How Do Chillers Work? Compressors

Showing how do chillers work with pipework of black centrifugal compressor

How Do Chillers Work? Compressors

How do chillers work, this time focusing on compressors. Read below and we will explore the subject in detail…

The compressor can be seen as the heart of a chiller system. As explained in the last article in our Chiller Basics series: it enables the principle of the pressure temperature relationship to take place and circulates the refrigerant.

Evaporator

The sucking action of the compressor drops the pressure in the evaporator. This lower pressure, corresponding to a lower temperature, enables the refrigerant to boil off, absorbing latent heat from the process. The refrigerant, laden with heat energy, is then sucked into the compressor.

Condenser

The refrigerant is discharged from the compressor at a high pressure, relative to a high temperature, this is sufficiently above atmospheric temperature to enable the latent heat in the refrigerant to exchange into the surrounding air.

How Do Chillers Work - Mass Flow Rate of Compressors

Compressors enable the refrigerant to flow around the system. The higher the pressure of the refrigerant, the higher the mass and so the higher the mass flow rate. In low temperature systems that run on a vacuum, a very large compressor is needed to achieve the required mass flow rate and so to cool the process.

Below are the 4 main types of compressors and how they work…

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How Do Chillers Work - Scroll Compressors

This compressor is more often found on smaller chillers. Scroll is another way of describing a spiral. There are two spirals, one inside the other. One of them is fixed and the other one orbits. This creates crescent shaped gaps in between the two spirals. The volume of these crescent shapes gets smaller towards the middle of the spirals and so compresses the refrigerant. The refrigerant is then discharged through a port at the middle of the scrolls.

Maintenance

Scroll compressors are meant to be maintenance free as they are hermetically sealed with no moving parts on the outside. However, the correct amount and sufficient quality of lubricating oil must be maintained to prolong its life. A lack of routine maintenance by a chiller company causes frequent compressor failures and also allows acid to accumulate in the system. This acid causes further compressor failures to occur. Give us a bell and we will put together a tailor made maintenance schedule to prolong the life of your plant.

How Do Chillers Work - Reciprocating Compressors

Small

These compressors can be small and used for low capacity applications. The motor is usually inside the compressor with the cylinder heads being removable. This is described as being a semi hermetic compressor.

Large

Reciprocating compressors can also be very large and often arranged in multiple compressor systems for high capacity applications. They are open drive when used with ammonia refrigerant which means that the motor is external from the compressor. This is because ammonia corrodes the copper windings of the motor.

How They Work

The circular motion of the crankshaft is converted into the linear motion of the connecting rods and pistons running up and down inside the cylinders- see a video of how they work. Another way of describing back and forth linear motion is reciprocating. The refrigerant is sucked into the cylinder on the down stroke and then the suction inlet valves are closed. The trapped refrigerant is compressed on the up stroke and then the discharge valves are opened when the piston reaches the top of the cylinder.

Maintenance

Reciprocating compressors need regular maintenance and strip downs at pre prescribed intervals. Failure for this to be carried out results in internal components becoming worn or loose. This imbalance in the compressor causes further wear and damage to take place. Eventually something like a piston comes loose and a compressor smash up occurs. The damage is usually limited due a low oil pressure condition occurring from the location of where the part came loose. Sometimes, however, parts of the connecting rods stay attached to the crankshaft which flail around inside the compressor. An example of this is when a compressor we rebuilt had carried on running on the last one of its 8 cylinders. The rest of the internal compressor components were reduced to small, triangle shaped pieces of metal in the sump. Our maintenance saves money!

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How Do Chillers Work - Screw Compressors

A pair of matched helical rotors are machined to a high tolerance. One of them is driven by a motor and the other one interlocks with it. The gap between the rotors gets smaller as the refrigerant continues down the screw and so compression is achieved. Oil is injected into the screw to provide a seal, to lubricate and to cool the rotors.

Maintenance

This type of compressor is very reliable and can quite often out live the chiller. The components around the screw, however, require regular maintenance and replacement to enable the compressor to function effectively. Some of these components include the loading solenoids and coils, also the slide valve and its potentiometer which senses its position. When these components are not working as they should, the compressor cannot match the required load and so excessive electricity consumption occurs. The inspection, adjustment and replacement of these components is another way of how our maintenance saves money.

How Do Chillers Work - Centrifugal Compressors

These compressors are mostly found on very high capacity systems used for the cooling of large industrial processes, district cooling and the cooling of large facilities. The compressor in the photo, however, is a small centrifugal compressor used for the cooling of a building.

How They Work

The refrigerant is sucked into the middle of the impellor. Then, centrifugal force pushes it out to the tip of the impellor edge and so providing the compression. Unlike the compressors above, these compressors are not positive displacement and so they have a lower compression ratio. That is to say: a lower difference in pressure between the suction and the discharge.

Maintenance

Regular oil and filter changes are required to prolong the life of the bearings. When this kind of compressor fails due to worn bearings and damaged internal components, the rebuild is extremely expensive. Read more about our centrifugal compressor remanufacturing facility

Related Articles:
Scroll Chiller Compressor Maintenance

Reciprocating Chiller Compressor Maintenance

Screw Chiller Compressor Maintenance

Centrifugal Chiller Compressor Maintenance

Hit the Tags at the top of the page to navigate your way to our extensive library of further reading on this subject.

Read more about types of compressors on the Carel website


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Maximus Chillers

Maximus Chillers for centrifugal, water cooled, air cooled and ammonia chillers

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