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Refrigeration: The Unseen Giant

By: , Posted on: May 27, 2016

unsee giant

I’ve taken the title from a 1980s video produced to promote the industry. It’s an industry pretty well hidden from the average person and was recently voted as “Essential to modern life” (1). It consumes large amounts of energy. But also has the capability of delivering renewable energy that can be used as a fossil fuel alternative. Yes, the great and good in the industry are well aware of climate change, fuel prices and energy security. Conferences and Journals promoting discussions abound, but like the rest of the industry, these largely go un-noticed in the wider world of science and engineering, where the obvious attractions of aerospace, automotive and the like tend to dominate. But even they are struggling to promote engineering and themselves as exciting career fields.

Are there exciting and creative opportunities in this industry? Scope for the highest academic achievements, skilled, varied, essential and developing positions world-wide? Absolutely!  You may have guessed what I am talking about – Refrigeration. Essential? Just pause and think about any perishable food displayed for purchase. It will have travelled along a ‘cold chain’, short for some product, longer for others. Food preservation has enabled modern urban living, and will dominate the efforts to reduce food wastage, particularly with products from developing countries. Air Conditioning? Why don’t we just open the windows? Working environment requirements are much tougher than in the past, and natural cooling will simply not reach internal parts of large buildings. Add in extra heat from electronic equipment, and stringent climate control becomes essential in many situations – hospitals and precision manufacture come to mind. Not to mention traffic noise and pollution. Heating? More than 80% of UK domestic energy is spent on providing space and water heating (2). We are burning fossil fuels at 2000°C to heat air to 20°C.

Refrigeration is everywhere. Some examples are illustrated in the header pictures:

  • Underground train where loadings and high power trains now require cooled interiors and station spaces.
  • Familiar supermarket frozen product displays.
  • Compact office spaces need simultaneous heating and cooling.
    Each of these applications presents real challenges and they are the subject of intense scrutiny and research, both academic and industrial.

Refrigeration technology is now starting to expand in heating and become a vital contributor in the move toward sustainability. The Unseen Giant is stirring.

What do we mean by ‘sustainable’? To me it implies a system or way of living that only uses energy that is obtained without depleting reserves of fossil/bio fuel or limited nuclear reserves. Use must be made of the sun’s energy as it is radiated to earth with an availability at high temperature, and makes its way down to a low temperature level where it can be discarded. This automatically implies minimal CO2 emissions, but for refrigeration there is an added danger of atmospheric pollution by refrigerants that can be equivalent to many times the same mass of CO2. Is modern life capable of becoming sustainable? Probably not. I can recommend Ian Sutton’s “Engineering in the age of limits” blogs. In our own world, we have an Industrial Academic Research Partnership Network, SIRACH, dedicated to increasing the flow of information on new innovations for sustainability.

In revising the book Refrigeration and Air Conditioning to become Refrigeration Air Conditioning and Heat Pumps I wanted to ensure that we have an up-to-date coverage of this industry, what it does, and what it can do. It is intended to give sufficient depth and coverage, especially for students and those from other fields, to gain an insight into areas of interest. Maybe it’s the next step after an initial awareness introduction to engineering as a career.   Keeping the detail under control but at the same time providing sufficient theory for a good insight has been the challenge.

  • refridgeration, air conditioning and heat pumpsFull theoretical and practical treatment of current issues and trends in refrigeration and air conditioning technology
  • Meets the needs of industry practitioners and system designers who need a rigorous, but accessible reference to the latest developments in refrigeration and AC that is supported by coverage at a level not found in typical course textbooks
  • New edition features updated content on refrigerants, microchannel technology, noise, condensers, data centers, and electronic control

I am donating author royalties to the Institute of Refrigeration Presidents’ Fund. You can find out more about this fund via Its most recent beneficiary is the relaunch of “Fantastic Fridges”. This is a site is designed to introduce young people to the practical science behind refrigeration technologies and to help them to understand the contribution that RACHP makes to modern life – including the variety of career opportunities available.

You can read Chapter 3 Refrigerants from the book for a limited period below:

Download (PDF, Unknown)

Want to read more? You can save up to 30% on your very own copy of Refrigeration, Air Conditioning and Heat Pumps when you order via the Elsevier store. Enter STC215 at the checkout.

  1. Discussion report of the debate session on Thursday 5th October 2006, Proceedings of the IOR, 2006
  1. From data published by DECC on Energy Consumption in the UK, which was updated in July 2012

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