Types of Refrigeration Compressors


Carrier screw compressor

Looking to cool things down in your shop with a new refrigeration compressor? You may want to look around and determine what type you need, because there are plenty of different types of refrigeration compressors out there.

Quick Background: Compressors provide air conditioning, heat pumping, or refrigeration for large facilities such as warehouses or temperature-controlled storage units. Compression is used to either raise the temperature or remove water vapor from an evaporator.

The majority are large, industrial refrigeration compressors and are not normally seen in the typical household residence. Back in 1914, Nathaniel B. Wales from Detroit, Michigan engineered a machine he called an electric refrigeration unit, which later became the building blocks for the Kelvinator.

About Refrigeration Compressors: When these machines are in use, the vapor is condensed and then exits the equipment as high-pressure heated vapor. The secret behind this great invention that we take for granted now is that air is used to exchange heat. There is also a circulating liquid refrigerant chemical used to absorb and remove heat from an area to be cooled. The equipment then rejects the heat elsewhere (such as the outside environment).

Commercial compressors are categorized into three parts: Open, hermetic, or semi-hermetic. Each one describes how the compressor and it’s motor is situated in relation to the refrigerant.

Compressor Types: Depending on your facility’s needs, a specific refrigeration compressor can be provided.

  • Piston: These use a piston and cylinder in order to create compressive force. The motion of the piston (with the help of external power) then compresses the refrigerant inside the cylinder. This type is very cost effective and simple.
  • Rotary: These compressors have two rotating gears between which sits the refrigerant that is being compressed. This type is very efficient because the intake of refrigerant and the compressing action take place at the same time. There are also low maintenance costs associated with this type of compressor.
  • Screw: This equipment uses helical-shaped screws that come together to compress the refrigerant situated between them, much like the rotary compressor. However, they can produce high amounts of pressure on a small quantity of gas, thus consuming less power.
  • Scroll: Scroll compressors have two spiral disks slightly askew but which nest together to compress the refrigerant. The top disk remains stationary while the bottom disk rotates in a circular motion, which creates a very quiet piece of equipment. These compressors are more flexible for dealing with liquid refrigerants but cannot be easily repaired.
  • Centrifugal: Using an impeller wheel, this compressor creates centrifugal force on the refrigerant inside a round container. These compressors have a fixed volume chamber and are well-suited for compressing large amounts of refrigerant to create low pressures. This type usually requires two compression stages to work properly.

Make sure you know the type of refrigerant you are dealing with, because each compressor type usually deals with a specific refrigerant. Using the wrong compressor could lead to costly repairs.

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