Refrigerator
Refrigerator

General technical explanation

A vapor compression cycle is used in most household refrigerators, refrigerator-freezers and freezers. In this cycle, a circulating refrigerant such as R134a enters a compressor as low-pressure vapor at or slightly below the temperature of the refrigerator interior. The vapor is compressed and exits the compressor as high-pressure superheated vapor. The superheated vapor travels under pressure through coils or tubes that make up the condenser; the coils or tubes are passively cooled by exposure to air in the room. The condenser cools the vapor, which liquefies. As the refrigerant leaves the condenser, it is still under pressure but is now only slightly above room temperature. This liquid refrigerant is forced through a metering or throttling device, also known as an expansion valve (essentially a pin-hole sized constriction in the tubing) to an area of much lower pressure. The sudden decrease in pressure results in explosive-like flash evaporation of a portion (typically about half) of the liquid. The latent heat absorbed by this flash evaporation is drawn mostly from adjacent still-liquid refrigerant, a phenomenon known as auto-refrigeration. This cold and partially vaporized refrigerant continues through the coils or tubes of the evaporator unit. A fan blows air from the refrigerator or freezer compartment ("box air") across these coils or tubes and the refrigerant completely vaporizes, drawing further latent heat from the box air. This cooled air is returned to the refrigerator or freezer compartment, and so keeps the box air cold. Note that the cool air in the refrigerator or freezer is still warmer than the refrigerant in the evaporator. Refrigerant leaves the evaporator, now fully vaporized and slightly heated, and returns to the compressor inlet to continue the cycle.
The Peltier effect uses electricity to pump heat directly; refrigerators employing this system are sometimes used for camping, or in situations where noise is not acceptable. They can be totally silent (if a fan for air circulation is not fitted) but are less energy-efficient than other methods.
Other uses of an absorption refrigerator (or "chiller") include large systems used in office buildings or complexes such as hospitals and universities. These large systems are used to chill a brine solution that is circulated through the building.
This means the refrigerator may become too warm. However, because only enough air is diverted to the refrigerator compartment, the freezer usually re-acquires the set temperature quickly, unless the door is opened. When a door is opened, either in the refrigerator or the freezer, the fan in some units stops immediately to prevent excessive frost build up on the freezer's evaporator coil, because this coil is cooling two areas. When the freezer reaches temperature, the unit cycles off, no matter what the refrigerator temperature is. Modern computerized refrigerators do not use the damper system. The computer manages fan speed for both compartments, although air is still blown from the freezer.
This design, where no air passes between the two compartments, provides for more appropriate humidity levels and much tighter temperature control in each compartment. It also requires much less energy to operate, since each compressor & coolant system can be optimized for a specific temperature range. Further, opening the door of one compartment does not affect the temperature of the air or humidity level in the other compartment. Thus, it avoids many of the disadvantages of the much more common single compressor designs described above, although at a higher initial cost and increased system noise. Manufacturers of such designs argue that the increased cost is compensated over time due to reduced energy use and less food waste due to reduced spoilage.