Happy World Refrigeration Day!

Today is World Refrigeration Day!

The first of what will hopefully be an annual celebration highlighting the important contributions of refrigeration in our everyday lives. In honor of this very special day, Chase Cooling Systems wanted to contribute a brief history of refrigeration and its growth into such an important industry.

Refrigeration in the broadest sense of the world refers to any process that lowers and maintains a temperature below the temperature of the surrounding ambient. The concept of refrigeration and cooling objects has been around a long time. Evidence of ice houses go back to Mesopotamia in 1780 BC and evaporative cooling Yakhchals have existed since 400 BC in Persian deserts. Needless to say, humans have long recognized the importance and the power of refrigeration.

Early Mechanical Refrigeration</font color>

The first instance of using mechanical refrigeration, however, was not until 1755. Scottish professor William Cullen drafted a machine that used a pump to create a vacuum in a container of diethyl ether. The vacuum lowered the boiling point of the ether and allowed the ether to absorb more heat from the surrounding air when boiled. Though hailed as a useful advancement, no practical application resulted.

Vapor-Compression Cycle</font color>

Fifty years later the American Oliver Evans expanded on this principle with his invention of the closed vapor-compression cycle. He used Cullen’s understanding of a lowered boiling point in a vacuum and demonstrated how the vapor could be used to cool. However a working model was not created until 1835 by Jacob Perkins. Another 7 years were needed before John Gorrie created a commercially successful one! Gorrie was able to use the vapor-compression cycle to cool hot air in rooms. Unfortunately, his unit required too much ice to provide lasting, practical cooling.  

Finally, in 1851 British journalist James Harrison used the technology to artificially create ice. By using ether, alcohol, or ammonia as opposed to simple air, Harrison’s invention allowed both the reuse of cooling agent and for temperatures to be brought well below the freezing point of water. Harrison used a compressor to force the refrigeration gas through a condenser where it cooled and liquefied. The cooled gas than circulated through coils and vaporized, cooling the surrounding process. His refrigeration cycle essentially matches the existing cycle today. The first uses for these machines were in breweries and meat packing houses. Both industries still rely heavily on refrigeration and chillers for their processes today. With regular refrigeration, breweries could make consistent product year-round. Learn more about process cooling in the brewery industry.

Artificial Cooling Expands</font color>

Other industries soon saw the benefits of artificial cooling. In metalworking, tools could be tempered. With less moisture in the air, iron production could increase. Even textile mills found a use for refrigeration during the bleaching and dyeing processes. Floral seasons were extended and human bodies could be better preserved for study. Refrigeration found a use in almost all industries from oil refineries to paper manufacturers to fur warehouses. Many of these processes, though touched by innovation, continue to rely heavily on process cooling.

In the early 20th century, the mechanical refrigerator underwent several changes & improvements. Eventually, the Frigidaire Company purchased the compressor-variant refrigerant in 1918. With a solid design & large company capital, the mass production of refrigerators for the home began. Other companies soon joined in and by the middle of the 20th century, the icebox was virtually gone from the American home. In its place stood the reliable home refrigerator.

Refrigeration Today</font color>

Though now a staple of the both home & industrial life, the refrigeration & cooling industry continues to see advancements. Particular areas of concerns revolve around the cooling agents. Ammonia was the original coolant, but its high toxicity, especially in the case of leaks, was problematic. Today synthetic refrigerants such as R410A and R134 are most common. Though recent environmental concerns have lead to the need for further innovation and answers.

Refrigeration exists in many forms across our modern lives. From the manufacture of daily products to the preservation of food to the development of lifesaving processes & medicines, refrigeration is pivotal to our current lifestyles. Today on this World Refrigeration Day, take a moment to appreciate the role of refrigeration in your life.

For more events and information about World Refrigeration Day, check out the International Institute of Refrigeration’s Facebook Event page. Or follow the conversation on Twitter using the hashtag #wrefd19. Let us know how you are choosing to celebrate the history or refrigeration.