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journal homepage: www.elsevier.com/locate/ijrefrig

Measurement of refrigerant mass distribution


within a R290 split air conditioner

Tingxun Li a,*, Jian Lu a, Lei Chen a, Dongcai He a, Xiaozhou Qiu a,


Hongyao Li a, Zhen Liu b
a
College of Engineering, Sun Yat-Sen University, Guangzhou 510006, China
b
Midea Group, Foshan 510725, China

article info abstract

Article history: R-290 (propane) has been chosen as one of the most potential next generation working
Received 5 March 2015 fluids of RACs because of its favourable environmental and thermo-physical properties.
Received in revised form However, its use is hindered by its flammability and resulting concerns on safety. In
2 May 2015 addition, the charge mass is limited strictly by the standards which would impact RAC's
Accepted 23 May 2015 heating performance. In this paper, refrigerant mass distributions within a R290 split type
Available online 3 June 2015 air conditioner were experimentally investigated at both static and dynamic state, in which
the liquid nitrogen method (LNM) was used to determine the refrigerant mass inside the
Keywords: components of the circuit. The distribution of refrigerant that changes with temperatures
R290 and compressor speed were also measured and discussed. The results can assist with
Air conditioner improving the design of the products (performance improvement, safety measures, etc.)
Refrigerant and providing data for further theoretical study and simulation analyses.
Distribution 2015 Elsevier Ltd and IIR. All rights reserved.

 ne dans un
Mesure de la distribution de masse de frigorige
conditionneur d'air split au R290
Mots cles : R290 ; Conditionneur d'air ; Frigorige
ne ; Distribution

improvements in system COP in split type and window air


1. Introduction conditioners with R290, values range from around 5%e15%.
For example, Padalkar et al. (2010) indicated up to 14% higher
Hydrocarbon systems are commercially available in a number efficiency of R290 than R22. Wu et al. (2012) tested a R290
of low charge air conditioning applications, such as small window type RAC and found 10%~15% higher efficiency. The
split, window and portable air conditioners. When used to main difficulty for R290 is its high flammability, which creates
replace traditional RAC working fluid R22, R290 has perfor- safety concerns in application, installation and field service.
mance characteristics that tend to yield higher energy effi- Standards limit the charge of R290; for example, IEC-60335-2-
ciency and lower cooling and heating capacity. In terms of

* Corresponding author.
E-mail address: Litx@mail.sysu.edu.cn (T. Li).
http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.ijrefrig.2015.05.012
0140-7007/ 2015 Elsevier Ltd and IIR. All rights reserved.
164 i n t e r n a t i o n a l j o u r n a l o f r e f r i g e r a t i o n 5 7 ( 2 0 1 5 ) 1 6 3 e1 7 2

However, there are no published literatures about the char-


Nomenclature acteristics of refrigerant distribution inside an R290 inverter
air-conditioning system. The purpose of this paper is to use
ODP ozone depletion potential
liquid nitrogen method (LNM) to measure refrigerant distri-
GWP global warming potential
bution inside an R290 inverter air condition system.
LNM liquid nitrogen method
In this paper, the experimental method is first described
OMM on-line measurement method
and then the results are presented and discussed. In partic-
IDUH indoor unit heat exchanger
ular, the investigation considers distribution under different
ODUH outdoor unit heat exchanger
operating modes (heating, cooling and powered off), local
W1 the mass of sampling cylinder before collecting
temperature conditions and duration after start-up.
(g)
W2 the mass of sampling cylinder after collecting
(g)
W3 the mass of the sampling cylinder after
2. Experimental method
collecting and Vacuuming (g)
The experiment was carried out in an enthalpy-difference
W the mass of the refrigerant in the sampling
laboratory, in which the temperature and humidity can be
cylinder (g)
well controlled, ensuring the accuracy of the test conditions.
DB dry-bulb temperature
An R290 inverter air-conditioning system is chosen to do this
WB wet-bulb temperature
experiment. The rated cooling capacity and heating capacity
WT the total mass of the refrigerant in each
is 2.6 kW and 4.2 kW, respectively. As shown in Fig. 1, the air
component of the system (g)
conditioner was reconstructed as follows. (1) Solenoid valves
WC the mass of refrigerant charge (g)
and stop valves were installed at the two sides of the evapo-
Greek symbols rator, the condenser, the compressor and accumulator. The
the deviation of the total refrigerant charge inner diameter of the valves was same as that of the pipes in
order to minimise the pressure drop of the valves. (2) Check
valves were installed in each pipe in order to prevent the
40 includes a formula to determine the maximum allowable reflux of refrigerant. Thermocouples were arranged along the
charge in a specific application (Li, 2014). In order to extend the heat exchangers, the compressor, the accumulator and the 4-
capacity range, charge reduction techniques can be applied, way valve. Six sampling cylinders were used to collect the
which reduces the refrigerant non-circled or useless for heat refrigerant of the components, the liquid pipe and the vapour
transferring. For instance, some refrigerant is dissolved in the pipe, respectively. The IDUH in the Fig. 1 was indoor unit heat
oil and some is held in the accumulator. From this point of exchanger that worked as evaporator for cooling and
view, understanding precisely how refrigerant is distributed condenser for heating. The ODUH was outdoor unit heat
among all circuit components is useful for system optimisa- exchanger. The liquid lines were the pipes between of ODUH
tion and industrialisation of R290 products. and IDUH, whiles the gas lines were the pipes from the IDUH
Liquid nitrogen method (LNM) and on-line measurement to the accumulator and the ones from compressor to the
method (OMM) are used to determine refrigerant mass inside condenser.
the components of the refrigeration system. With LNM, the A balance with 4.1 kg range and 0.1 g precision was used
refrigerant is drawn into a sampling cylinder with the low to measure the weight of the sampling cylinder. The physical
pressure caused by the low temperature of liquid nitrogen at parameters of the system components are listed in Table 1.
atmospheric pressure; the refrigerant mass is the difference The schematic of LNM was shown as Fig. 2. The operation
between the weight of the sampling cylinder with refrigerant steps of LNM were: (1) Vacuum the sampling cylinder and
and that without refrigerant. LNM has a high accuracy, but is weigh it as W1. (2) Connect the sampling cylinder to the
time-consuming and will consume substantial amounts sampling port, open the adjust valve 2 and evacuate the
liquid nitrogen. With OMM, the heat exchanger is weighed connecting pipe and then close the valve. (3) Start the air
directly. It is convenient and not as time consuming, but the conditioner and keep running until reaching the test condi-
accuracy is lower. tion, then simultaneously shut off both the air conditioner
Tanaka et al., (1982) studied on the dynamic characteristics and all solenoid valves. (4) Place the sampling cylinder into the
of a heat pump system through experiment; Belth et al. (1986, liquid nitrogen tank and open the valve 1 and valve 3, allowing
1988) proposed a method of using the leverage to quickly the refrigerant to flow into the sampling cylinder from the
measure the change of refrigerant mass in the refrigeration section. (5) When nearly all refrigerant flow into the sampling
system during the start-up and shut-down process, obtained cylinder (normally taking about 60 min), close the valve 1 and
the transient refrigerant mass flow rate in each component of the valve 3. (6) Disconnect the sampling cylinder from the
a heat pump system. Mulroy and Didion (1985) measured sampling port, defrost the surface of the sampling cylinder,
refrigerant migration in a split-unit air conditioner. Ji and Liu and weigh it as W2. (7) Open the valve 1 on the sampling cyl-
(2002) tested the distribution of refrigerant in the system of inder, and exhaust the refrigerant slowly, then vacuum the
inverter air conditioner under steady conditions. Ding et al. sampling cylinder and weigh it as W3. The collected mass of
(2009) presented a quasi-on-line measurement method for refrigerant W is:
measuring refrigerant mass inside heat exchangers of an
W W2  W3 : (1)
R410A inverter air conditioner under steady conditions.
i n t e r n a t i o n a l j o u r n a l o f r e f r i g e r a t i o n 5 7 ( 2 0 1 5 ) 1 6 3 e1 7 2 165

Fig. 1 e Schematic diagram of the experimental apparatus.

Table 1 e Specifications of the test apparatus parameters.


Compressor
Type Rotary DC inverter compressor
Displacement 17.9 cc/rev
Free volume (cm3) 993.6
Oil quantity (cm3) 200
Heat exchangers
Condenser Evaporator
Type Finned-tube Finned-tube
Volume (cm3) 740 650
Tube material Copper Copper
Tube length (mm) 875 605
Tube outer diameter (mm) 7 7
Tube inner diameter (mm) 6.59 6.59
Tube Spacing (mm) 21 21
Number of tube row 2 2
Numbers of tubes 24 30
Accumulator
Volume (cm3) 440
Pipes
Liquid pipe Compressor to condenser Evaporator to accumulator
Length (m) 5.5 1.2 5.8
Diameter (mm) 5 9 9
Volume (cm3) 107.9 76.3 368.8

Remark: the volumes of the components were determined by calculation.

Fig. 2 e Scheme and photo of refrigerant sampling rig.


166 i n t e r n a t i o n a l j o u r n a l o f r e f r i g e r a t i o n 5 7 ( 2 0 1 5 ) 1 6 3 e1 7 2

It should be noted that the reason why the refrigerant mass


W was calculated as Eq. (1) was that a small amount of oil in WT WC
 100% (2)
the compressor might be distributed among the refrigeration WC
system, and very small amount of oil might flow into the
Where WT is the total measured weight of the refrigerant in
sampling cylinder with the refrigerant, the quantity of the oil
each component of the system, WC is refrigerant charge. The
must therefore be subtracted.
refrigerant was charged by a charge machine (GALILEO Frigus
This paper experimentally investigated the refrigerant
K12) that the accuracy is 0.5 g. The accuracy of the balance is
distribution inside the R290 inverter air conditioner at both
0.1 g. Since the collected mass is sum of the five components,
static and dynamic states under cooling mode and heating
namely 0.5 g in total. Therefore, the biggest uncertainty both
mode. The distribution is affected by many factors such as
of the charged and collected mass is 0.204 per cent. The un-
flow rate of the refrigerant, temperature and running mode.
certainty of the deviation is calculated as Eq. (3) and it is about
The speed (frequency) of the compressor, the refrigerant
0.41 per cent.
charge mass and the working condition temperatures were
used to configure the test conditions as in Table 2. The tests D DWT  WC DWC
(3)
No.1, 2, 3, 8, 9 and 10 were used to study the effect of condition WT  WC WC
temperatures on the refrigerant distribution where the
The maximal deviation of the total refrigerant charge is
opening of the electronic expansion valve was fixed. With
2.31%, which indicated that the liquid nitrogen method was
tests No.1 and No.8, the electronic expansion valve setting
accurate enough. It could be found that most of the tests had
was adjusted to achieve the best performance (COP). Tests
negative deviation. The reason for it was that there were still
No.1, 4, 5, 8 and 11 were intended to investigate the influence
refrigerant left in the components. For test No 11, the devia-
of charged refrigerant mass where the electronic expansion
tion was positive for which the reason might be some oil
valve had been adjusted to optimise the system performance.
flowed into the cylinder or the cylinder was not totally blow-
The tests No.1, 6, 7, 8, 12 and 13 were used to research the
dried and some water was left on the cylinder surface.
distribution of the refrigerant affected by the compressor
frequency. It should be noted that the tests No.14 and 15 were
3.1. Influence of the ambient temperature
performed when the system was powered off under cooling or
heating mode. For these tests the air conditioner was kept
When the system was powered off, the refrigerant distribu-
running to a stable operating condition and then stopped
tion was largely influenced by the external temperature con-
while the solenoid valves were kept open to let the refrigerant
ditions. For example, most of the refrigerant (about 66%) was
flow freely in the circuit, whilst the indoor and outdoor tem-
located in the indoor unit heat exchanger when the indoor
peratures were kept constant. The solenoid valves were closed
and outdoor temperature were 27  C and 35  C respectively.
to isolate the sections after the circuit had been allowed to
When the indoor and outdoor temperature were changed to
stagnate for 90 min.
20  C and 7  C, respectively, the outdoor unit heat exchanger
held most (82%) refrigerant. This variation is evidently
dictated by the location of the lowest temperature, which re-
3. Results and discussion sults in the local state of the refrigerant being saturated and
thus forming a liquid reservoir where refrigerant would
The test results under steady conditions were summarized in condense at lower temperature.
Table 3. The deviation of the total refrigerant charge, , can be For heating mode, the refrigerant mass in the indoor heat
estimated by Eq. (2). exchanger (the evaporator that acts as a condenser for heating

Table 2 e Tests at steady conditions.


No. Mode Indoor temperature Outdoor temperature Refrigerant charge (g) Compressor frequency(Hz)
DB ( C)/WB ( C) DB ( C)/WB ( C)
1 Cooling 27/19 35/24 300 45
2 Cooling 27/19 27/24 300 45
3 Cooling 27/19 43/26 300 45
4 Cooling 27/19 35/24 245 45
5 Cooling 27/19 35/24 360 45
6 Cooling 27/19 35/24 300 23
7 Cooling 27/19 35/24 300 75
8 Heating 20/15 7/6 350 94
9 Heating 20/15 2/1 350 94
10 Heating 20/15 7/8 350 94
11 Heating 20/15 7/6 270 94
12 Heating 20/15 7/6 350 33
13 Heating 20/15 7/6 350 62
14 Power off 27/19 35/24 300 /
15 Power off 20/15 7/6 350 /
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Table 3 e Refrigerant distribution results under steady conditions.


No. Refrigerant mass distribution (g) Deviation (%)
ODU IDU C/A Liquid lines Gas lines Charged Collected
1 138.4 43.7 79.4 16 15.6 300 293.1 2.30
2 134.7 51.5 73.6 27.7 9.2 300 296.7 1.10
3 137.6 45.5 80.4 25.2 10.8 300 299.5 0.17
4 122.1 26 63.1 24.5 7.2 244 242.9 0.60
5 189.7 45.8 78.6 40 8.2 360 362.3 0.64
6 112.4 47 99.1 24.3 13.6 300 296.4 1.20
7 140.8 36.6 73.6 31.6 17 300 299.6 0.13
8 47.6 161.3 68.3 64.5 6.4 350 348.1 0.54
9 73.5 140.4 66.7 60.2 7.2 350 348.0 0.57
10 66.5 116 114.8 40.8 5.7 350 343.8 1.77
11 59.4 103.1 64.8 36.9 6.1 270 270.6 0.22
12 81.4 115.4 105.2 33.5 10.5 350 346.0 1.14
13 58.2 142.9 79 57.5 6.5 350 344.1 1.69
14 21.5 197.6 64.7 4.6 7.9 300 296.3 1.23
15 285 10.3 34.6 2.9 9.1 350 341.9 2.31

Fig. 3 e Refrigerant distribution of heating mode at different outer door temperature (The tests for 7  C and 7  C were No.8
and No.10 respectively).

Fig. 4 e Refrigerant distribution of cooling mode at different outer door temperature (The tests for 27  C and 43  C were No.2
and No.3 respectively).
168 i n t e r n a t i o n a l j o u r n a l o f r e f r i g e r a t i o n 5 7 ( 2 0 1 5 ) 1 6 3 e1 7 2

mode) was decreased as the outdoor temperature lowers use capillary tube but not expansion valve, which means that
(Fig. 3), while more refrigerant accrued in the outdoor com- different compressor speeds have same expansion valve
ponents (compressor, condenser and liquid pipe). This opening. For heating mode, the opening of the electronic
observation is expected since refrigerant density is higher at expansion valve was optimized and fixed for maximum fre-
lower temperature. In addition, more refrigerant was solved in quency (94 Hz) in this work. This meant that the throttling was
the compressor oil as its temperature decreases. Conversely, insufficient for other lower frequency (33 Hz and 62 Hz). Due to
under cooling mode the outdoor temperature had little effect the same reasons as with the cooling mode, more refrigerant
on the distribution of the refrigerant (Fig. 4). The most prob- would accrue in the accumulator and condenser (the
able reason is (1) the state of the inlet of the compressor was condenser in Fig. 6 in fact was outdoor heat exchanger and
almost same when the out temperature was changed from worked as evaporator for heating mode). The liquid pipe held
27  C to 35  C; (2) the refrigerant density in the condenser more refrigerant whilst gas pipe held less mass for faster
decreased slightly (the density is 488 kg m3 for 45  C and compressor speed. The reason for this is that lower
438 kg m3 for 55  C); (3) since inlet of the compressor was compressor speed would result lower condensing pressure
almost same, the oil temperature changed slightly and the oil and less mass flow rate. The outlet of the IDUH might be not
solubility was almost same. subcooled but two phases for lowest frequency and there
would be vapour in the liquid lines.

3.2. Influence of the compressor speed


3.3. Influence of the charge mass
By increasing the compressor speed, the refrigerant mass
under cooling mode increased in the condenser and decreased From the data in Table 3, it can be concluded that the refrigerant
in the evaporator, compressor and accumulator (Fig. 5). The in the heat exchangers accounts for about 55%e60% of the total
reason was that the opening of electronic expansion valve was charge when in steady cooling or heating mode. By increasing
fixed, which was optimized for the test No.1 that the com- the refrigerant charge, the refrigerant mass in the heat ex-
pressor's frequency was 45 Hz.Theoretically, a larger expan- changers increased. If the system is over charged, the condenser
sion valve opening is needed for higher compressor speed in (ODUH for cooling and IDUH for heating) will held more refrig-
order to maintain the inlet superheat of the compressor and erant (Fig. 7(b)). However, the ratio of the refrigerant in the heat
achieve the best system performance. Therefore, the expan- exchangers (ODUH and IDUH together) changed little. The
sion valve opening was too large for 23 Hz and the throttling refrigerant in the ODUH and the IDUH were 50.0 2.8% and
effect was poor. It resulted in lower vapour ratio at the outlet 12.0 2.9% of the whole charge at cooling mode (Fig. 7(a)) and
of the evaporator in that it was flooded with excess liquid, 18.0 4.3% and 42.0 4.3% at heating mode respectively (Fig. 8).
whilst more liquid flowed into the accumulator. The effect
was the opposite for 75 Hz. 3.4. Refrigerant transition during start-up
Different company have different control logic to adjust
the opening of the expansion valve, for example, the opening In order to investigate the refrigerant transition during start-
might be adjusted with the discharging temperature. Both the up, several tests were carried out, whereby the operation
compressor speed and the expansion valve's opening will was terminated at different durations after start-up; there-
determine the refrigerant mass flow of the circuit and then after the refrigerant mass was measured within each
affect the refrigerant distribution. In order to investigate the component. The tests conditions were listed in Table 4 (start-
compressor speed's influence to refrigerant distribution indi- up cooling mode conditions is as test No. 14 and start-up
vidually, the expansion valve's opening was fixed in this tests. heating mode is as test No.15 in Table 2). The test results are
In fact, there are lots of variable speed type RACs in the market listed in Table 5.

Fig. 5 e Refrigerant distribution with different compressor speeds in cooling mode (The tests for 23 Hz, 45 Hz and 75 Hz were
No.6, No.2 and No.7 respectively).
i n t e r n a t i o n a l j o u r n a l o f r e f r i g e r a t i o n 5 7 ( 2 0 1 5 ) 1 6 3 e1 7 2 169

Fig. 6 e Refrigerant distribution with different compressor speeds in heating mode (The tests for 33 Hz, 62 Hz and 94 Hz
were No.12, No.13 and No.8 respectively).

Fig. 7 e Refrigerant distribution with different charge mass at cooling mode (The tests for 360 g, 300 g and 245 g were No.5,
No.1 and No.4 respectively).
170 i n t e r n a t i o n a l j o u r n a l o f r e f r i g e r a t i o n 5 7 ( 2 0 1 5 ) 1 6 3 e1 7 2

Fig. 8 e Refrigerant distribution with different charge mass at heating mode (The tests for 350 g and 270 g were No.8 and
No.11).

The trend in the charge distribution within the circuit dur- from 0.13% to 3.93%. LNM was suitable for the refrig-
ing start-up for cooling mode and heating mode is shown in erant mass distribution measurements within the cir-
Fig. 9 and Fig. 10, respectively. The point that time was zero cuit components.
(t 0 min) was for shutdown mode and the point (t 40 min) (2). The refrigerant in the heat exchangers was about 60% of
represented stable operation condition. As shown in Fig. 9, the whole charge at steady conditions, whether in
almost all of refrigerant was drawn out of the evaporator and cooling or heating mode.
rapidly transferred into the condenser and the accumulator/ (3). When the system was powered off, most of the refrig-
compressor within the first half-minute. After two minutes, erant would accumulate in the heat exchanger that
the refrigerant mass in the compressor and accumulator experienced the lower temperature. For cooling mode,
decreased, as the refrigerant separated from the compressor the working temperature had little effect on the distri-
oil and further migrated into the condenser, evaporator and bution of the refrigerant. For heating mode, the refrig-
piping. The refrigerant in the liquid pipe increased gradually erant would move from the indoor unit into outdoor
until the state became stable (i.e., full of saturated liquid). units as the ambient temperature decreases.
For heating mode, most of the refrigerant was initially (4). Increasing the compressor speed (frequency), the
located in the condenser. Similar to cooling mode, refrigerant refrigerant mass in the condenser increases and that in
rapidly flowed out of the condenser and into the accumulator/ the evaporator and the compressor/accumulator de-
compressor and evaporator. After one minute, the refrigerant creases under cooling mode. On the contrary, the
mass in the condenser and evaporator increased and reduced refrigerant mass in the evaporator decreases for heating
in the compressor/accumulator gradually towards a stable mode with the compressor speed.
state (Fig. 10). (5). With the increase of the refrigerant charge, the refrig-
erant mass in the heat exchangers increases, but the
distribution ratio of the refrigerant in the heat ex-
changers changes little.
4. Conclusions
(6). During start-up, the refrigerant flowed out from the
heat exchanger that initially had lower temperature
(1). LNM is an accurate method for refrigerant mass mea-
into the compressor/accumulator and the heat
surement and the deviation of this experiment ranges

Table 5 e Refrigerant distribution results under start-up.


Table 4 e Tests of start-up.
No. Refrigerant mass distribution (g) Total
No. Mode Refrigerant Time after
deviation (%)
charge (g) start-up (min) ODU IDU C/A Pip A Pip B Total
1 Cooling 300 0 1 21.5 197.6 64.7 4.6 7.9 296.3 1.23
2 Cooling 300 0.5 2 124.4 12.6 128.6 20.3 6.9 292.8 2.40
3 Cooling 300 1 3 134.5 10.7 115.8 26.2 6.4 293.6 2.13
4 Cooling 300 2 4 132.5 10 119.1 20.4 6.2 288.2 3.93
5 Cooling 300 5 5 155.5 28.7 71.7 33.4 8.5 297.8 0.73
6 Cooling 300 40 6 138.4 43.7 79.4 16 15.6 293.1 2.30
7 Heating 350 0 7 285 10.3 34.6 2.9 9.1 341.9 2.31
8 Heating 350 0.5 8 74.9 59.9 188.8 14.2 8.4 346.2 1.09
9 Heating 350 1 9 26.1 104.5 164.9 33.2 18.4 347.1 0.83
10 Heating 350 2 10 20.4 113.5 170.2 36.5 6.8 347.4 0.74
11 Heating 350 5 11 45.8 139.3 86.6 61.9 15 348.6 0.40
12 Heating 350 40 12 58.2 142.9 79 57.5 6.5 344.1 1.69
i n t e r n a t i o n a l j o u r n a l o f r e f r i g e r a t i o n 5 7 ( 2 0 1 5 ) 1 6 3 e1 7 2 171

Fig. 9 e Refrigerant transition during start-up at cooling mode.

Fig. 10 e Refrigerant transition during start-up at heating mode.

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