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Energy Conversion and Management 42 (2001) 2083±2095

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Rationally based model for evaluating the optimal refrigerant


mass charge in refrigerating machines
Naer Vjacheslav a, Andrey Rozhentsev b, Chi-Chuan Wang b,*
a
Odessa State Academy of Refrigeration, Odessa, Ukraine
b
Energy and Resources Laboratories, Industrial Technology Research Institute, D500 ERL/ITRI, Building 64, 195-6
Section 4, Chung Hsing Road, Chutung, Hsinchu 310, Taiwan, ROC
Received 19 July 2000; accepted 6 December 2000

Abstract
A rationally based algorithm was proposed to evaluate the optimal mass charge into refrigerating ma-
chines. The calculated results indicate that the system performance is strongly related to the refrigerant
mass charge. In the early stage of the refrigerant charge process, a sharp rise of COP is observed. The COP
reaches an optimal value for a speci®ed refrigerant charge and shows a slight drop for a further increase of
refrigerant charge. Calculated results reveal similar trends to those of experimental data. The analysis of the
study can well interpret the cycle transformation subject to refrigerant mass charge. Ó 2001 Elsevier
Science Ltd. All rights reserved.

Keywords: Refrigerating machine; Mass charge; R-410A

1. Introduction

The appropriate refrigerant mass charge into the system is an important subject in the design of
refrigerating machines, since it is directly linked to its system performance, stability, and dura-
bility. Usually, the system performance is increased with the refrigerant charge and peaks at a
speci®c refrigerant charge. Further refrigerant charge after this optimal point may decrease the
system performance thereafter (see the test results from Refs. [1±5]). Though the phenomenon has
been well known for a long time, the technique of evaluating the optimal refrigerant charge into
the system is, unfortunately, relied heavily on trial and error which is not only time consuming but
also expensive.

*
Corresponding author. Tel.: +886-3-591-6294; fax: +886-3-582-0250.
E-mail address: ccwang@itri.org.tw (C.-C. Wang).

0196-8904/01/$ - see front matter Ó 2001 Elsevier Science Ltd. All rights reserved.
PII: S 0 1 9 6 - 8 9 0 4 ( 0 0 ) 0 0 1 6 4 - 3
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Nomenclature

M mass, kg
p pressure, bar
V volume, m3
F area, m2
T temperature, °C
R gas constant, J/kg K
m_ mass rate, kg/s
v speci®c volume, m3 /kg
q density, kg/m3
k coecient of compressor capacity
k coecient of heat transfer, W/m2 K
W power, W
g isentropic eciency
h enthalpy, J/kg
l coecient of dynamic viscosity, Pa s
x quality
Subscripts
eq equilibrium
min minimal
c compressor
evp evaporator
cond condenser
is isentropic
d discharge
s suction
cpl capillary
cr crisis
f liquid phase
g vapor phase
fg liquid±vapor
in inlet
sc sub cooling
amb ambient
a air
^õ object

Fig. 1 shows the progress of refrigerant charge into the system and the related system per-
formance in typical refrigeration cycles. Initially a very small amount of refrigerant charge M1 , as
seen in Fig. 1a, will result in a ``triangular cycle''. In this circumstance, the compressor cannot
N. Vjacheslav et al. / Energy Conversion and Management 42 (2001) 2083±2095 2085

Fig. 1. Variation of refrigerating cycle as a function of refrigerant mass charge.

pump the refrigerant to the desired pressure. Therefore, at the outlet of the condenser, the re-
frigerant is in a vapor state, having a temperature close to the ambient temperature (Tamb ). The
throttling process for the pure vapor virtually brings the state to a much higher temperature than
the standard design point before entering the evaporator. By assuming the ideal gas condition, the
equilibrium pressure peq can be evaluated as peqV ˆ M1 RTamb for this given refrigerant mass charge
for a known volume V of the whole system.
A slight increase of the refrigerant charge to the value of M2 ˆ M1 ‡ DM causes the vapor
temperature leaving the condenser to just reach the condensation temperature (Fig. 1b). In this
condition, a slight temperature decrease of the refrigerant during the process of throttling is
observed and the pressure in the evaporator is slightly higher than in the previous case (Fig. 1a),
but the cooling capacity at this temperature level is very poor. Again, the equilibrium pressure peq
can be roughly estimated from the ideal gas law.
A further increase of the mass charge to M3 ˆ M2 ‡ DM brings the outlet state the of condenser
into the two phase region, but the exit state of the condenser is not fully condensed (Fig. 1c). The
throttling of the two phase mixture causes a larger decrease of the temperature and pressure in the
evaporator which is below the designed value. Though there is some cooling e€ect, the mass ¯ow
rate in the system appears to be insucient. Hence, a considerable part of the evaporator is
occupied by the vapor. A further increase of refrigerant charge results in a fully condensed state at
the condenser exit (Fig. 1d). Usually, subsequent throttling at this operational condition may
bring the temperature and pressure to the desired values in the evaporator. The installation is able
to function properly, but it tends to be unstable. This is because slight variations of the ambient
temperatures in both the condenser or the evaporator may switch the inlet state of the throttle
device back and forth (between single phase and two phase ¯ow condition). As a consequence,
unstable cooling capacity prevails. Therefore, it is necessary to charge further refrigerant into the
system to avoid this unstable phenomenon. The amount of the refrigerant corresponding to this
operational mode can be regarded as the minimal required mass charge Mmin .
A further increase of refrigerant charge will increase the liquid contents in the condenser
(Fig. 1e). Usually in a nominal operation mode, 10% of a condenser should be ®lled with fully
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condensed liquid. In this region, a further increase of the refrigerant charge may promote opera-
tional stability of the installation but at a cost of higher pressure. Continuing refrigerant charge
into the system results in over¯owing of the condenser. The pressures of evaporation and con-
densation will increase and will cause a signi®cant increase of compressor work and detectable
drop of cooling capacity.
As aforementioned previously, the refrigerant charge into the system has a tremendous impact
on the system performance. However, a rationally based model for evaluating the optimal re-
frigerant charge in a refrigerating machine (such as domestic refrigerators, residential air-condi-
tioners, commercial refrigerating equipment etc.) is simply not available. Therefore, attempts are
made in this study to examine the optimal mass charge into a system. The overall objective of this
study is to propose a rationally based model to determine the optimal mass charge of a refrige-
rating machine.

2. Physical model of optimal mass refrigerant charge

Apparently the mass charge M (kg) is related to the mass ¯ow rate (m) _ in the refrigeration cycle,
i.e. m_ ˆ f …M†. The typical refrigeration cycle under investigation is shown in Fig. 2. The refrig-
eration system consists of a compressor, a condenser, a capillary tube and an evaporator. The
total amount of mass within the refrigeration system can be approximated by
M ˆ Mevp ‡ Mcond …1†
where Mevp and Mcond denote the mass within the evaporator and condenser, respectively. The
amount of mass within the condenser is the summation of the mass occupied in the superheated,
saturated, and subcooled region, i.e.
Mcond ˆ Mcond;v ‡ Mcond;s ‡ Mcond;l …2†
Similarly, the amount of mass in the evaporator is
Mevp ˆ Mevp;v ‡ Mevp;s …3†

Fig. 2. Schematic of the refrigeration cycle for the present simulated air conditioner system.
N. Vjacheslav et al. / Energy Conversion and Management 42 (2001) 2083±2095 2087

To calculate the mass ¯ow rate within the refrigeration system, it is necessary to consider the
detailed modeling for each component of the refrigeration system. Related details of each com-
ponent is described as follows:

2.1. Compressor

A reciprocating compressor is used as the basic model. Its corresponding mass ¯ow rate m_ c , is
evaluated as follows:
m_ c ˆ V_c kqs ; …4†
where V_c , k and qs are the compressor displacement, the coecient of compressor capacity, and
the vapor density in the suction line, respectively
The coecient of compressor capacity is evaluated from the following Eq. [6]:
" 1=w #
pcond Tevp
k ˆ k1 k2 ; k1 ˆ 1 c 1 ; k2 ˆ ; …5†
pevp Tcond

where k1 and k2 are the coecients re¯ecting in¯uence of the clearance volume in the compressor
and heating of the vapor in the cylinder of the compressor; c is a relative value of the clearance
volume in the compressor that depends on the speci®cation of the compressor; w is the polytropic
exponent.
The required work of the compressor is evaluated from the ratio of the enthalpy di€erence
between the discharge and suction to its isentropic coecient of performance gis :
…hd hs †
W ˆ m_ c : …6†
gis

2.2. Throttle ± capillary tube

Calculations of the mass ¯ow rate within the capillary tube depend upon the ¯ow condition.
When the critical mass ¯ow rate is reached …m_ cr †, Bittle et al.Õs correlation [7] is used for estimation
of the mass ¯ow rate across the capillary tube:
 2 1:369   0:484  2 0:019  2  0:824  0:773 !0:265
m_ cr dc pin Lc dc Cpf DTsc dc hfg vg lf lg
ˆ 1:893 ;
dc lf vf l2f dc v2f l2f v2f l2f vf lg
…7†
 2 0:417   0:740   0:646
m_ cr d pin Lc 0:981 vg
ˆ 836:9 c 2 …1 x† : …8†
dc lf vf lf dc vf
Note that Eq. (7) is valid for a subcooled inlet condition and Eq. (8) is appropriate for an inlet
situation having the quality, x. All the thermophysical and thermodynamic properties used in
Eqs. (7) and (8) are based on the temperature and pressure of the ¯ow of the refrigerant at the
inlet of the capillary tube. Related thermophysical and thermodynamic properties of refriger-
ants are obtained from REFPROP [8]. It should be pointed out that the correlation developed by
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Bittle et al. [7] is only applicable for the critical ¯ow condition. If the condition for throttling did
not reach the critical ¯ow condition, the mass ¯ow rate across the capillary tube can be ap-
proximated by the homogeneous ¯ow assumption:
s
2
pdcpl q

dcpl
m_ cpl ˆ 2 pcond pevp q; …9†
4 4Lcpl f

where Lcpl and dcpl are the length and the inner diameter of the capillary tube, respectively q is the
average density of the refrigerant inside the tube, and f is the corresponding Fanning friction
factor for the two-phase homogeneous ¯ow.

2.3. Condenser and evaporator

The inlet state of the condenser is assumed to be equal to the state of the discharge outlet of the
compressor …pcond ˆ pd ; T2 ˆ Td †. The capacity of the condenser, Qcond , can be calculated from the
energy equation and the corresponding rating equation:
X
Qcond ˆ m_ c Dhi ˆ m_ c ‰…h2 h3 † ‡ …h3 h4 † ‡ …h4 h5 †Š ˆ m_ c …h2 h5 †; …10†
X
Qcond ˆ Ui Ai DTi
     
ˆ U sup A sup T2±3 Ta 2±3 ‡ Ucond Acond Tcond Ta cond ‡ Usub Asub T4±5 Ta 4±5 :
…11†
The calculated results of Eqs. (10) and (11) allow to determine the refrigerant states 3±5 (Fig. 2)
for subsequent evaluation.
Similarly, calculations of the cooling capacity in the evaporator Qevp are:
Qevp ˆ m_ evp …h1 h6 †; …12†
   
Qevp ˆ Uevp;s Aevp;s Ta;evp Tevp ‡ Uevp;s Aevp; sup Ta;evp Teva; sup : …13†

In Eqs. (11) and (13), U, A, and DT are the overall heat transfer coecients, area of the heat
exchanger and e€ective temperature di€erences for the condenser and evaporator (the indexes are
referred to the states in Fig. 2: the process 2±3 is cooling of the superheated vapor, 3±4 is saturated
condensation and 4±5 is subcooling of the liquid phase). Tcond , Tevp , To , Ta are the temperatures of
condensation, evaporation and ambient temperatures of the air ¯ow in the condenser and
evaporator, respectively.
As aforementioned, at refrigerant charge M > Mmin , any insigni®cant increment of mass charge
will over¯ow the condenser and increase the temperature and pressure of condensation. For this
range of the refrigerant mass charge, we have derived an equation that gives the connection be-
tween the increment of the refrigerant charge and the change of condensing temperatures as
follows.
The condenser operates in a stable regime under a heat load Q, thus,
Q ˆ UA…Tcond Ta †; …14†
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where the overall heat transfer coecient is based on the tube surface area …ˆ pDL†. At the ®rst
approximation, the small amount of refrigerant charge DM added to the system is assumed to stay
in the condenser. Thus,
p D
DM ˆ D2 DLq0 ˆ DAq0 : …15†
4 4
For the constant heat load Q assumption, at the equilibrium situation, the condenser tries to
compensate for the loss of heat exchanger surface …A DA†. This will lead to an increase of the
condensation temperature, i.e.
0
Q ˆ U…A DA†…Tcond Tair †: …16†

Combining Eqs. (14) and (16) to yield


0
…Tcond Tair †=…Tcond Tair † ˆ 1=…1 DA=A†: …17†
By rearranging Eqs. (15) and (17), one can reach the following relation:
1 T0 Ta
4DM
ˆ cond  : …18†
1 2 0 Tcond Ta
pdcond q L3 4

Here, DM is the increment of the mass charge, L3±4 and dcond are the length and the inner dia-
meter of the tubes of the condenser, respectively where the condensation 3±4 takes place; Ta is the
0
average temperature of the air; Tcond and Tcond are the related condensation temperatures before
0
and after mass charge DM; q is the saturated liquid density. Eq. (18) was obtained under the
condition of a constant heat load in the condenser. Therefore, the temperature and pressure of
condensation, evaluated from Eq. (18), should be elaborated between the dependence of the heat
load of the condenser and the mass charge of the refrigerant. Therefore, iterations are needed
before the ®nal state is reached.
To evaluate correctly the refrigerant mass charge into the system, it is essential to keep track of
the major in¯uential parameters, namely the mean densities within the condenser and evaporator
and that at the outlet states of the condenser and evaporator. Apparently, the outlet of the
condenser determines the throttling process. As discussed previously, iterations are needed to
obtain the ®nal state. For the present study, the ith iteration of the associated refrigerant mixture
densities is given as:

Mi ‡ DMi
qi ˆ ; …19†
Vcond
qi2 ‡ qi3
qi2 3 ˆ ; …20†
2
1 …1 ‡ xi4 †
ˆ vi3 4 ˆ …1 xi †v0i ‡ xi v00i ; xi ˆ ; …21†
qi3 4 2
qi4 ‡ qi5
qi4 5 ˆ ; …22†
2
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1 1
ˆ ˆ vi4 ˆ …1 xi4 †v0i ‡ xi4 v00i ; 0 6 xi4 6 1
qiexit qi4 …23†
qi exit ˆ qi5 ; hi5 …T5 ; pi cond † < h0i …pi cond †:
From Eqs. (19)±(23), the average densities in the whole condenser can be evaluated. The
subscript indexes in Eqs. (19)±(23) correspond to the states of the cycle shown in Fig. 2. From Eq.
(19), the inlet density qi exit into the throttling device is also calculated by considering the state of
the ¯ow. The inlet properties were input into the throttling Eqs. (8) and (9). The value of the
average quality xi of the ¯ow from Eq. (14) is used for evaluation of the average density of the
refrigerant in the region of the two-phase ¯ow in the condenser.
Analogous equations for the evaporator like Eqs. (19)±(23) were used for evaluation of the
mass of the refrigerant. For each refrigerant mass charge, it is assumed that the speci®c enthalpy
at the inlet of the evaporator is equal to that of the outlet of the condenser, i.e. h6 …pevp † ˆ h5 …pcond †.
The proposed equations Eqs. (2)±(23) set the general basis for obtaining the refrigerant charge. In
addition, there is still need for some auxiliary information to evaluate the above-mentioned al-
gorithm. For instance, the related heat transfer coecients on the air side and tube side, the heat
transfer zones within the condenser and evaporator will be determined during the iteration
process. These basic information can be found from Ref. [9].

3. Algorithm of solution

Basically, the solution algorithm consists of two iteration loops. The inner iteration loop is as
follows:

(1) Given an evaporation pressure.


(2) Guess the suction temperature and a condensation pressure (using Eq. (18)) as the ®rst
approximation).
(3) Use the compressor model shown in Eqs. (4)±(6), calculate m, _ Tdisch and the speci®c work of
compressor.
(4) Calculate the condenser outlet state from the condenser model using the results from step
(3).
(5) Calculate the evaporator outlet state using the results from step (3), then compare the outlet
temperature to the guessed value of step (2). If the outlet state is not the same, repeat steps (2)±(5).

After the convergence of the inner iteration loop, the outer iteration loop is started for ®nding
the condensation temperature:

(1) Based on the calculated results of the inner loop, evaluate the critical mass ¯ow rate m_ cr . If
the mass ¯ow rate obtained from the inner loop is greater than the critical mass ¯ow rate, then the
condensation pressure must be adjusted to a lower value and the inner iteration loop must be
repeated again.
(2) If the mass ¯ow rate obtained from the inner loop is lower than the critical mass ¯ow rate,
use Eq. (9) to obtain the evaporation pressure. If the evaporation pressure is not equal to the
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initial guess, then the condensation pressure must be adjusted, and the inner iteration loop must
be started again.

After the convergence of the inner and outer iteration loops, one can use Eqs. (2) and (3) to
obtain the mass charge.

4. Results of calculation

An example of the calculations, demonstrating the in¯uence of the refrigerant mass charge on
the COP of an air conditioner using refrigerant R-410A, is presented below. The rated condition
of the air conditioner is given in the following.

Cooling capacity Qevp ˆ 3 kW


Evaporation temperature and pressure Tevp ˆ 7°C, pevp  10 bar
Ambient temperature Tamb ˆ 35°C
Condensation temperature and pressure Tcond ˆ 45°C, pcond ˆ 27:5 bar
Designed COP COP ˆ 3.5 (subject to gis ˆ 0:8)
Compressor ± reciprocating type V_c ˆ 59:34  10 5 m3 /s
Throttling device ± capillary tube Lcpl ˆ 1 m, dcpl ˆ 1:5  10 3 m
Tube designation in condenser Lcond ˆ 28:27 m, dcond ˆ 8:9  0 3 m
Tube designation in Evaporator Levp ˆ 12:5 m, devp ˆ 8:9  10 3 m

Figs. 3±6 show the results of the calculations. In Fig. 3, the calculated results of COP(M) as a
function to refrigerant charge is illustrated. As seen in the ®gure, the calculated results show an
optimal value of COP(M) near a refrigerant mass charge of 0.4 kg. The optimal condition cor-
responds, approximately to a state having the condenser fully condensed. However, as noted out
earlier, this design point may not be stable due to slight variations of ambient conditions. In
practice, one would design the condenser outlet with a certain amount of subcooling. At the left of
the optimal value, one can observe a sharp rise of COP vs. refrigerant charge. As shown in the
case of Fig. 1(c), the sharp rise is associated with the e€ective cooling capacity caused by the
e€ective latent heat transport in the two phase region of refrigerant ¯ow. At the right of
the optimal COP, a mild decrease of COP vs. mass charge is seen. This is because of ¯ooding in
the condenser that may result in higher system pressure. As a consequence, a signi®cant increase
of the required work from the compressor is expected. Fig. 4 is the schematic of the related state of
the calculated results subjected to refrigerant charge variation that gives a clear picture of the
extreme COP phenomenon vs. mass refrigerant charge.
Comparison of the calculated results to the experimental measurements from Ref. [5] are shown
depicted in Fig. 3. One can see that the calculated results show a maximum COP that is analogous
to the phenomenon of the measured results. The calculated COP is about 15±20% higher than that
of the measurements. This is because we did not take into account the mechanical losses of the
compressor and the connections piping in the present simulation. The phenomenon of a sharp
rise and mild decrease of the COP before and after the optimal value is quite similar between
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Fig. 3. Comparison of the calculated results of COP vs. refrigerant charge and the ex-perimental data by Ref. [5].

the calculated results and the measured data. However, the optimal mass charge during the
experiments is close to 0.65 kg as compared to the calculated results of 0.4 kg. The discrepancy
between the calculated results and the experimental data are twofold. Firstly, the present model
does not include the component of a receiver±accumulator. As is known, an accumulator is often
implemented to prevent liquid compression. Notice that the internal volume of the accumulator
used in the experiments is about 1  10 3 m3 . If 25% of the volume is occupied by the liquid
refrigerant, summation of the calculated results with the refrigerant in the accumulator will ex-
actly coincide with the experimental results. Secondly, as reported by Wei et al. [10], in the prac-
tical implementation of an air conditioning system, instead of a straight tube, a coiling capillary is
often used. Depending on the coiling diameter, the reduction of mass ¯ow rate across the capillary
tube can be reduced as much as 12% in comparison with the straight tube. Eqs. (7)±(9) are only
applicable for straight tubes. Hence, one can expect that the calculated results show a lower
optimal mass charge.
Fig. 5 shows the cooling capacity qevp (M) and the speci®c work of the compressor lc (M) vs.
refrigerant charge. The value of the speci®c work of the compressor lc was calculated based on
gis ˆ 0:8. It is seen that the speci®c work of the compressor reveals a minimum value near the
maximal value of the COP. It is also noted that the speci®c work increased gradually after the
optimal mass charge. Part of the results is attributed to the increase of condensing pressure and
evaporation temperature. An increase of evaporation temperature will reduce the e€ective cooling
capacity. The pressure and the temperature in the condenser vs. mass charge are depicted in
N. Vjacheslav et al. / Energy Conversion and Management 42 (2001) 2083±2095 2093

Fig. 4. Schematic of the relation of COP to mass refrigerant charge for the present simulation.

Fig. 5. Variation of cooling capacity qevp and speci®c work of compressor to refrigerant mass charge.
2094 N. Vjacheslav et al. / Energy Conversion and Management 42 (2001) 2083±2095

Fig. 6. Variation of pressures and temperatures in evaporator and in condenser to refrigerant mass charge.

Fig. 6. As shown in Fig. 6, for mass charges M > 0:75 kg, the temperature may increase to an
unacceptable value. This is because the evaporation temperature is above 10°C which will sig-
ni®cantly reduce the e€ective temperature di€erence and eventually decrease the cooling capacity
by more than 15%. In addition, the increase of suction temperature will deteriorate the com-
pressor eciency. As a the summary, refrigerant overcharge may decrease the e€ective cooling
capacity and overheat the suction temperature which will cause a pronounced performance drop.

5. Conclusions

In this study, a rationally based algorithm was proposed to evaluate the optimal mass charge
into refrigerating machines. The model can take into account the major components of the re-
frigerating system, namely the condenser, evaporator, expansion device and compressor. The
calculated results indicate that the system performance is strongly related to the refrigerant mass
charge. In the early stage of refrigerant charge, it is found that a sharp rise of COP is observed.
The COP reaches an optimal value for a speci®ed refrigerant charge, and shows a slight drop for a
further increase of refrigerant charge. The calculated results give an identical trend to those of
experimental data. In addition, the calculated optimal COP shows a lower value of refrigerant
mass charge. The deviation is due to the presence of an accumulator in actual system design and
the cooling e€ect of the capillary tube. The analysis of the study can well interpret the cycle
transformation subject to refrigerant mass charge.
N. Vjacheslav et al. / Energy Conversion and Management 42 (2001) 2083±2095 2095

Acknowledgements

The authors would like to express gratitude for the Energy R&D foundation funding from the
Energy Commission of the Ministry of Economic A€airs, which provides ®nancial supports of the
current study.

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