The function of a compressor is simple: gas enters the compressor at low pressure, it is compressed, and leaves at a higher pressure. Though compressors have a broad range of uses, this blog will focus on those used for refrigeration and HVAC systems. Like most machines, compressors come in many types based on their application. In general, the refrigerant or the required volume of cooling capacity will determine the type of compressor needed. There are three main types of compressors used in refrigeration: reciprocating, rotary, and centrifugal.
Reciprocating compressors function similarly to a car engine. A piston slides back and forth in a cylinder, drawing in and compressing the low-pressure refrigerant before sending it out at a higher pressure. Reciprocating cylinders are frequently multi-stage systems, meaning one cylinder's discharge leads directly into the input side of the next cylinder. This allows for more compression than a single stage. Reciprocating parts have many lubricated parts, including cylinders, valves, bearings, and more.
Rotary compressors use a set of screws or vanes to draw gas into the compression chamber and compress it. This function is similar to the flow of a vane pump. Not unlike reciprocating compressors, they have many lubricated components. Centrifugal compressors use the rotational motion of the drive to rotate a series of impellers that provide the compression action. These systems often rotate at several thousand revolutions per minute, meaning the lubricant must be thin enough to lubricate at these speeds but still thick enough to handle the heat and refrigerant contamination that could occur.
Refrigeration has revolutionized countless industries, whether it is used to remove heat or simply to create a more comfortable work environment. The cooling cycle is based on the way gases experience a change in temperature when their pressure changes. The compressor acts as a pump to circulate the refrigerant. The refrigerant leaves the compressor as a high-pressure gas and travels into a condenser. In the condenser, the gas turns into a liquid which then flows through a pipe to a metering device. Following the metering device is the evaporator, where the heat transfer occurs. When the air passing over the evaporator is warmer than desired, the heat is absorbed by the refrigerant and transported back to the condenser and removed. The compressor is what allows for this process to take place.
Refrigerants must be able to absorb and transfer heat. Based on the desired temperature, there are several types of refrigerants. They must also be readily able to change from liquid to gas, this change of state allowing for the sudden temperature drop after moving through the metering device. Depending on the type of refrigerant, you can achieve very low temperature refrigeration as well as simple cooling capacity. The most common types of refrigerants are hydrocarbon-based, which are are similar to the refrigerants you would use in your house or car. Another common refrigerant used in industrial settings is ammonia, which performs well and can achieve low temperatures for cooling and freezing.
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