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Vapour Absrption

Refrigeration systems (VARS)

MEL 405
Refrigeration & Air conditioning
Amit Arora
Assistant Professor
Department of Mechanical Engineering
NCU, Gurgaon

Vapour Absorption Refrigeration

Recall, a refrigeration system has to consume external energy to create
temperatures lower than those existing in the surroundings at a particular
place and time

VARS consumes heat (low grade) energy to run the refrigeration cycle
Unlike VCRS which consumes electrical (high grade) energy
Note: High grade energy is always expensive than the low grade energy

Thats why a VARS is also called Heat operated refrigerator

What is function of a compressor in VCRS ?
To draw spent vapours from the evaporator and raise its temperature (due to
raising of pressure) above coolants temperature in the condenser
So that vapours can liquefy upon rejecting heat in the condenser and produce
refrigeration in the evaporator upon expansion
In short, a compressor is key to producing refrigeration by VCRS but at the cost
of energy consumption

As already stated, VARS does not consume electrical energy

That means it cant hire a mechanical compressor to run the refrigeration cycle

So one may say that a Vapour absorption refrigeration system is VCRS w/o
the mechanical compressor
This raises an obvious question .
Who performs the task of the mechanical compressor ?
Bcoz unless pressure of the spent vapours (from the evaporator) is raised
upto condenser pressure, it will not liquefy upon heat rejection in the
That means, no refrigeration in the evaporator upon expansion

To answer this question, lets first understand the construction and

operation of a Simple Vapour absorption refrigeration system

Simple VARS
Functioning of VARS greatly depends on an unusual affinity of Ammonia
vapours for the water
It was observed that NH3 vapours have the tendency of getting absorbed in the
water at low temperatures
This tendency of NH3 vapours was first discovered by M. Faraday in 1824 while
performing experiments on the liquefaction of certain gases
First vapour absorption refrigerator was developed in 1860 by a French
scientist, Ferdinand Carre

In a water ammonia solution, water is the absorber and NH3 is the
A solution of water & NH3 is referred as Aqua-Ammonia in the industry

Low pressure spent NH3 vapour at evaporator exit are drawn by the
(vapour) absorber where it is absorbed by the weak absorbent solution
Absorption of NH3 vapours creates a strong absorbent solution

Weak absorbent solution refers to negligible mass fraction of NH3 in the
Strong absorbent solution refers to significant mass fraction of NH3 in the

Absorption of NH3 vapour in the water slightly reduces the pressure in the
absorber, thereby draws more NH3 vapour
A cooling arrangement is necessary for continuous and effective operation of the
Why ???

Recall, liberation of vapour from a liquid is possible upon absorption of heat of
Conversely, absorption of NH3 vapour in the water releases latent heat of absorption
Thus, a cooling
arrangement in
the absorber
Bcoz absorption
tendency of the
water reduces
with rising

The strong solution formed in the absorber is pumped (raising of pressure)

to the (vapour) generator where it is heated
Heating in the generator involves consumption of external (low grade) energy
e.g. industrial waste heat (spent steam)
And pumping of liquid incurs additional external (high grade) energy

Upon heating, NH3 vapour in the generator get separated leaving behind
weak solution which is sent back to the absorber through a PRV
Generator is also called desorber or reboiler

High pressure NH3 vapours coming out of the generator undergo phase
change (liquefy) in the condenser
Then high pressure liquid refrigerant (NH3) is expanded upto evaporator
Finally, partially vapourized NH3 produces refrigeration in the evaporator
And cycle repeats

Can you now answer.

Who performs the task of the mechanical compressor ?
Combined operation of an absorber, a pump, a vapour generator and a
pressure reducing valve
Such a virtual compressor may be referred as Thermal compressor
In VARS, compressor work is the sum of heat supplied to the generator
(Qgen) and the pump work (Wpump)



For same pressure rise (dp), compressing liquid incurs much lesser work
than the vapour
Thus, pumping from evaporator to condenser pressure in a VARS costs less

Infact in a VARS, pump work is observed to be very small compared to the

heat supplied to the generator, hence may be easily neglected during the
Thus, work requirement of VARS depend negligibly on the high grade energy,
unlike VCRS

Practical VARS
Simple VARS comprise of the components which are bare minimal required
to operate the system for producing refrigeration
But its operation is highly uneconomical and unreliable at times
Can you guess, Why ?

Limitations of Simple VARS ..

1. Simple VARS requires high amount of heat supply in the generator
Due to the low temperature of the strong absorbent solution entering the
generator (that is coming from the absorber)

2. Simple VARS requires high amount of heat removal in the absorber

Due to high temperature of the weak absorbent solution entering the absorber
(that is coming from the generator)

3. High pressure refrigerant vapour generated in the generator carry traces

of moisture
If moisture laden NH3 is allowed to expand in the expansion valve, water will
freeze due to fall in temperature below freezing point
Consequently will choke the valve or the line (tubing)

First & second limitations are responsible for making the operation of
simple VARS uneconomical
Third limitation may make the system unreliable (uncertain operation)

What modifications should be done to improve

the economy of operation and make the
system reliable ?
Heat supply in the generator & heat removal in
the absorber can be economized by installing a
Liquid-Liquid regenerative HX b/w Absorber &
Weak solution (hot) on its way to the absorber
will heat the strong solution (cold) going to the
Such an arrangement will reduce the heat
supplied in the generator and heat removed in
the absorber
Thus, improves economy of the operation

In fact, economy can be improved

further .
This improvement is not related to the
operation of absorber & generator

Can you guess, How ?

Recall from the improvements of
Simple VCRS
By liquid subcooling
It enhances the refrigerating effect w/o
incurring additional compressor work

Liquid sub cooling is done by installing

a Liquid-Vapour regenerative HX b/w
the Condenser & Expansion valve
In this HX, liquid refrigerant leaving the
condenser (hot) is sub cooled by the
low temperature spent NH3 vapour
(cold) at the exit of the evaporator

Now the only issue left is reliable operation of the system

Traces of the moisture in the high pressure NH3 vapour going to the condenser
are removed by installing an analyser followed by a dehydrator (rectifier) b/w
the generator and condenser

An analyser is a column housing a series of trays which are meant to

significantly increase the surface area of the liquid
The liquid is the strong absorbent solution entering from the top that flows
laterally over the trays before falling in the generator
Liquid (with large surface area) on its way encounters NH3 vapour rising
from the generator

What will be the result of this interaction ?

Heat exchange b/w the descending (cold) liquid
and rising (hot) NH3 vapour leads to the
condensation of moisture carried by NH3 vapour
Hence reduces the moisture content in the
rising NH3 vapour to negligible values
It is possible to reduce the moisture content to
< 1% by carefully designing the analyser

Any left out moisture is removed in the dehydrator (rectifier)

A rectifier is a water cooled HX which removes any left out traces of water
vapour in the refrigerant (NH3)
The condensate from the rectifier is returned to the analyser by a drip pipe

Installation of the analyser leads to the reduction in heat supplied to the
(vapour) generator
Can you guess, why ?

Bcoz the descending strong (cold) solution in

the analyser gets pre heated by the rising
NH3 vapour
A regenerative heat exchange

Schematic diagram of practical VARS with all four modifications

(1) L-L HX (2) L-V HX (3) Analyser (4) Dehydrator (rectifier)
COP of practical VARS is expressed as COP
VAR , practical

Q evap
Q gen


Maximum Performance of VARS

(Performance of an Ideal VARS)

Block diagram indicating energy

transfer to/ from VARS
From the order of magnitude,
liquid pumping incurs negligible
energy compared to heating in
the generator

And generally, heat rejected in

the condenser & absorber goes to
the same environment
So, from energy balance (1st law)
E in E out

Q evap


As change in entropy of a system

undergoing reversible cycle is
equal to zero (2nd law), so



rev T

Q gen

Q evap



Q envir

rev T






From energy balance, heat

rejected to the environment is
equal to the sum of Qgen and
Qevap Q













Rearrange Qgen








Rearrange again




Tenvir .Tgen




Tenvir .Tevap





Tenvir .Tgen



Tenvir .Tevap

Rearrange again



Tenvir .Tgen

Tenvir .Tevap


What is LHS ?
COP of an ideal VARS
Maximum COP of VARS















What does first term on RHS
Thermal efficiency of a reversible
engine operating b/w (Tgen & Tenvir)

And what does second term on

RHS represent?
COP of a reversible refrigerator
operating b/w (Tenvir & Tevap)

Thus, COP of an ideal VARS is the product of Carnot refrigerator and

Carnot engine
carnot .COPR ,carnot

If heat in the condenser & absorber is rejected at different temperatures

Replace (Tenvir = Tabsr) in the first term and (Tenvir = Tcond) in the second term
on RHS
Qevap Tgen Tabsr
Tcond Tevap

Contrast b/w VCRS & VARS



Higher maintenance &

noisier operation

Lower maintenance & quieter operation

Bcoz the only moving component is (liquid) pump

Which is much smaller in size compared to a

vapour compressor
Thus quieter operation and lesser wear

It is always desirable to
have superheated vapour
at the compressor suction
Especially in case of
reciprocating compressor

No restriction on the state of vapour at

compressor suction
Wet state of the vapour at compressor suction
does not affect the reliable operation of the
refrigeration system

Except reducing the refrigerating effect



Normally, single compressor VARS can be easily built for the

operated VCRS are not built
refrigeration capacities well above the
for the refrigeration capacity
maximum capacity of a single
greater than 800-1000 TR
compressor operated VCRS
Refrigeration capacity of VCRS
depends strongly on the
compressor size
Where compressor size is
determined from the trade-off
b/w capital & running cost
Thus there is a maximum
economical limit on the
refrigeration capacity of a single
compressor operated VCRS



Consumes only high

grade energy

Mainly consumes Low grade energy (heat)

Work operated refrigerator

Heat operated refrigerator

Allows using waste heat for running the refrigerator

Proves to be very
Promising system where the high grade
expensive when the high
energy is expensive and low grade energy is
grade energy is costly
readily available

Automobile refrigeration by engine exhaust

Industrial refrigeration by waste steam or furnace
Domestic as well as industrial refrigeration by solar



Full load COP of VCRS is

higher than VARS

Full load COP of VARS is lower than VCRS

Currently maximum is 1.5

But COP at part load

But the COP does not deteriorate much due
conditions is much poorer to part load operation of the system
This is observed from
the characteristic curve




Refrigeration capacity of Refrigeration capacity of a VARS does not

a VCRS deteriorates very
deteriorate much with the reduction in
fast with the reduction in
refrigeration (evaporator) temperature
refrigeration (evaporator)
This is observed from
the characteristic curve


Pumpless Vapour Absrption

Refrigeration systems

MEL 405
Refrigeration & Air conditioning
Amit Arora
Assistant Professor
Department of Mechanical Engineering
NCU, Gurgaon


Aqua-Ammonia based refrigeration systems are the conventional VARS
They are not purely heat operated refrigeration systems bcoz they also
require some amount of mechanical work to run the liquid pump

To rule out the dependence on mechanical work, it was an endeavour to

make a refrigeration systems which is purely heat operated
That means no pump/ compressor to run the system

In 1925, two swedish engineers C. Munters and B. Platen developed a

purely heat operated VARS
So it was named as Munters-platen refrigeration system
Trade named Electrolux refrigerator as it was developed by Electrolux Co. UK
Electrolux refrigerator has no moving components

Reason for prefixing domestic before its name will be discussed later

It is also known as three fluids vapour absorption refrigeration system

Water (solvent/ absorber) + Ammonia (solute/ absorbent/ refrigerant) +
Hydrogen (inert gas)

Third fluid (hydrogen) is used to eliminate the liquid pump

Liquid pump is an important component in the conventional VARS

As NH3 is highly toxic, so normally it is not recommended for domestic

But absence of any moving component makes the Electrolux refrigerator
virtually leak proof
Thus, using Ammonia for domestic refrigeration need not be objected despite
of it being toxic

Functioning of pumpless VARS strongly depends on Daltons law of partial

It states that Total pressure exerted by a homogeneous mixture of nonreacting gases (at a given temperature T) is equal to the sum of (partial)
pressures exerted by each constituent gas when each gas individually
occupies the same space
p p1 p 2 p3 ......

Where p = Absolute pressure of the homogeneous mixture of gases

pi = Partial pressure of the respective constituent gas in the mixture

An additional benefit resulting due to the elimination of liquid pump is

noiseless machine
Absence of any pump/ compressor will result in total pressure being same
throughout the system
Then, how will the refrigerant flow through the system ?????
Any guesses..
Well soon get to know that

Does same pressure throughout the system rules out any other
component that existed in conventional VARS?
Same pressure throughout the system means there is no point in having any
expansion valve too in the system

Principle of operation of Pumpless VARS

Operating principle involves making use of the properties of gas-vapor
If a liquid is exposed to a chemically inert atmosphere (gas that does not
react with the liquid), it will evaporate until the atmosphere (inert gas) is
saturated with the vapor of the liquid
Example: Evaporation of lake/ sea water exposed to unsaturated air (inert gas)

Such an evaporation requires heat (of vaporization) which is taken from the
surroundings in which the evaporation takes place
Absorption of heat of vaporization produces cooling effect, which can be seen
as the refrigeration load

Functioning of Pump-less VARS

Foremost, mind it that the total
pressure is almost same throughout
the system
That means total pressure in the
condenser and evaporator is same
Pressure to which the entire system
is charged depends on the saturation
temperature needed in the condenser
for heat rejection to take place
For an ambient at 35 oC, condenser
temperature must be higher than it
Say 40 oC
Saturation pressure corresponding to
the saturation temperature of 40 oC is
about 15 bar in case of NH3
Lets assume that entire system is
charged to a pressure of 15 bar

Lets start from pure (dehydrated)

NH3 vapour entering the condenser
What will be the partial pressure of
Ammonia in the condenser?
15 bar

Upon heat removal in the condenser,

NH3 vapour condense to liquid state
and flows to the evaporator due to
Evaporator is charged with an inert
gas (e.g. hydrogen)
Normally, evaporator is charged with
hydrogen at a pressure of 12-13 bar
Presence of inert gas (H2) is
restricted to the evaporator and
absorber only
Well discuss that later

In evaporator, liquid NH3 is

exposed to an atmosphere of
hydrogen gas
If hydrogen is at 12 bar.
What will be the (partial) pressure
of NH3 in the evaporator ?
It will reduce from 15 bar to 3 bar
By invoking Daltons law of partial

Reduction in the (partial) pressure of

NH3 upto the saturation pressure
leads to its evaporation
Thus produces refrigeration
Lighter the inert gas in evaporator,
faster will be the evaporation
Choice of saturation pressure in the
evaporator corresponds to the
temperature desired in the
Normally desired evaporator
temperature in a domestic
refrigerator is -10 oC, which
corresponds to the saturation
pressure equal to 3 bar in case of NH3

Upon evaporation of NH3 vapour, it

mixes with H2 to form a mixture
H2 is referred as inert gas bcoz it
does not react with the refrigerant

Hydrogen is chosen as the inert gas

bcoz it is
Insoluble in water, so easily
separates from NH3 vapour in the
Lightest gas (allows fast evaporaton)
Economically available

Other possible inert gases can be

Air, Helium
But for faster evaporation, helium
should be preferred

Liquid NH3 evaporates as it descends

through the inclined evaporator coil
Evaporated NH3 mixes with H2 to form
cold mixture of gases (NH3 and H2) which
descends in the evaporator due to
This gas mixture on its way to the absorber
cools the warmer H2 (going to the
evaporator) in a counter flow gas HX
This cooling is aimed at reducing the
internal refrigeration load

Can you guess why the rising H2 is warm?

Absorption of NH3 vapour in the weak
solution in absorber liberates heat which
leads to the heating of inert gas (H2)
Warm H2 rises due to buoyancy to enter
the evaporator at location (1)

Descending mixture (NH3 vapour+ H2)

leaving the Gas HX enters the
absorber (at location-2) via a
spherical reservoir
And weak Aqua-ammonia enters
from the other side of absorber (at
What will be the result of this
counter flow interaction (b/w the gas
mixture and weak absorbent
solution) in the absorber?

What will be the result of this

counter flow interaction (b/w the gas
mixture and weak absorbent
solution) in the absorber?
Weak solution becomes strong due
to the absorption of NH3 vapour
And inert gas (hydrogen) is left alone
which experiences heating due to
the liberation of heat of absorption
upon NH3 vapor absorption
Strong absorbent solution trickles
down and leaves for generator from
the bottom of absorber (location-2)
Warm H2 rises and leaves for the
evaporator from the top of absorber
Thats how H2 completes the cycle

Strong Aqua-NH3 is heated in the

generator to separate NH3 vapour
bubbles from the Aqua
Leaving behind weak solution which
has to be sent back to the absorber

In conventional VARS, a PRV is used

to make the weak solution flow from
the generator (high pressure) to
absorber (low pressure)
But such a valve cannot help here
Bcoz the whole system is charged to
the same pressure
We need to pump weak solution
from generator to absorber w/o
disturbing the pressure equilibrium

This requirement of pumping weak

solution is met by a bubble pump

Bubble pump works on the principle

of thermo-syphon
It is a capillary tube with smooth walls,
that is immersed below the liquid level
in the generator

Upon heating in the generator, NH3

separates from the Aqua as vapour
bubble, and its volume increases
As the liquid inside the capillary tube
is confined laterally, the water slugs
(parcels) resting on the NH3 vapour
get lifted (thermo-syphoning)
These slugs of Aqua are delivered to
the separator where NH3 vapor shrug
off the water slugs resting on them
In the separator, slugs of weak aqua
settle down due to gravity and NH3
vapor rise further due to buoyancy

From separator, weak Aqua-ammonia

goes to the absorber and pure NH3
vapour (at high partial pressure) goes
to the condenser
For brevity, analyser and rectifier are
not shown in the figure
Assume that dehydrated NH3 vapor
leave from separator
This completes the refrigeration cycle

It should be realized that heat input to

the generator of pumpless systems
will be greater than the conventional
Why ?
Apart from liberating NH3 vapor in the
generator, extra heat is required to
operate the bubble pump

Though the total pressure is same
throughout the system
Unlike conventional VARS

But the system can still be bifurcated

into two sides
High pressure side (condenser and
generator) and
Low pressure side (evaporator and
Just like conventional VARS

How is it possible when the system

has same pressure throughout?
This bifurcation is on the basis of
(partial) pressure of the refrigerant

The refrigeration takes place due to

the expansion of liquid NH3 from
high (partial) pressure in the
condenser to low (partial) pressure
in the evaporator
Job of Expansion valve in the
conventional VARS is performed by
the inert gas (H2) fed to the

Flow of the refrigerant is due to the

gravity and buoyancy effects
It results in sluggish operation and
low heat transfer coefficient

For a unit power input, refrigeration capacities

of these systems are small due to
Sluggish operation and low values of (h)
Internal heat load (warm H2 in the evaporator)
Extra heat for operating bubble pump
All these factors lead to small COP
Generally, 0.2 to 0.5

Due to low COP and complex

construction, its use is encouraged for
the applications involving
Ready availability of heat (or
expensive high grade energy) e.g.
remote and rural areas

Noiseless operation e.g. domestic and

luxury hotel rooms
That is why, it is popularly know as
Domestic Electrolux Refrigerator

Presence of inert gas (H2) must be
restricted to the low pressure side
(evaporator and absorber)
That means H2 must be prevented
from going to the condenser
No need to worry about H2 invading
generator (due to liquid fluid there)

This is done by providing U bend

Which serves as a liquid seal

First U bend is provided b/w

evaporator & condenser
Second U bend is provided b/w
absorber & separator
It prevents H2 from going to the
condenser via separator

Contrast b/w Electrolux & Conventional VARS

Advantages over conventional VARS


No requirement of mechanical pump/ compressor Complex construction and

Thus no wear and tear, hence no lubrication problem operation

Thus virtually no maintenance cost

Low C.O.P.

Completely leak proof

Once it is spoiled, it is very

hard to repair it in-house

Noiseless operation
No need of (expansion) valve

As entire system is charged to the same pressure

Purely heat operated system
System may be designed to use any available
source of thermal energy

Example: Waste steam, exhaust from engines or

turbines, solar energy etc.
Easy control, simply by controlling the heat input to
the generator

Replacing it completely
is more economical
Major disadvantage of
pumpless refrigerator