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The following article was published in ASHRAE Journal, October 2007.

Copyright 2007 American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers, Inc. It is presented for educational purposes only. This article may not be copied and/or distributed electronically or in paper form without permission of ASHRAE.

Integrating Alternative And Conventional Cooling Technologies


By Reinhard Radermacher, Ph.D., Fellow ASHRAE; Bao Yang, Ph.D.; and Yunho Hwang, Ph.D., Member ASHRAE

esearch into cooling technologies has been preoccupied with the thermoelectrics as one of the selected improving the energy efficiency of traditional vapor compres- reviewed. Finally, we present new integration options, and, thus, opportunities, on how some of these technologies may considerably enhance the performance of traditional vapor compression systems.
Vapor Compression Systems

alternative technologies is introduced and

sion systems and the development and use of more environmentally acceptable refrigerants. However, more effort can be devoted to the exploration and development and integration of alternative cooling technologies such as thermoelectrics, magnetocalorics, acoustic refrigeration, and Stirling cycles.
Traditionally, these technologies have been investigated as substitutes for conventional vapor compression systems. However, as exemplified below, their most productive near-term applications could well be in enhancing vapor compression cycles. This contribution is intended to point out opportunities for
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Vapor compression systems are based on the reverse Rankine cycle or vapor compression cycle. Several features of About the Authors
Reinhard Radermacher, Ph.D., is professor of mechanical engineering and director of the Center for Environmental Energy Engineering at the University of Maryland in College Park, Md. He is also editor of ASHRAEs HVAC&R Research. Bao Yang is assistant professor of mechanical engineering and Yunho Hwang is research associate professor at the University of Maryland.

potentially highly productive integrated cooling and heat pumping technologies that the authors consider deserving of further investigation. To establish a basis for the discussion and comparison of the various technology options, vapor compression systems are discussed first. Second, the concepts of
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great merit contribute significantly to the early and lasting success of this cycle. One is the use of the latent heat of vaporization of the working fluid. It allows transferring large amounts of heat per unit mass of the working fluid at essentially a fixed temperature level. The temperature level does not change, and, therefore, degrade with the amount of heat exchanged. The second benefit results from the fact that the expansion process can be conducted with the use of a simple flow restriction with a relatively small loss of overall efficiency. The third merit is the lack of the requirement of any internal heat exchange or regenerator. While for some working fluids an internal heat exchanger, that is a suction line heat exchanger, is very advantageous, it is not an absolute necessity for the efficient operation of vapor compression cycles in general. These merits lead to the early adoption of vapor compression technology more than a century ago. As a result, a tremendous amount of experience, resources, manufacturing capability, installed infrastructure and well-trained professionals and technicians are available. However, the industry is faced with the challenges of continuously reducing the system cost while improving the energy efficiency. The authors selected improvement of energy efficiency as an area of endeavor to enhance the vapor compression system.
Thermoelectrics and Its Potential

The following technologies were selected for initial consideration for the alternative cooling technologies: thermoelectrics, magnetocalorics, thermoacoustics and the Stirling cycle. The reason is that the authors believe these technologies are receiving the most attention. Some are making inroads into the market (thermoelectrics), and some are described in the literature as having great potential (Stirling, magnetocalorics and thermoacoustics). In the following, thermoelectric technology, which is selected based on its deeper market penetration than the other technologies, is briefly reviewed by first describing the underlying characteristics, assessing merits and challenges and venturing a prediction of its applicability. Thermoelectric cooling is based on the Peltier effecta creation of a temperature difference from an electric voltage. The underlying physics is as follows: the electrons or holes in metals or semiconductors carry not only electricity but also energy. When an electric current is passed through two dissimilar metals or semiconductors (n-type and p-type) that are connected to each other at two junctions, the current drives a transfer of heat from one junction to the other: one junction cools off while the other heats up, as illustrated in Figure 1a. The Seebeck effect,1 the conversion of temperature differences directly into electricity, is the reverse of the Peltier effect. This effect is the principle at work behind thermoelectric generators, as illustrated in Figure 1b.
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The temperature lift and the capacity of a thermoelectric cooler increase with the applied voltage and resulting current before reaching their maximum. There are two competing effects related to their maximum temperature lift and cooling capacity. An increasing temperature difference causes a heat flow that is opposite to the heat pumping effect (which changes linearly with the temperature difference), and the second is Joule heating, which also reduces the produced cooling capacity (and which increases with the current squared). Thus, the coefficient of performance (COP) decreases rapidly with increasing temperature lift, and there is a maximum in available cooling capacity. However, thermoelectric cooling has shown a significant advantage as compared to vapor compression systems. All loss mechanisms decrease with decreasing temperature lift. This is not the case for vapor compression systems and other systems that involve fluid flow where the pressure drop will always have a finite value. Consequently, thermoelectric cooling is very well suited for small temperature lifts where it achieves very high COPs as shown in Figure 2. Here the temperature lift is plotted as a function of the power input to a typical thermo-electric element. For a temperature lift of 5 K, the COP is 10. It can be expected that for temperature lifts below 5 K this technology could outperform vapor compression and possibly all other competing concepts. Other merits of thermoelectrics are infinite shelf life, no moving parts, little material compatibility issues and high reliability. The first challenge faced by thermoelectrics is the low efficiency of the current thermoelectric material that is commercially available. However, recent development in semiconductors and nanotechnology contributed to new thermoelectric materials having high efficiency. Commercialization of these advanced thermoelectric materials could increase the efficiency of thermoelectric cooling systems in general. The second challenge is very close coupling between the module itself and the available heat transfer area in terms of proximity and overall size. Except for the use of fins, one or two secondary loops may be required to access available heat sinks and sources. Current applications of thermoelectrics are personal heating/cooling, portable cooler/heater, cooled-or-heated car seats, cold start for the diesel engines, small-scale electric power sources, cooling microprocessors, cooling infrared detectors and deep-space missions, fiber-optic switches, biotechnology, wristwatches powered exclusively by the heat from the human body, and others.310
Integration Options

The following concepts were developed on the basis of the observation that alternative cooling technologies have significant strengths as compared to vapor compression systems in certain regions of the operating envelope. For example, thermoelectric systems show excellent efficiencies at small temperature lifts.
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50 Hot Junction n Type Power Input p Type Heat Rejected Heat Absorbed Heat Rejected Power Output p Type Heat Input Cold Junction Cold Junction n Type Hot Junction Temperature Lift (K) 40 30 20 10 0

10

(a) Cooling/Heating

(b) Power Generation

0.1 10 0.001 0.01 0.1 1 3 Electric Power Supplied to Thermoelectric Cooler (W)

Figure 1: Schematic of semiconductor thermoelectrics.

Figure 2: Temperature lift versus COP.


Staged TE Subcooler

While the applications of this advantage are limited, it can be used potentially quite beneficially in vapor compression systems as illustrated next.
Thermoelectrically Enhanced Liquid Subcooling

Thermoelectric Subcooler

Condenser

Condenser

Expansion Device

Compressor

Expansion Device

Compressor

In a conventional vapor compression system, with a traditional condenser that Evaporator Evaporator includes a subcooler, liquid refrigerant (a) Single TE Element (b) Staged TE Elements leaving the subcooler only can be cooled to the temperature level of the heat sink. Figure 3: Schematic of vapor compression cycle with TE subcooler. Additional subcooling would provide 3 15 50 200 Conventional Conventional R-134a additional capacity while the power input R-134a TE Enhanced TE Enhanced 2.8 to the compressor would not be affected. 40 180 Using a traditional suction line heat ex10 2.6 160 30 changer, while providing additional subcooling, will negatively affect compressor 2.4 20 140 power input.11,12 On the other hand, using 5 a thermoelectric element for subcooling, 2.2 120 10 the liquid refrigerant can now be sub2 0 0 cooled significantly at a COP that exceeds 100 0 5 10 15 20 25 30 35 0 5 10 15 20 25 30 35 that of the original vapor compression Refrigerant Subcooling (C) Refrigerant Subcooling (C) system. This is a consequence of the very (a) COP (b) Cooling Capacity high COP of a thermoelectric element at Figure 4: Performance enhancement with subcooling. small lifts. Therefore, additional capacity is obtained while the compressor power input is not affected at at the lowest refrigeration temperature produced by the respecall. However, there is additional power required to operate the tive vapor compression system. thermoelectric element. This additional power input is less than To better take advantage of the properties of the thermoelecthe compressor would require for the same capacity increase. tric element, it is proposed to use a staged subcooling device Figure 3 shows a schematic of the vapor compression cycle as indicated in Figure 3b. The first element after the condenser with the thermoelectric subcooling element indicated after the outlet provides a small amount of subcooling, with the resulting condenser. A performance evaluation based on a simple vapor small temperature lift of the thermoelectric element, and has compression cycle without pressure drop and 100% isentropic therefore a very high COP. The next thermoelectric element compressor efficiency yields an increase in COP for refriger- provides a small amount of additional subcooling albeit at a ant R-134a of about 3.5% for 5 K degrees of subcooling in an slightly reduced COP. As additional thermoelectric elements air-conditioning application. Significantly larger savings are are added, each subsequent one has to overcome a higher lift at achievable with the modifications discussed below. The ef- decreasing efficiency. When calculating the performance of the ficiency of the thermoelectric element depends strongly on its vapor compression system with such a staged thermoelectric temperature lift and thus the degree of subcooling. Furthermore, subcooling device, the following result is found as shown in although the thermoelectric element provides subcooling at a Figure 4a. The horizontal axis shows the degree of subcooling, very small temperature lift, this additional capacity is available the vertical axis on the left shows the COP and on the right, as
Enhancement in COP (%) Cooling Capcity (KJ/kg)

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Enhancement (%)

COP

COP

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a percentage, the change in COP for refrigerant R-134a in a the thermoelectric element will increase the temperature of the refrigeration application. Up to a subcooling level of about 15 K, fins by a few degrees and, thus, lead to a considerable increase the COP improves at decreasing slope and reaches a maximum in efficiency of the respective vapor compression system or a at about 15 K degrees of subcooling. Additional subcooling with considerable reduction in heat exchanger size. Furthermore, additional thermoelectric elements still shows an increased COP one might consider using this enhancement only in the subover the baseline, but it is lower than the maximum. The COP cooling section of the heat exchanger and, thus, implementing decreases until it reaches the baseline COP obtained without any thermoelectric subcooling without increasing the demands subcooling. But now the subcooling is about 35 K resulting in a on condenser airflow rate. Figure 6 shows the heat rejection considerable increase in capacity. Figure 4b shows the change capability of a sample heat exchanger (on the vertical axis) in capacity due to the subcooling as a function of degrees of versus power input to the thermoelectric element. The heat subcooling. The left vertical axis in Figure 4b shows capac- rejection capability increases with increasing power to the ity values, while the right axis shows the percentage change thermoelectric element and reaches a maximum after which the of capacity. While the COP peaks according to Figure 4a at losses within the thermoelectric element exceed the benefits of 15 K degrees of subcooling at about 20% capacity increase ac- the heat pumping effects. This graph also shows the COP as cording to Figure 4b, the capacity keeps a function of power input (dashed line). increasing to about 40% at 35 K degrees Furthermore, the evaporator also could of subcooling. be thermoelectrically enhanced. This will This observation has interesting imallow either increasing moisture removal plications. Obviously, the capacity of the or reducing evaporator size. In addition, system can be modulated considerably when this feature is used simultaneously (the higher the temperature lift of the for the evaporator and condenser, the vapor compression system, the larger COP of the underlying vapor compression the range) and for part of that range consystem can be increased considerably. siderable improvement in efficiency is possible also. Furthermore, the evaporaAdditional Options for Stirling Cycle, tor and the heat rejection capability, i.e., Figure 5: Schematic of TE-enhanced fin. Acoustic Systems & Others condenser airflow rate and fan motor Three other opportunities would allow 1 have to be designed accordingly. One also subcooling of the refrigerant in a vapor 10 must consider the additional cost of the compression system by using alternative 0.8 thermoelectric element and the respective technologies. power supply. Nevertheless, this option of The Stirling cycle by itself (without 0.6 thermoelectric subcooling can enhance secondary loops) has high efficiencies 1 efficiency and capacity without adding at high lift conditions. Thus, one might 0.4 any moving parts which would suggest consider using a Stirling cycle providing good reliability. It could also be seen as subcooling all the way down to the evapo0.2 Heat Load per Conventional Fin a simple add-on for an existing system, rator temperature level in a refrigeration 0 0.1 just for the purpose of increasing capacity. system. The expected advantage would 0.001 0.01 0.1 1 3 Research at the Center for Environmental be high COP for the subcooling process Electric Power Supplied to TEC (W) Energy Engineering is exploring this opand the overhead of secondary loops Figure 6: Heat rejection versus power supply tion further. is already built into the original vapor to thermoelectric cooler. Similarly to thermoelectrically encompression system. The cold head of the hanced liquid subcooling, a separate small vapor compression Stirling engine would cool liquid refrigerant upstream of the excycle can be dedicated to enhance the liquid subcooling. More- pansion valve while the hot heat rejection heat exchanger of the over, the optimum use of this option would lead to new inves- Stirling cycle evaporates liquid coming from the condenser and tigation on two-stage cycles. Further investigation is needed to recirculates vapor to the condenser inlet (thus, using a portion find out which option has higher efficiency at low-temperature of the refrigerant from the condenser outlet for a thermosyphon lift and lower cost among two enhanced subcooling options. loop). It is expected that the additional capacity achieved by subcooling with the Stirling cycle is achieved at a higher COP Thermoelectrically Enhanced Heat Exchangers than that of the vapor compression system, while hopefully, the Another option to exploit the high efficiency at low-tempera- additional cost is lower than that of a larger compressor that ture lift of thermoelectric elements would be to insert the ele- otherwise would be required to achieve the same capacity level. ment between the tube and the fins of a typical air-to-refrigerant This option deserves further investigation. heat exchanger or coil as illustrated in Figure 5. This could be The second option would use a small-scale absorption cycle. implemented more easily using a flat tube (or sometimes termed The heat input to the cycle would come from the hot discharge microchannel) heat exchanger. For a condenser for example, gas of the compressor, while the cooling capacity will be used
Heat Load per TE-enhanced Fin (W)

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COP

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to subcool liquid refrigerant leaving the condenser. This concept was proposed in the early 1980s.13 With the advent of micro-machined heat exchangers for absorption systems, such an option may become more feasible.14 As a third option, one could consider a small vapor compression system that is

dedicated to the subcooling of the refrigerant leaving the condenser of the original vapor compression system. Since the pressure ratio might be very low, unconventional compressor technology may be quite suitable and possibly provide high efficiency. For example, it is speculated that an acoustic compressor

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could be used. A loudspeaker, together with a suitably designed resonator, could be used to create such pressure spikes that would allow meaningful compression of the refrigerant and, therefore, heat pumping across the temperature lift sufficient for subcooling. Another option could be to use a blower rather than a conventional compressor to obtain a similarly small temperature lift at high efficiency. As a final thought, one might speculate that the acoustic compressor mentioned previously could be used for the precompression of the refrigerant in a given vapor compression system. If such a compressor has a high efficiency for small pressure ratios, higher than that of conventional compressors, it might be beneficial. One could envision a speaker or other such actuator to supercharge the suction port of a positive displacement compressor every time the suction port or valve opens. The resulting decrease in pressure ratio for the main compressor leads to an increase in efficiency of the original cycle. In addition, an increase in the volumetric capacity is expected. For additional information on alternative cooling technologies, readers may visit ARTIs Web site (www.arti-research. org/index.php).
Conclusion

To stimulate further research for realizing the synergy of alternative and conventional cooling technologies, this article briefly reviews the strength and challenges of vapor compression technology. This is followed by a similar review of one of the most promising alternative cooling technologies resulting in the following observation: when focusing on what the alternative technologies do best, then their greatest strength may lie in making traditional vapor compression systems more effective. Two examples are discussed in more detail: the benefits of thermoelectric subcooling of the refrigerant in a traditional vapor compression system and thermoelectrically enhancing an air-to-refrigerant heat exchanger. In both cases, the high COP at low lift conditions is exploited. Additional ideas are mentioned for other alternative technologies. The synergy of the alternative
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and conventional cooling technologies will lead to considerable improvement opportunities that warrant further research.
References
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for hermetic devices based on thermoelectricity. Sixth European Workshop on Thermoelectrics. Yang, B. and G. Chen. Phonon heat conduction in superlattices. in Chemistry, Physics and Materials Science of Thermoelectric Materials: Beyond Bismuth Telluride, edited by M.G. Kanatzidis, S.D. Mahanti, and T.P. Hogan, Kluwar Press, pp.147 167, 2003. Bttner, H. 2005. Micropelt Miniaturised Thermoelectric Devices: Small Size, High Cooling Power Densities, Short Response Time (ICT 2005) Fraunhofer Institute for Physical Measurement Techniques (Fraunhofer IPM). Bttner, H. 2002. Thermoelectric Micro Devices: Current State, Recent Developments and Future Aspects for Technological Progress and Applications (ICT 2002). Fraunhofer Institute for Physical Measurement Techniques (Fraunhofer IPM). Domanski, P. 1995. Theoretical Evaluation of the Vapor Compression Cycle with a Liquid-Line/Suction-Line Heat Exchanger, Economizer, and Ejector. National Institute of Standards and Technology. www.fire.nist.gov/bfrlpubs/build95/ PDF/b95098.pdf. Radermacher, R. and Y. Hwang. 2005. Vapor Compression Heat Pumps: With Refrigerant Mixtures. Boca Raton, Fla.: Taylor & Francis. Alefeld, G. and R. Radermacher. 1993. Heat Conversion Systems. Boca Raton, Fla.: CRC Press. Choi, C. and S. Jeong. 2005. Experimental Study on the Development of Micro Adsorption Refrigerator. Proceedings of the International Sorption Heat Pump Conference.

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