Chiller

Chiller

[chil-er]

A chiller is a machine that removes heat from a liquid via a vapor-compression or absorption refrigeration cycle. Most often water is chilled, but this water may also contain ~20% glycol and corrosion inhibitors; other fluids such as thin oils can be chilled as well.

Fully Chilled water is used to cool and dehumidify air in mid- to large-size commercial, industrial, and institutional (CII) facilities. Most chillers are designed for indoor operation, but a few are weather-resistant. Chillers are precision machines that are very expensive to purchase and operate, so great care is needed in their selection and maintenance. Engineers are normally retained to evaluate applications' cooling needs, and to specify the optimal machines.

Use in air conditioning

In air conditioning systems, chilled water is distributed to heat exchangers, or coils, in air handling units, and used water is returned to the chiller. These cooling coils transfer sensible heat and latent heat from the air to the chilled water, thus cooling and usually dehumidifying the air stream. A typical chiller for air conditioning applications is rated between 15 to 1500 tons (180,000 to 18,000,000 BTU/h or 53 to 5,300 kW) in cooling capacity.

Use in industry

In their industrial application, cooled water or other liquid from the chiller is pumped through process or laboratory equipment. Industrial chillers are used for controlled cooling of products, mechanisms and factory machinery in a wide range of industries. They are often used in the plastic industry in injection and blow molding, metal working cutting oils, welding equipment, die-casting and machine tooling, chemical processing, pharmaceutical formulation, food and beverage processing, vacuum systems, X-ray diffraction, power supplies and power generation stations, analytical equipment, semiconductors, compressed air and gas cooling. They are also used to cool high-heat specialized items such as MRI machines and lasers.

The chillers for industrial applications can be centralized, where each chiller serves multiple cooling needs, or decentralized where each application or machine has its own chiller. Each approach has its advantages. It is also possible to have a combination of both central and decentral chillers, especially if the cooling requirements are the same for some applications or points of use, but not all.

Decentral chillers are usually small in size (cooling capacity), usually from 0.2 tons to 10 tons. Central chillers generally have capacities ranging from ten tons to hundreds or thousands of tons.

Technology

There are basically five different types of compressors used in chillers: Reciprocating compression, scroll compression, screw-driven compression, and centrifugal compression are all mechanical machines that can be powered by electric motors, steam, or gas turbines. They produce their cooling effect via the "reverse-Rankine" cycle, also known as 'vapor-compression'. With evaporative cooling heat rejection, their coefficients-of-performance (COPs) are very high and typically 4.0 or more.

Absorption chillers' thermodynamic cycle are driven by heat source; this heat is usually delivered to the chiller via steam, hot water, or combustion. Compared to electrically powered chillers, they have very low electrical power requirements - very rarely above 15 kW combined consumption for both the solution pump and the refrigerant pump. However, their heat input requirements are large, and their COPs are often 0.5 (single-effect) to 1.0 (double-effect). For the same tonnage capacity, they require much larger cooling towers than vapor-compression chillers. However, absorption chillers, from an energy-efficiency point-of-view, excel where cheap, high grade heat or waste heat is readily available. In extremely sunny climates, solar energy has been used to operate absorption chillers.

Chillers can be air-cooled or water-cooled. Water-cooled chillers incorporate the use of cooling towers which improve the chillers' thermodynamic effectiveness as compared to air-cooled chillers. This is due to heat rejection at or near the air's wet-bulb temperature rather than the higher, sometimes much higher, dry-bulb temperature.

Where available, cold water readily available in nearby water bodies might be used directly for cooling, or to replace or supplement cooling towers. The Deep Lake Water Cooling System in Toronto, Canada, is an example. It dispensed with the need for cooling towers, with a significant cut in carbon emissions and energy consumption. It uses cold lake water to cool the chillers, which in turn are used to cool city buildings via a district cooling system. The return water is used to warm the city's drinking water supply which is desirable in this cold climate. Whenever a chiller's heat rejection can be used for a productive purpose, in addition to the cooling function, very high thermal effectivenesses are possible.

Industrial chiller technology

Industrial chillers typically come as complete packaged closed-loop systems, including the chiller unit, condenser, and pump station with recirculating pump, expansion valve, no-flow shutdown, internal cold water tank, and temperature control. The internal tank helps maintain cold water temperature and prevents temperature spikes from occurring. Closed loop industrial chillers recirculate a clean coolant or clean water with condition addititives at a constant temperature and pressure to increase the stability and reproducibility of water-cooled machines and instruments. The water flows from the chiller to the application's point of use and back.

If the water temperature differentials between inlet and outlet are high, then a large external water tank would be used to store the cold water. In this case the chilled water is not going directly from the chiller to the application, but goes to the external water tank which acts as a sort of "temperature buffer." The cold water tank is much larger than the internal water tank. The cold water goes from the external tank to the application and the return hot water from the application goes back to the external tank, not to the chiller.

The less common open loop industrial chillers control the temperature of a liquid in an open tank or sump by constantly recirculating it. The liquid is drawn from the tank, pumped through the chiller and back to the tank. An adjustable thermostat senses the makeup liquid temperature, cycling the chiller to maintain a constant temperature in the tank.

One of the newer developments in industrial water chillers is the use of water cooling instead of air cooling. In this case the condenser does not cool the hot refrigerant with ambient air, but uses water cooled by a cooling tower. This development allows a reduction in energy requirements by more than 15% and also allows a significant reduction in the size of the chiller due to the small surface area of the water based condenser and the absence of fans. Additionally, the absence of fans allows for significantly reduced noise levels.

Most industrial chillers use refrigeration as the media for cooling, but some rely on simpler techniques such as air or water flowing over coils containing the coolant to regulate temperature. Water is the most commonly used coolant within process chillers, although coolant mixtures (mostly water with a coolant additive to enhance heat dissipation) are frequently employed.

Industrial chiller selection

Important specifications to consider when searching for industrial chillers include the power source, chiller IP rating, chiller cooling capacity, evaporator capacity, evaporator material, evaporator type, condenser material, condenser capacity, ambient temperature, motor fan type, noise level, internal piping materials, number of compressors, type of compressor, number of fridge circuits, coolant requirements, fluid discharge temperature, and COP (the ratio between the cooling capacity in KW to the energy consumed by the whole chiller in KW). For medium to large chillers this should range from 3.5-4.8 with higher values meaning higher efficiency. Chiller efficiency is often specified in kilowatts per refrigeration ton (kW/RT).

Process pump specifications that are important to consider include the process flow, process pressure, pump material, elastomer and mechanical shaft seal material, motor voltage, motor electrical class, motor IP rating and pump rating. If the cold water temperature is lower than -5ºC, then a special pump needs to be used to be able to pump the high concentrations of ethylene glycol. Other important specifications include the internal water tank size and materials and full load amperage.

Control panel features that should be considered when selecting between industrial chillers include the local control panel, remote control panel, fault indicators, temperature indicators, and pressure indicators.

Additional features include emergency alarms, hot gas bypass, city water switchover, and casters.

Refrigerants

A vapor-compression chiller uses a refrigerant internally as its working fluid. Many refrigerants options are available; when selecting a chiller, the application cooling temperature requirements and refrigerant's cooling characteristics need to be matched. Important parameters to consider are the operating temperatures and pressures.

There are several environmental factors that concern refrigerants, and also affect the future availability for chiller applications. This is a key consideration in intermittent applications where a large chiller may last for 25 years or more. Ozone depletion potential (ODP) and global warming potential (GWP) of the refrigerant need to be considered. ODP and GWP data for some of the more common vapor-compression refrigerants; R-134a ODP = 0 and GWP = 1300; R-123 ODP = 0.012 and GWP = 120; R-22 ODP = 0.05, GWP = 1700, R401a ODP=0.027 and GWP=970, R408a ODP=0.016 and GWP=3020, R409a ODP=0.039 and GWP=1290, R500 ODP=0.7, R502 ODP=0.18 and GWP=5600, R134a ODP=0 GWP=1300, R404a ODP=0 GWP=3260, R407a ODP=0, R407c ODP=0 GWP=1525, R410a ODP=0 GWP=1725.

See also

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