Industrial refrigeration is a fundamental element in various productive sectors, as it provides precise temperature control necessary for critical processes and the storage of sensitive products. Unlike commercial or domestic refrigeration, industrial systems are of larger scale and complexity. Thanks to their specific designs, they can meet demanding industrial requirements. In this sense, understanding the key components in industrial refrigeration is essential for optimizing processes and maximizing efficiency.

From mass food production to pharmaceutical manufacturing, industrial refrigeration is essential for maintaining quality, extending shelf life, and ensuring product safety.

Key Principles of Industrial Refrigeration

Essentially, industrial refrigeration is based on thermodynamic principles that govern heat transfer, phase changes, and the refrigeration cycle. These principles are basic to understand the operation of large-scale refrigeration systems and ensure their effectiveness:

  • Heat transfer is the process by which heat moves from one body to another, using mechanisms such as conduction, convection, and radiation. Of course, this heat transfer is key in industrial refrigeration because it involves extracting heat from spaces or products that need to be cooled.
  • Likewise, the phase change of the refrigerant is another critical aspect. When the refrigerant absorbs heat, it changes from a liquid to a gas state. This is an endothermic process that absorbs heat from the surroundings, thus cooling the surrounding area. This phenomenon is essential in the refrigeration cycle and determines the system’s efficiency.
  • On the other hand, the refrigeration cycle follows a constant process involving the evaporation and condensation of the refrigerant to remove heat. It begins with heat absorption and evaporation in the evaporator, followed by vapor compression, heat release in the condenser, and finally, expansion of the refrigerant to restart the cycle.

Key Components in Industrial Refrigeration

An industrial refrigeration system is composed of a series of interconnected devices, each playing an influential role in the cooling process. These key components are:

Compressors: the heart of cooling

Undoubtedly, compressors are key in industrial refrigeration because they are responsible for increasing the temperature and pressure of the refrigerant vapor. Similar to the operation of the human heart, compressors pump the refrigerant through the system, thus facilitating the cooling process.

There are several types of compressors, each suitable for different industrial applications:

  • Reciprocating compressors, which operate very similarly to a car engine and are particularly efficient in small and medium-sized systems.
  • Screw compressors. As the name suggests, they consist of two interlocking screws that compress the refrigerant. They are common in more demanding industrial applications due to their ability to handle high volumes of refrigerant.
  • Centrifugal compressors. These units use an impeller that rotates rapidly to transfer energy to the refrigerant. They are generally used in large-scale refrigeration systems.

During operation, compressors go through a continuous cycle of suction, compression, and discharge of the refrigerant. In the suction phase, the refrigerant gas enters the compressor chamber. Then, the gas is compressed, increasing its temperature and pressure. Finally, the high-pressure and high-temperature gas is expelled to the condenser where it releases heat.

This cycle is essential for maintaining the refrigerant flow and ensuring its proper condensation in the condenser.

Condensers, essential components for rejecting heat

Taking this into account, the next key component in industrial refrigeration is the condenser. This unit plays a fundamental role in rejecting the heat absorbed during the refrigeration cycle. As mentioned, this component receives the refrigerant in the form of vapor at high temperature and pressure, a product of having absorbed heat from the cooling space. Inside the condenser, the vapor is gradually cooled, mainly by removing latent heat, transforming it back into liquid at high pressure.

In effect, the efficiency of the condenser is evaluated by its ability to transfer heat to the surrounding environment. This process can be carried out through air or water cooling, or a combination of both. Air-cooled condensers use fans to blow air over coils containing hot refrigerant, while water-cooled condensers circulate water through coils to dissipate heat. Indeed, at Intersam, we develop industrial refrigeration systems with air-water, water-air, and water-refrigerant condensation with the purpose of achieving maximum efficiency and energy savings.

In addition to its role in heat transfer, condensers are vital for maintaining the proper pressure within the refrigeration system, ensuring the correct operation of compressors and evaporators. Effective heat rejection by condensers is essential for keeping the refrigeration cycle running efficiently. At the same time, this ensures precise temperature control in critical industrial applications.

The Evaporator, Another Key Piece in Industrial Refrigeration

Similarly, evaporators are essential components that facilitate the actual cooling process in industrial refrigeration systems. After absorbing heat from the space or product to be cooled, refrigerants change from a liquid to a gas state during the refrigeration cycle. Evaporators play a leading role in this process by allowing the liquid refrigerant – at low pressure due to expansion through an expansion valve – to absorb heat and evaporate.

During evaporation, the refrigerant extracts heat from the surrounding environment, achieving significant cooling in the immediate area. This is essential for maintaining the low temperatures required in refrigeration spaces or for preserving products at the necessary temperatures for their conservation.

There are several types of evaporators, adapted to different needs and industrial applications:

  • Bare tube evaporators, widely used in small infrastructures.
  • Plate evaporators, which optimize space utilization.
  • Fin evaporators, which increase the heat transfer surface to achieve more suitable cooling.

Expansion valves precisely regulate refrigerant flow

Indeed, expansion valves play a fundamental role in regulating the flow of refrigerant to the evaporator. These devices are responsible for accurately measuring the amount of refrigerant needed according to the cooling demand. In this way, they maintain an optimal balance in the refrigeration cycle.

There are several types of expansion valves, each designed to meet specific refrigeration needs:

  • Thermostatic expansion valves: These valves have a sensor bulb that adjusts refrigerant flow and monitors the temperature of the refrigerant leaving the evaporator. They are common in systems with fluctuating loads.
  • Electronic expansion valves: This category of valves has sophisticated electronic components that accurately control refrigerant flow. They are capable of optimizing performance based on real-time data.
  • Automatic expansion valves: Valves of this type maintain a constant superheat at the evaporator outlet. Their design is simpler and they are usually used in systems with constant load.
  • Capillary tubes: These are fixed orifice devices that control refrigerant flow without requiring moving parts. They depend on pressure drop and refrigerant properties. They are often used in smaller systems.

The expansion valve is another key element in industrial refrigeration because it directly influences the pressure and temperature dynamics of the system.

Refrigerants

Of course, refrigerants are crucial elements for heat transfer and maintaining low temperatures in industrial refrigeration systems. Selecting the right refrigerant is crucial, considering its properties and environmental impact.

There are various types of refrigerants. From CFCs and HCFCs, with high ozone depletion potential (ODP), to HFCs, with high global warming potential (GWP). There are also natural refrigerants and HFOs, with lower environmental risk profiles.

Legal instruments and measures such as the European Union’s Fluorinated Gas Regulation or F-Gas and the Fluorinated Gas Tax in Spain seek to reduce the use of refrigerants with high environmental impact. In this context, the choice of ecological refrigerants and the adoption of sustainable practices in industrial refrigeration are fundamental to mitigate climate change and protect the ozone layer, promoting a greener and more sustainable future for the refrigeration industry.

Intersam is the key partner in industrial refrigeration that you need

Since 1995, at Intersam, we design and develop refrigeration and air conditioning systems for industry and commerce. Our capacity and experience are well known in Spain and several countries, where we have carried out projects of various complexity and magnitude. Recently, for example, we completed a 6.5MW thermal exchange installation in Salar del Carmen (Antofagasta, Chile), with a water cooling system.

Refrigeration is our business! That’s why we are your key partner in industrial refrigeration, wherever you need us. Contact us!

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