach-in coolers. It is essential to exercise caution when using these propane units, particularly in the presence of fire or electric sparks. Additionally, the units should be clearly marked to indicate that they contain propane.
Safe Refrigerant Transition Task Force | AHRI
"Safe Refrigerant Transition Task Force | AHRI". 2023. Ahrinet.Org.
A2L Refrigerant Facts w/ Jason Obrzut - HVAC School
"A2L Refrigerant Facts W/ Jason Obrzut - HVAC School". 2021. HVAC School.
Gutowski, Emily. "Moving Forward With A2L Refrigerants - HVAC School". HVAC School, 2022, https://hvacrschool.com/moving-forward-with-a2l-refrigerants/.
Accessed 13 Mar 2023.