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Refrigeration Systems: How Do They Work?

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You might be wondering, how do refrigeration systems work?

The majority of refrigerators work based on a principle known as vapor compression. A typical refrigeration system is composed of four basic components: compressor, condenser, expansion device, and evaporator. A volatile fluid (refrigeration fluid) flows through the refrigeration system where it is repeatedly converted into liquid and vapor forms. The compressor is responsible for compressing superheated vapor from low pressure (evaporating pressure) to high pressure (condensation pressure). After that, the refrigeration fluid at high pressure and temperature runs towards the condenser. 

And what is the condenser function? The condenser is a heat exchanger that operates at high pressure and in a temperature that is higher than the temperature of the environment where the system is located. This way, the condenser is capable of rejecting heat from the refrigerant fluid to the environment. This process of heat rejection reduces the total energy of the refrigerant fluid taking it from the condition of superheated vapor to the condition of subcooled liquid in the heat exchanger exit. 

The refrigerant fluid in the liquid state typically runs through a filter dryer, responsible for removing the eventually present humidity from the system. On the way out the filter dryer, the refrigerant then expands in the expansion device (a capillary tube or expansion valve, for example) having its pressure reduced, which causes part of the refrigerant to shift phases (from liquid to vapor state).

It is the process of transforming the refrigerant from liquid into vapor that causes the temperature reduction in the fluid. Refrigeration systems usually count on an intermediate heat exchanger, or a so-called CT-SL HX (capillary tube suction line heat exchanger). In general terms, this heat exchanger has the function of reducing the enthalpy in the evaporator inlet (specific cooling capacity gain) and raising the refrigerant temperature in the compressor suction, reducing problems such as line sweating or liquid return into the compressor. 

When leaving the expansion device, the refrigerant fluid is in a two-phase state (vapor + liquid) at evaporating pressure. It is the refrigerant flow, at low temperature, through the heat exchanger (evaporator) that allows the removal of energy from the refrigerated environment (for example, the freezer compartment of a domestic refrigerator). When absorbing energy from the refrigerated environment (reducing the freezer’s temperature), the refrigerant ends its evaporation process and, typically, all the remaining liquid is transformed into vapor which flows towards the compressor suction, where the cycle repeats.

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