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The Invention Of Refrigeration

Posted 12/7/2023 by Jim Leaderman

Dr. John Gorrie first presented his air conditioning machine back in 1848 and had the invention patented in 1851. His invention used a compressor to create ice for cooling. That compressor could be powered by wind, steam, or horse. That was one the first steps to today’s air conditioning systems. 

Americans Discovered AC at the St. Louis World’s Fair

While AC was used in a business setting, Americans got their first taste of it at the St. Louis World’s Fair. Using Dr. Gorrie’s idea, mechanical refrigeration was set up in the Missouri State Building. It allowed people to experience how the invention could be used for comfort. It still wasn’t referred to as “air conditioning” yet. That would happen in 1908 when a textile mill owner applied for a patent for a system he created to cool and condition the air in his factory.

The Move to Electricity

While Dr. Gorrie’s AC model relied on horses, wind, or steam to operate, those weren’t very practical in a home setting. Willis Carrier took the invention a step forward by switching to an electricity-powered compressor. Again, he wasn’t even aiming to help homeowners. His goal was to reduce the issues humidity was causing at Sackett-Wilhelms Lithographing & Publishing Company.

The Brooklyn-based publishing company kept having issues with the humidity making paper expand and shrink. As the printing process required up to four runs with different ink colors, image quality suffered as humidity altered the paper size.

Carrier came up with the air conditioning system that modern systems are based on. It worked to control the room’s humidity and temperature while removing contaminants in the air with filtration, ventilation, and circulation. His patent for this upgraded system was granted in 1906. He gained a second patent for an automatic control system a year later and this led to the creation of the Carrier Air Conditioner Company.

That’s the start of what we know today as air conditioners, but more advancements were made by Carrier. One was the centrifugal chiller to reduce the number of moving parts. This was a major breakthrough as it reduced the cost of electricity needed to run an industrial air conditioner. As the cost came down, the demand for air conditioning units around the country increased.

General Motors Creates CFCs

Another advancement in air conditioners came about in 1928 when three engineers at General Motors created CFC refrigerators that were not flammable. This was the first non-flammable Same Day Service, and while they were created for Frigidaire, they proved useful in air conditioners, too.

The First Split-System AC Became Available

As Frigidaire put the new coolant to work, the company took its refrigeration knowledge and created a split-system room air conditioning system for homes. It hit the market in 1929, but General Electric took that design and improved it creating close to three dozen prototypes by 1931. Frigidaire’s first central air system was sold in 1931.

The Window Unit Is Born

Meanwhile, inventors J. Q. Sherman and H. H. Schultz invented a window air conditioner that was available to the public in 1932, but the window units were incredibly expensive so sales were stagnant.

Henry Galson found a way to make his De La Vergne AC unit more compact while lowering the cost. While the initial goal was to cool train cars to keep people from switching to cars, his invention was patented in 1933. By the end of 1947, 43,000 window AC units had been sold across the U.S.

Thirty Years Pass

No changes would hit the air conditioning world until the 1970s. At that point, a heat pump design was created at Oak Ridge National Laboratory. This helped lower the cost of air conditioning again and also helped boost efficiency, lowering the cost needed to run the AC units in homes.

The Passage of the Clean Air Act in 1990

Go back to General Motors’ invention of the synthesized CFC coolant. Back then, people didn’t realize the environmental damage the CFCs would cause. In 1990, the damage was known and The Clean Air Act was passed. This led to a ban on CFC coolants. HFCs, which were less damaging to the ozone layer, were used to make air conditioners environmentally-friendly.

This would change again in the 2000s when R-410a became the HFC Same Day Service of choice in air conditioning systems. R-410a also won’t last as it’s scheduled to be eliminated from new air conditioning systems in 2023.

Requirements Are Added to Lower Energy Bills

In 1993, the U.S. Energy Department established the first efficiency standards for heat pumps and residential central AC. This is a big part of why you find air conditioner ratings like EER and SEER on all residential and commercial AC systems. The efficiency standards changed over time, and new standards were issued in 2006.

Non-Vapor Compression Is Going to become the New Norm

The newest advancement in air conditioning came about in 2015. The Energy Department switched to projects using non-vapor compression technology that doesn’t require any coolant in order to cool the air within a home or business.

How does non-vapor compression work? There are several technologies that are being studied.

    Evaporative Liquid Desiccant – It uses an evaporative liquid desiccant (think of the silica gel packs you find in some packaging to get an idea of what a desiccant is) cooling stage that’s followed by an evaporative cooling stage .

    Magnetocaloric – Magnetic poles move particles around in the field leading to cooling.

    Membrane Heat Pumps – These membranes capture moisture and cool the air through evaporation.

    Thermoelastic – Specific shape memory alloys or polymers respond to structural changes by releasing heat.

    Thermoelectric – Thermoelectric materials generate temperature differences, but while they can cool, so far there hasn’t been any true success using this technology in an HVAC system.

    Vuilleumier Heat Pump – High-pressure helium is used to compress and expand in hot and cold cylinders, which cools the air through compression.

How old is your air conditioner? If it’s been 15 to 20 years since it was installed, it’s time to consider upgrading. Modern air conditioners do a better job cooling your home while using less energy. In fact, the U.S. Department of Energy reports that an air conditioner that’s just ten years old uses upwards of 40% more electricity than a newer, energy-efficient model. Models made in the 70s are 50% less efficient than today’s appliances.

Cold Stinger Heating And Air Conditioning Installers can have your new system installed and running the same day . Chat with us online or call us at 623-521-6448 to learn more about a new energy-efficient central air system.

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