Widely used cooling systems today are based on mechanical compression, in which 4 major components create the cooling effect; compressors, evaporators, condensers and an expansion valves form the foundation of our cooling systems. Through decades of development and implementation, these components have been optimized for mass, cost-effective production.
When breaking down cooling systems there are generally two categories: Small & Large capacities. Smaller capacities require air conditioners, whereas larger capacities will typically require chillers.
Air conditioners serve smaller cooling loads up to 5-tons (60,000 BTU) and are installed in residential and smaller commercial settings. There are different types of air conditioners depending on the end-use specifications, all provide cold air as the output. Examples are: Central units (shown in the image below), Window unit, Ductless / Split Wall mounted unit or Evaporative units. Air conditioners tend to be more expensive per ton of cooling because they are smaller scale and fixed costs occupy a larger sum, and they contain fans for air handling within the unit.
Example of Residential Air Conditioner
There are two types of chillers: air-cooled and water-cooled; attributed to the medium used to cool down the condenser. Water-cooled chillers are a more efficient option for larger industrial cooling requirements, however they need extra components such as pumps and a cooling tower which usually increases the capital investment to more than that of an air cooled chiller.
- An air cooled chiller costs around $1500/ton below 50-tons, $700/ton below 150-tons and $450/ ton above that capacity.
- Water cooled chillers are cheaper at around $400/ton below 400-tons and $300/ton beyond that.
A manufacturing plant that uses a chiller at its site spends around $700/ton of cooling annually. This exceeds the capital costs of a chiller per ton and arises from the intensive electricity consumption of the chiller. We can see that compressor based cooling technology is cheap to purchase not cost effective in operating in the long run.
With increasing electricity prices, the operating costs become a deterrent to purchasing such equipment . This is where newer technologies, such as aDsorption and aBsorption cooling comes into play. These systems rely on thermal compression, eliminating the need for compressors; in-turn using a 1/20 fraction of electricity and reducing operating costs by more than 50%.