How Air Conditioning Work

Wednesday, December 24, 2008


A heat pump
is a machine or device that moves heat from one location (the 'source') to another location (the 'sink' or 'heat sink') using mechanical work. Most heat pump technology moves heat from a low temperature heat source to a higher temperature heat sink.Common examples are food refrigerators and freezers, air conditioners, and reversible-cycle heat pumps for providing thermal comfort. Heat pumps can also operate in reverse, producing heat. This produces an efficient way of drying, and manufacturers such as Panasonic, Toshiba, AEG and Miele have released tumble dryers or washing dryers that utilise this method. It is claimed to be more energy saving and quicker than conventional drying.[citation needed]
Heat pumps can be thought of as a heat engine which is operating in reverse. One common type of heat pump works by exploiting the physical properties of an evaporating and condensing fluid known as a refrigerant. In heating, ventilation, and cooling (HVAC) applications, a heat pump normally refers to a vapor-compression refrigeration device that includes a reversing valve and optimized heat exchangers so that the direction of heat flow may be reversed. Most commonly, heat pumps draw heat from the air or from the ground. Air-source heat pumps do not work well when temperatures fall below around −5°C (23°F).

Main article: Heat pump and refrigeration cycle
According to the second law of thermodynamics heat cannot spontaneously flow from a colder location to a hotter area; work is required to achieve this.[2] Heat pumps differ in how they apply this work to move heat, but they can essentially be thought of as heat engines operating in reverse. A heat engine allows energy to flow from a hot 'source' to a cold heat 'sink', extracting a fraction of it as work in the process. Conversely, a heat pump requires work to move thermal energy from a cold source to a warmer heat sink.
Since the heat pump uses a certain amount of work to move the heat, the amount of energy deposited at the hot side is greater than the energy taken from the cold side by an amount equal to the work required. Conversely, for a heat engine, the amount of energy taken from the hot side is greater than the amount of energy deposited in the cold heat sink since some of the heat has been converted to work.
One common type of heat pump works by exploiting the physical properties of an evaporating and condensing fluid known as a refrigerant.

A simple stylized diagram of a heat pump's vapor-compression refrigeration cycle: 1) condenser, 2) expansion valve, 3) evaporator, 4) compressor.
The working fluid, in its gaseous state, is pressurized and circulated through the system by a compressor. On the discharge side of the compressor, the now hot and highly pressurized gas is cooled in a heat exchanger, called a condenser, until it condenses into a high pressure, moderate temperature liquid. The condensed refrigerant then passes through a pressure-lowering device like an expansion valve, capillary tube, or possibly a work-extracting device such as a turbine. This device then passes the low pressure, (almost) liquid refrigerant to another heat exchanger, the evaporator where the refrigerant evaporates into a gas via heat absorption. The refrigerant then returns to the compressor and the cycle is repeated.
In such a system it is essential that the refrigerant reaches a sufficiently high temperature when it is compressed, since the second law of thermodynamics prevents heat from flowing from a cold fluid to a hot heat sink. Similarly, the fluid must reach a sufficiently low temperature when allowed to expand, or heat cannot flow from the cold region into the fluid. In particular, the pressure difference must be great enough for the fluid to condense at the hot side and still evaporate in the lower pressure region at the cold side. The greater the temperature difference, the greater the required pressure difference, and consequently more energy is needed to compress the fluid. Thus as with all heat pumps, the energy efficiency (amount of heat moved per unit of input work required) decreases with increasing temperature difference.
Due to the variations required in temperatures and pressures, many different refrigerants are available. Refrigerators, air conditioners, and some heating systems are common applications that use this technology.

A HVAC heat pump system
In HVAC applications, a heat pump normally refers to a vapor-compression refrigeration device that includes a reversing valve and optimized heat exchangers so that the direction of heat flow may be reversed. The reversing valve switches the direction of refrigerant through the cycle and therefore the heat pump may deliver either heating or cooling to a building. In the cooler climates the default setting of the reversing valve is heating. The default setting in warmer climates is cooling. Because the two heat exchangers, the condenser and evaporator, must swap functions, they are optimized to perform adequately in both modes. As such, the efficiency of a reversible heat pump is typically slightly less than two separately-optimized machines.
In plumbing applications, a heat pump is sometimes used to heat or preheat water for swimming pools or domestic water heaters.
In somewhat rare applications, both the heat extraction and addition capabilities of a single heat pump can be useful, and typically results in very effective use of the input energy. For example, when an air cooling need can be matched to a water heating load, a single heat pump can serve two useful purposes. Unfortunately, these situations are rare because the demand profiles for heating and cooling are often significantly different.

Until the 1990s, the refrigerants were often chlorofluorocarbons such as R-12 (dichlorodifluoromethane), one in a class of several refrigerants using the brand name Freon, a trademark of DuPont. Its manufacture was discontinued in 1995 because of the damage that CFCs cause to the ozone layer if released into the atmosphere. One widely-adopted replacement refrigerant is the hydrofluorocarbon (HFC) known as R-134a (1,1,1,2-tetrafluoroethane). R-134a is not as efficient as the R-12 it replaced (in automotive applications) and therefore, more energy is required to operate systems utilizing R-134a than those using R-12. Other substances such as liquid ammonia, or occasionally the less corrosive but flammable propane or butane, can also be used.
Since 2001, carbon dioxide, R-744, has increasingly been used, utilizing the transcritical cycle. In residential and commercial applications, the hydrochlorofluorocarbon (HCFC) R-22 is still widely used, however, HFC R-410a does not deplete the ozone layer and is being used more frequently. Hydrogen, helium, nitrogen, or plain air is used in the Stirling cycle, providing the maximum number of options in environmentally friendly gases. More newer refrigerators are now exploiting the R600A which is isobutane, and does not deplete the ozone and is friendly to the environment.

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