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Related to refrigeration: Refrigeration cycle


refrigeration, process for drawing heat from substances to lower their temperature, often for purposes of preservation. Refrigeration in its modern, portable form also depends on insulating materials that are thin yet effective. Wherever fresh or frozen food must be stored, processed, transported, or sold, refrigeration is indispensable; thus appropriate refrigeration machinery has been developed for trains, ships, factories, and cold-storage plants (used not only for foods but also for fur storage).

See also air conditioning.

Early Methods of Refrigeration

Before the advent of modern refrigeration, perishable foods were kept in cool cellars or in buckets lowered into wells. A device still used in some areas is a room built with porous walls over which water is made to trickle; as the water evaporates the room is cooled. A spring of cold water often determined the site of an American pioneer's home. A springhouse was built over the flowing water, and the cooling fluid was led through troughs in which crocks of butter and cream were placed. In winter, farmers stored ice in icehouses for use in the summer. Similarly, natural ice from commercial icehouses was used in cities until artificial methods of producing ice were initiated in the middle of the 19th cent.

Mechanical Refrigeration Systems

The first patent for mechanical refrigeration was issued (1834) in Great Britain to the American inventor Jacob Perkins. Mechanical refrigeration systems are based on the principle that absorption of heat by a fluid (refrigerant) as it changes from a liquid to a gas lowers the temperature of the objects around it. In the compression system, which is employed in electric home refrigerators and commercial installations, a compressor, controlled by a thermostat, exerts pressure on a vaporized refrigerant, forcing it to pass through a condenser, where it loses heat and liquefies. It then moves through the coils of the refrigeration compartment. There it vaporizes, drawing heat from whatever is in the compartment. The refrigerant then passes back to the compressor, and the cycle is repeated.

Prior to 1996, the refrigerants used in electric refigerators were chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs). However, because of increasing scientific evidence that the CFCs are harmful to the ozone layer of the stratosphere, they were banned by international treaty, the Montreal Protocol, after Jan., 1996. Transitional compounds, such as hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs), which are less harmful to the ozone layer, are to be used in their place until the year 2020. By that time compounds such as the hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), which are benign to the ozone layer, are expected to have replaced HCFCs, but because HFCs are greenhouse gases, reductions in their use also have been agreed to.

In the absorption system, widely employed in commercial installations, ammonia is usually used as a refrigerant to cool brine (water containing calcium chloride or sodium chloride) that is then sent through pipes to cool the refrigerated space. The steam-jet system is used where temperatures below 32℉ (0℃) are not required; water is used as the refrigerant. Airplanes are cooled or heated through an air cycle system. Research and development is being carried out to apply the Peltier effect (see thermoelectricity) in various practical refrigeration systems.

Preparation of Frozen Foods

An outgrowth of the preservation of foods by refrigeration was the development of a process for preparing frozen foods. Although a number of experimenters contributed to the discovery of a workable process, the name of American inventor Clarence Birdseye is associated with the early successful introduction of the method; one of his chief contributions was his system of freezing perishable foods (packed in individual containers ready for sale) between refrigerated metal plates.


See G. H. Reed, Refrigeration (3d ed. 1974); C. T. Olivo and R. W. Marsh, Principles of Refrigeration (1979).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia™ Copyright © 2022, Columbia University Press. Licensed from Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



the cooling of some medium or object to a temperature below the environmental temperature by removing a certain amount of heat from the medium or object. In industry and engineering, refrigeration is achieved mainly by means of refrigerating machines or freezing mixtures. (See.)

The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


(mechanical engineering)
The cooling of a space or substance below the environmental temperature.
McGraw-Hill Dictionary of Scientific & Technical Terms, 6E, Copyright © 2003 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.


The cooling of a space or substance below the environmental temperature. Mechanical refrigeration is primarily an application of thermodynamics wherein the cooling medium, or refrigerant, goes through a cycle so that it can be recovered for reuse. The commonly used basic cycles, in order of importance, are vapor-compression, absorption, steam-jet or steam-ejector, and air. Each cycle operates between two pressure levels, and all except the air cycle use a two-phase working medium which alternates cyclically between the liquid and vapor phases.

The term “refrigeration” is used to signify cooling below the environmental temperature to lower than about 150 K (-190°F; -123°C). The term “cryogenics” is used to signify cooling to temperatures lower than 150 K. See Cryogenics

Vapor-compression cycle

The vapor-compression cycle consists of an evaporator in which the liquid refrigerant boils at low temperature to produce cooling, a compressor to raise the pressure and temperature of the gaseous refrigerant, a condenser in which the refrigerant discharges its heat to the environment, usually a receiver for storing the liquid condensed in the condenser, and an expansion valve through which the liquid expands from the high-pressure level in the condenser to the low-pressure level in the evaporator. This cycle may also be used for heating if the useful energy is taken off at the condenser level instead of at the evaporator level. See Heat pump

Absorption cycle

The absorption cycle accomplishes compression by using a secondary fluid to absorb the refrigerant gas, which leaves the evaporator at low temperature and pressure. Heat is applied, by means such as steam or gas flame, to distill the refrigerant at high temperature and pressure. The most-used refrigerant in the basic cycle is ammonia; the secondary fluid is then water. This system is used for the lower temperatures. Another system is lithium bromide-water, where the water is used as the refrigerant. This is used for higher temperatures. Due to corrosion, special inhibitors must be used in the lithium bromide-water system. The condenser, receiver, expansion valve, and evaporator are essentially the same as in any vapor-compression cycle. The compressor is replaced by an absorber, generator, pump, heat exchanger, and controlling-pressure reducing valve.

Steam-jet cycle

The steam-jet cycle uses water as the refrigerant. High-velocity steam jets provide a high vacuum in the evaporator, causing the water to boil at low temperature and at the same time compressing the flashed vapor up to the condenser pressure level. Its use is limited to air conditioning and other applications for temperatures above 32°F (0°C).

Air cycle

The air cycle, used primarily in airplane air conditioning, differs from the other cycles in that the working fluid, air, remains as a gas throughout the cycle. Air coolers replace the condenser, and the useful cooling effect is obtained by a refrigerator instead of by an evaporator. A compressor is used, but the expansion valve is replaced by an expansion engine or turbine which recovers the work of expansion. Systems may be open or closed. In the closed system, the refrigerant air is completely contained within the piping and components, and is continuously reused. In the open system, the refrigerator is replaced by the space to be cooled, the refrigerant air being expanded directly into the space rather than through a cooling coil.


The working fluid in a two-phase refrigeration cycle is called a refrigerant. A useful way to classify refrigerants is to divide them into primary and secondary. Primary refrigerants are those fluids (pure substances, azeotropic mixtures which behave physically as a single pure compound, and zeotropes which have temperature glides in the condenser and evaporator) used to directly achieve the cooling effect in cycles where they alternately absorb and reject heat. Secondary refrigerants are heat transfer or heat carrier fluids. See Air conditioning, Automotive climate control, Cooling tower

McGraw-Hill Concise Encyclopedia of Engineering. © 2002 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.


The process by which heat is absorbed from a body or substance by expansion or vaporization of a refrigerant, lowering its body temperature and maintaining the temperature below its surroundings.
McGraw-Hill Dictionary of Architecture and Construction. Copyright © 2003 by McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.
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