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Experimental investigation of the refrigerant ow

of isobutane (R600a) through adiabatic capillary

Matthias Schenk*, Lothar R. Oellrich
Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT), Institute for Technical Thermodynamics and Refrigeration, Engler-Bunte-
Ring 21, 76131 Karlsruhe, Germany
a r t i c l e i n f o
Article history:
Received 27 June 2013
Received in revised form
29 August 2013
Accepted 31 August 2013
Available online 9 September 2013
Adiabatic capillary tube
Experimental results
Factorial design
Choked ow
a b s t r a c t
Capillary tubes are widely used as expansion device in small scale refrigeration systems.
Despite the simple geometry one nds complex physical processes during the throttling in
the capillary tube, which were subject of many studies in the last decades. However, there
is currently only one source of experimental data for the refrigerant isobutane (R600a) and
adiabatic capillary tubes (Melo et al., 1999). In order to close this gap a test rig was built and
experimental data in the range of typical small scale refrigeration systems was collected.
The measured mass ow rates span from 0.64 kg h
to 1.93 kg h
. Additionally, the effect
of critical ows (Choked Flow) is shown by means of an extra performed test. The semi-
algebraic equation from Hermes et al. (2010) showed a remarkable level of agreement by
predicting 94% of all points within a 10% error band.
2013 Elsevier Ltd and IIR. All rights reserved.
Etude expe rimentale de le coulement du frigorige` ne isobutane
(R600a) dans des tubes capillaires adiabatiques
Mots cles : Tube capillaire adiabatique ; R600a ; Re sultats expe rimentaux ; Ecoulement amorti ; conception factorielle
1. Introduction
Although capillary tubes have been used as expansion device
of the vapor refrigeration cycle especially in small scale sys-
tems like household refrigerators or small air conditioning
systems for many decades, to designa capillary tube for a given
refrigeration cycle is still a most empirical and time consuming
process. Due to the complex ow phenomena inside the
capillary tube, caused by the simultaneous pressure drop and
evaporation of the refrigerant, an analytic and explicit
description of the total throttling process is not possible.
Therefore many attempts have been done to develop simple
design methods in the past. These design methods always
imply certain simplications or assumptions and must be
* Corresponding author. Tel.: 49 721 608 42730.
E-mail address: (M. Schenk).
www. i i i r . or g
Available online at
j ournal homepage: www. el sevi er. com/ l ocat e/ i j ref ri g
i nt e r na t i ona l j o ur na l o f r e f r i g e r a t i o n 3 8 ( 2 0 1 4 ) 2 7 5 e2 8 0
0140-7007/$ e see front matter 2013 Elsevier Ltd and IIR. All rights reserved.
validated with experimental data. The experiments must al-
ways be done in the same range as the design method is going
to be used. Especially in the case of Isobutane (R600a), which is
nowadays a commonly used refrigerant in small scale refrig-
eration systems, there is only one source of experimental data
available (Melo et al. (1999) and reviewed by Khan et al. (2009)).
Uptonowonly19 data points have beenpublished, where in
all experiments the same inner diameter was used. The tests
were done with highcondensation pressures (7.1e11.3 bar) and
high mass ow rates were measured (2e4 kg h
). Both pa-
rameters are much higher than the usual conditions in typical
small scale refrigerationsystems. This paper aims toextendthe
available database for R600a and adiabatic capillary tubes to
lower mass ow rates and check the validity of existing design
methods proposed in the literature in this range. First results
were already published in (Schenk and Oellrich, 2012).
2. Experimental work
2.1. Experimental setup
Fig. 1 shows the scheme of the workbench which was built
and used to perform the presented tests. The workbench
basically represents a simple vapor-compression refrigeration
cycle. The compressor is a 9 cm
hermetic variable velocity
compressor, whose frequency range spans from20 to 75 Hz. In
order to avoid oil contamination in the test section, the
refrigerant passes through one oil separator and two oil lters
with 0.01 mm as smallest ltering element particle size. Both
oil separator and lters are supplied with electrical heaters
that are used to eliminate the risk of refrigerant condensation.
In order to control the high-side pressure, a proportional
valve is placed after the compressor. With the valve the mass
ow rate to the condenser can be regulated. The condenser is
a fan supplied tube-and-n heat exchanger using an electrical
heater to set up the air temperature at the entrance. There-
fore, the capillary tube inlet pressure, i.e. the condensation
pressure, can be set through the valve opening, heater power
and fan frequency control.
After the condenser the liquid refrigerant ows through a
subcooler consisting of several Peltier elements attached to a
copper block embedding the refrigerant tube. The subcooled
liquid ows through a Coriolis mass ow meter. Next, a lter
dryer is used to hold back humidity or impurities that could
clog the capillary tube. The inlet temperature of the capillary
tube is controlled by an electrical preheater. In a sight glass
after the preheater and prior to the capillary tube inlet one can
check for the presence of bubbles in the refrigerant ow.
The inlet and outlet temperatures are measured with
mineral insulated K-type thermocouples, each 0.5 mm in
diameter, whose probes are positioned directly in the ow.
The inlet pressure is measured using a piezoresistive pressure
transducer. After the capillary tube the refrigerant enters the
tubular evaporator equipped with an electrical heater. The
power of the heater can be adjusted to ensure that only su-
perheated vapor exits the evaporator. Then the refrigerant
ows back to the compressor.
All pressure transmitters and thermocouples were cali-
brated before the measurements. The coriolis mass ow
meter was calibrated by the manufacturer. The inner diam-
eter of the capillary tubes was determined by means of mi-
croscope pictures. Short pieces of the capillary were welded
into a copper block and afterward the surface of the block was
milled and polished. The ow area on the pictures was
marked and calculated with appropriate software. Doing this
at several points before and after the tested capillary tube, the
equivalent inner diameter was obtained. All the uncertainties
of the measurements are listed in Table 1.
The stated purity of the refrigerant by the manufacturer
was 98.5% isobutane. The refrigerant was lled into the cycle
from the liquid phase. Also the measured temperature in the
two-phase ow after the capillary tube corresponded with the Fig. 1 e Scheme of the workbench.
D inner diameter (m)
L length of capillary tube (m)
M mass ow rate (kg s
p pressure (Pa)
T temperature (

subcooling degree (

v specic volume (m
Greek Letters
r density (kg m
F capillary constant (6.0)
in inlet to the capillary tube
out outlet of the capillary tube
f entrance in the two-phase domain
s saturation state
i nt e r na t i o na l j o ur na l of r e f r i ge r a t i o n 3 8 ( 2 0 1 4 ) 2 7 5 e2 8 0 276
calculated saturation temperature of the measured pressure
and thus indicated a pure refrigerant.
2.2. Design of experiments
In order to cover the complete scope of conditions of small
scale refrigeration systems with a minimal amount of test
runs, the Two-level Factorial Design method was used for the
planning of the tests (Box et al., 2005). For all available test
parameters a minimum and maximum value were xed: (1)
the inlet pressure p
, (2) the subcooling degree at the capillary
inlet DT
, (3) the inner diameter D and (4) the length L of the
capillary tube. The chosen minimum and maximum values
are given in Table 2. These values are combined in a scheme in
a way that all possible combinations are each reproduced with
one run, which results in a total amount of 4
16 test runs.
The scheme is shown in Table 3.
Because the individual test runs of this scheme combine
always the edges of the operating range (e.g. the highest
condensation pressure together with the biggest diameter),
very high subcooling degrees were chosen to avoid two phase
ow at the capillary tube entrance.
To broaden the scope of the presented data, also tests with
a lower subcooling at the capillary entrance and additional
three different capillary tubes (tests 17e22 in Table 4) were
2.3. Choked ow
As can be seen in Section 2.2 the outlet pressure was not
considered as a parameter in the design of experiments, due
to its marginal inuence on the mass ow rate. To illustrate
this fact an extra test was performed where all parameters
were kept constant with the outlet pressure continuously
lowered during 4.5 h from 2.2 bar to 0.6 bar. Fig. 2 shows the
resulting mass ow rate versus the outlet temperature of the
capillary tube.
The very small instabilities of the inlet pressure, which
resulted in a standard deviation over all points in these 4.5 h of
only 15 mbar, were noticeable on the enlarged scale of the
mass ow rate. In order to point out the effect of the inlet
pressure uctuations, all data points for which the deviation
of the inlet pressure to its meanvalue was withinthe standard
deviation are printed as lled circles. The other points are
presented as empty circles.
Fig. 2 clearly illustrates, that the mass ow rate does not
change anymore as the outlet pressure falls below 1.3 bar.
This is the range of Choked Flow.
2.4. Experimental results
In Table 4 the results of all test runs (Design of Experiments
and additional tests) are listed. The values of DT
calculated with the equation for the vapor pressure given in
Bu cker and Wagner (2006). In all tests the outlet pressure was
set below the critical pressure for the choked ow occurrence
(see Section 2.3) by adapting the compressor frequency. The
Low Pressure Control Valve was kept fully open in all tests.
3. Comparison with available correlations
Due to the drastic change of the uid properties in the two-
phase ow along the capillary tube, it is not possible to
describe the throttling process with analytical and explicit
equations. In order to obtain a reliable tool for the design of
capillary tubes in spite of these difculties the following ap-
proaches evolved during the last decades:
3.1. Finite-volume based methods
Following the nite-volume based methods the capillary tube
is divided into single cells and the uid properties are aver-
aged over these cells. Thus an accurate description of the
process is obtained. However, the creation of the model and
its implementation demand a high degree of time and effort.
Additionally the discretisation of the process brings up
Table 1 e Uncertainties of the measurements.
Measured parameter Uncertainty
Temperature 0.2

Pressure 5 mbar
Mass ow rate 1%
Inner diameter 0.01 mm
Capillary tube length 5 mm
Table 2 e Minimum and maximum values for the Design
of Experiments.
Parameter () () Physical unit
4.5 6.0 bar (minuscules)
8.0 13.0

D 0.69 0.61 mm
L 2.5 3.9 m
Table 3 e Scheme for the two-level factorial design (Box
et al., 2005).
Test p
2 e
3 e
4 e e
5 e
6 e e
7 e e
8 e e e
9 e
10 e e
11 e e
12 e e e
13 e e
14 e e e
15 e e e
16 e e e e
i nt e r na t i ona l j o ur na l o f r e f r i g e r a t i o n 3 8 ( 2 0 1 4 ) 2 7 5 e2 8 0 277
numerical issues one has to handle (Melo et al., 1992). Exam-
ples of this approach are given in Bansal and Rupasinghe
(1998), Li et al. (1990) or Garc a-Valladares et al. (2002).
Because of the named drawbacks this approach is not
further followed up in this work.
3.2. Empirical correlations
Another approach is represented by empirical correlations,
which focus on the applicability of the method. Most often
empirical correlations are developed with the Buckingham-Pi-
Theorem (dimensional analysis). Thereby all variables which
are considered to have an inuence on the mass ow rate and
are independent from each other are combined in dimen-
sionless groups. These groups are tted by means of an
appropriate equation form (mostly power-law) to measure-
ment data. Another method to develop empirical correlations
came up in the last years applying neural networks to nd an
adequate equation form to t the empirical parameters to
experimental results.
Shao et al. (2013) reviewed 20 empirical correlations for the
prediction of the mass ow rate through adiabatic capillary
tubes and compared the agreement of eleven representative
correlations with 182 experimental data points of different
sources, comprising ve different refrigerants. Only data
which was not used for the development of the investigated
correlation was chosen for the comparison. Thus, due to the
lack of independent experimental data for R600a, the authors
could not check the validity of the correlations for this
The recommendation of the review from Shao et al.
resulted in the correlation from Yang and Zhang (2009). This
correlation was developed with a neural network approach
and represents an expansion of an earlier work (Zhang and
Zhao, 2007) in order to also cover super critical ow of CO
The authors used 710 experimental data points with capillary
tube ow, including the results for R600a of Melo et al., to train
the neural network, i.e. to nd an adequate equation form. In
Table 4 e Experimental results.
Test p
/bar T


C L/m D/mm DT

C p
M/(kg h
Tests from the Design of Experiments e scheme
1 6.02 32.0 19.9 3.93 0.692 12.9 0.73 1.535
2 4.52 21.0 21.3 3.93 0.692 13.0 0.69 1.379
3 6.04 37.0 21.7 3.93 0.692 8.0 0.67 1.340
4 4.49 26.0 21.3 3.93 0.692 7.7 0.69 1.280
5 6.02 32.0 23.2 3.93 0.611 12.9 0.63 1.104
6 4.53 21.0 25.3 3.93 0.611 13.0 0.58 0.846
7 6.02 37.0 24.2 3.93 0.611 7.8 0.61 1.000
8 4.51 26.0 21.5 3.93 0.611 7.9 0.68 0.831
9 6.00 31.9 16.7 2.49 0.692 12.8 0.83 1.920
10 4.50 21.0 19.5 2.49 0.692 12.8 0.74 1.689
11 6.02 37.0 15.4 2.49 0.692 7.8 0.88 1.773
12 4.48 26.0 20.3 2.49 0.692 7.7 0.72 1.400
13 6.01 32.0 20.6 2.53 0.611 12.8 0.71 1.457
14 4.50 21.0 25.9 2.53 0.611 12.8 0.56 1.183
15 6.02 37.0 20.6 2.53 0.611 7.8 0.71 1.265
16 4.50 26.1 24.7 2.53 0.611 7.8 0.59 1.098
Additional tests
17 4.10 27.7 19.5 2.73 0.607 2.8 0.74 0.807
18 5.30 34.1 21.9 2.73 0.607 5.9 0.67 1.079
19 5.30 37.0 19.6 2.79 0.617 2.9 0.74 0.964
20 4.00 23.7 11.2 2.79 0.617 5.8 1.04 0.873
21 4.00 27.0 26.7 4.04 0.610 2.6 0.54 0.645
22 5.29 34.0 25.9 4.04 0.610 5.9 0.56 0.932
-30 -20 -10 0 10
inside (5.0 +/- ) bar
outside (5.0 +/- ) bar
/ C
0,5 1,0 1,5 2,0 2,5
) / bar
= 27C =0.06 K
= 5.0 bar =0.015 bar
Choked Flow
Fig. 2 e Illustration of choked ow.
i nt e r na t i o na l j o ur na l of r e f r i ge r a t i o n 3 8 ( 2 0 1 4 ) 2 7 5 e2 8 0 278
the paper a prediction of all 710 training data points of 93%
within an error band of 15% is reported.
As Fig. 3 shows the empirical correlation from Yang and
Zhang predicts both the experimental results of Melo et al. as
well as our own points on R600a systematically by about 20%
too high.
3.3. Algebraic equations
Several scientists tried to develop an analytical description of
the capillary tube ow by introducing simplifying
assumptions for the calculation of the uid properties along
the capillary tube. In this way they were able to transform the
governing differential equations into their integral form. They
obtained an algebraic equation which can predict the mass
owrate or alternatively the geometry of the capillary tube for
given boundary conditions. Although empirical parameters
are included in these equations, too, they are based on a
physical background.
One of the rst successful attempts on this eld was the
one by Yilmaz and U

nal (1996). This work was continued by

Zhang and Ding (2001, 2004) and Yang and Wang (2008). In
2010 Hermes et al. published an algebraic Equation (1) in
which all the empirical parameters are merged in one vari-
able, the capillary constant F, (Hermes et al., 2010). A t on 761
in-house data points with R134a and R600a resulted in a value
F 6.




a p
a p
The parameters a and b, which represent tting parameters
for the description of the specic volume in the two phase
domain, were adopted fromZhang and Ding (2004) and Yilmaz
and U

nal (1996) accordingly, where a v

1 k, b v
k and
k 1:63,10
. It is worth mentioning that the parameter k
should be dimensionless, but is not. In order to arrive at cor-
rect results Pascal as the physical unit of the pressure has to
be implemented.
The authors report an agreement of Equation (1) with their
experimental results of 89%withinthe aimed 10%error band
(Hermes et al., 2010). In case of R600a the database comprised
189 data points obtained from two different tube lengths with
one single inner diameter. The mass ow rate varied between
2 kg h
and 4 kg h
(about 150 We300 W refrigeration
In Fig. 4 the experimental results of this work and the
published data of Melo et al. (1999) is compared with the re-
sults of the Hermes equation. As can be seen, the equation
also predicts the mass ow rates in the range from 0.65 kg h
to 2 kg h
covered in this work very well. Out of the Design of
Experiments e scheme only one point lies outside the 10%
error bands. In total a prediction of 94% of both datasets
within an 10% error band is achieved.
4. Conclusions
The presented experimental results extend the published
database for R600a mass owrates through adiabatic capillary
tubes in the range of owrates from0.65 kg h
to 2.0 kg h
. A
test rig was constructed which allows to measure the mass
ow rates through different capillary tubes under controlled
boundary conditions. By means of the statistical method
Factorial Design the complete range of small scale refrigera-
tion systems was covered with 16 tests. Additionally the re-
sults of six more tests, with lower subcooling of the refrigerant
at the capillary inlet and three additional capillary tubes, are
reported. The comparison of existing correlations for adia-
batic capillary tubes and the experimental data produced a
0.5 1.0 1.5 2.0 2.5 3.0 3.5 4.0
Measured mass flow rate / (kg h )
Melo et al. (1999)
This work





Fig. 3 e Prediction of the experimental data through the
correlation of Yang and Zhang (2009).
0.5 1.0 1.5 2.0 2.5 3.0 3.5 4.0





Measured mass flow rate / (kg h
Melo et al. (1999)
This work
Fig. 4 e Prediction of the experimental data by Hermes
equation (Hermes et al., 2010).
i nt e r na t i ona l j o ur na l o f r e f r i g e r a t i o n 3 8 ( 2 0 1 4 ) 2 7 5 e2 8 0 279
good level of agreement with the semi-algebraic equation of
Hermes et al. from 2010.
We thank the students Adriano Ronzoni and Bruno Yuji
Kimura de Carvalho for their great help with the experimental
work within their project work at ITTK.
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i nt e r na t i o na l j o ur na l of r e f r i ge r a t i o n 3 8 ( 2 0 1 4 ) 2 7 5 e2 8 0 280