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How Chillers Work

Air Cooled Water Chillers How They

Air cooled water chillers are vapour compression refrigeration systems. The main components of a vapour
compression refrigeration system are the compressor, condenser, expansion valve & evaporator. Vapour
compression refrigeration systems cool via a refrigeration cycle. The cycle starts with a cool low pressure
mixture of liquid & vapour refrigerant entering the chiller evaporator. Once inside the chiller evaporator it
absorbs the heat from the relatively warm water or fluid that the chiller is cooling. This transfer of heat boils the
liquid refrigerant in the chillers evaporator and the super-heated vapour is pulled into the chillers compressor.
The chillers compressor then compresses the refrigerant to a high temperature & pressure, high enough to
allow the chillers condenser to give up its heat to the cooler ambient air. Within the chillers condenser heat is
transferred from the hot refrigerant to the relatively cool ambient air. This reduction in the chillers refrigerant
causes it to de-superheat and condense into a liquid, it then further sub-cools before leaving the chiller
condenser. The high pressure liquid refrigerant then enters the chiller
expansion valve causing a large pressure drop across the chillers refrigerant circuit. The pressure reduction
causes a small portion of the refrigerant to boil off, or flash. This would be seen in the chillers site glass. The
site glass also indicates if the chiller is short of gas, if this is the case the flashing inside the chillers site glass
will increase. The boiled off refrigerant helps cool the remaining refrigerant to the desired temperature before
the mixture enters the chiller evaporator to start the cycle again.

Fig 1 A scroll chiller compressor

Air Cooled Chiller Condensers How

They Work
The condenser is a major component of a water chiller. It is used as a heat exchanger that rejects heat from the
chillers refrigerant to air. A Water cooled chiller gives up its heat into relatively cool water from a cooling tower,
air-blast cooler or adiabatic cooler. A typical air cooled condenser fitted to an air cooled water chiller will use
axial fans (propeller type) to draw outdoor air over a finned tubed heat transfer surface (heat exchanger).
The temperature difference or delta T between the hot refrigerant gas that is flowing through the condenser
and the cooler outdoor air induces heat transfer. The heat reduction of the chillers refrigerant vapour causes it
to condense into liquid. The last part of the chiller condenser is called a sub-cooler. The chiller sub-cooler
reduces the liquid gas temperature still further, until it is under its condensing temperature. Air cooled chillers
are best suited to chiller hire applications due to the fact chiller
hire projects require systems to be delivered and installed quickly with the minimum of fuss.

Fig 2
Axial fans on top of a chiller

Chiller Evaporators How They Work

The chillers evaporator is a heat exchanger that transfers heat from a process or air conditioning water circuit
to the chillers cooler liquid refrigerant. Most air cooled chillers in the UK chiller hire market will be fitted with a
shell and tube evaporator, a plate heat exchanger evaporator or a coil in tank evaporator.
A shell and tube evaporator is used primarily on chilled water applications. When a chiller is fitted with this type
of evaporator the chillers cool liquid refrigerant flows through tubes encased in a shell. The process or airconditioning circuit water fills the shell flowing around the tubes. As heat is transferred from the water to the
chillers refrigerant the gas boils inside the tubes and the resulting vapour is drawn into the chillers compressor.
Hot water will enter the shell at one end, chilled water leaving at the opposite end. A plate heat exchanger
evaporator can be used for chilled water or fluid cooling applications. Stainless steel evaporators are especially
suited in food and beverage applications

such as batch cooling or portable water systems. A coil in tank evaporator comprises a coil block, usually
copper, with aluminium fins to provide an efficient heat transfer surface. The coil block is then submerged in a
chilled water tank which acts as a thermal buffer for the refrigeration system. This type of coil is suited to hire
chillers used on process cooling applications, typically reactor cooling systems in chemical cooling,
petrochemical cooling & pharmaceutical cooling systems.

Fig 3 A chiller shell and tube


Summary of Chiller System Components

Air cooled condenser a type of condenser where refrigerant flows through the tubes and rejects heat
into a flow of ambient air, most chiller hire units are fitted with air cooled condensers.
Capillary Tube A type of expansion device typically fitted on small capacity hire chillers, it comprises
a long tube which reduces the pressure of the refrigerant.
Centrifugal Fan A type of fan fitted to an air cooled chiller allowing the fitting of ductwork onto the hot
side of an air cooled condenser. The fan is designed to work against a static pressure.
Compressor The main component in a chiller system, the compressor is used to increase the
pressure & temperature of the refrigerant vapour.
Condenser The part of a chiller system where the refrigerant vapour is converted to liquid as it
rejects heat.
Cooling Tower Used for process cooling applications & water cooled chiller condenser cooling.
Distributor A device used to supply uniform gas supply through a submerged coil in a tank chiller
Enthalpy The property of a refrigerant indicating its heat content per Kg of refrigerant.
Evaporator The part of the chiller system where cool liquid refrigerant absorbs heat from the chilled
water circuit.
Expansion valve A device used to maintain the pressure difference between the high pressure & low
pressure sides of the chiller system.
Fill The heat transfer surface inside a cooling tower.
Flash The process of liquid refrigerant being vaporised by a sudden reduction in pressure when
entering the low pressure side of the chiller system.