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Masking the part load problem of negative pressure refrigerant designs

CONDENSERS Masking the part load problem of negative pressure refrigerant designs By Jim Parsnow Carrier Corporation

By Jim Parsnow Carrier Corporation


One of the latest marketing promotions by a manufacturer of chillers using negative pressure refrigerant HCFC-123 is the use of 2 gpm/ton water flow through the condenser. The proposal is to reduce both pumping and cooling tower power consumption with a slight overall loss in total efficiency.

The claim is that towers and pumps are significant energy consumers and represent 16% and 26% respectively of the annual system energy consumption. In large central chiller plants, operating in the range of approximately 2000 tons, and above, a 2 gpm per ton may reduce pump and tower power along with a reduction in chill water piping size due to the large size of the central plant. However, in smaller installations, the chiller is much more than the remaining 58% of power consumption. In the example used by the manufacturer, a loss of 0.04 kW/ton was released by going from 3 gpm/ton to 2 gpm/ton on a 500 ton chiller.


you consider a power bill at $.06/kwh X 0.04 kw/ton X 5500 hours of operation (building)


500 tons, that is $6,600 in added energy expense at full load alone. It is doubtful that you will make up

that expense in the remaining 42% of the system (pumps/tower).

Why specify a 2 gpm rate on a condenser and reduce the efficiency of the chiller?

The answer is inherent to negative pressure chillers. By raising the temperature in the condenser, a result of lowering the gpm from 3 to 2, added lift or temperature rise is required by the compressor. This of course results in more power consumption. Definitely not a benefit for the owner. However, by raising the condenser temperature, the negative pressure chiller will run at a more stable condition during part load, especially if the entering condenser water temperature is being reduced to match the part load condition. Reducing entering condenser water during part load results in lower lift and increased efficiency. This condition is not favorable to a negative pressure chiller using an orfice or similar flow control metering system. In fact, the same manufacturer has issued an Engineering Bulletin that warns of this. The following is the excerpt from that bulletin:

Reasons for Specifying a Condenser Refrigerant Pressure/Water Temperature

The primary reason for specifying condenser refrigerant pressure/water temperature is to obtain optimum performance while maintaining a minimum pressure differential between the condenser and the evaporator for controlled refrigerant flow through the refrigerant metering system, and to prevent pressure imbalance which could cause oil loss or motor overheating problems.

Although centrifugal chillers become more efficient with an initial reduction in the condenser water temperature, this trend does not continue into very low temperature ranges. As the condensing temperature continues to fall, the refrigerant begins to “hang-up” in the condenser due to the decreased pressure differential not pushing the liquid refrigerant through the refrigerant metering system. This liquid refrigerant in the condenser covers some of the tubes, thus causing this heat exchanger to operate less efficiently. Coincidentally, the evaporator begins to be “refrigerant starved”, thus decreasing the efficiency of this flooded heat exchanger. Also, the compressor is operating less efficiently. As the condenser water temperature continues to fall, the chiller efficiency may begin to worsen, depending upon the particular application and machine.

For a chiller operating at 44°° F leaving evaporator water temperature, this condition may begin to occur with entering condenser water temperatures at about 60°° F.

Centrifugal chillers utilize differential pressure seals to separate lubricating oil from the refrigerant within the compressor. The pressure differential experienced at the oil seals decreases as the leaving condensing water temperature approaches the leaving chilled water

temperature, so oil loss can occur. As long as the minimum refrigerant pressure differential is

maintained, there is no potential for oil loss. Engineering Bulletin CTV-EB-84


These conditions described in the engineering bulletin have a drastic effect on efficiency. The “refrigerant starved” cooler heat exchanger now lowers the approach temperature of the cooler or the ability to transfer heat from the water through the tubes to the refrigerant. For every 1 degree increase in approach temperature, a 1.5% loss in efficiency occurs. Oil loss through the seals results in oil migration into the cooler where oil foam will blanket the cooler tubes resulting in an 8% loss in efficiency for every 3% of added oil.

Combine this with the factor that negative pressure chillers leak inward on the cooler. For every 1 psi of air leak into the chiller, approximately 3.3% efficiency loss takes place.

14 12 10 8 6 4 2 0 % of Efficiency Loss Refrigerant Starved Cooler
% of Efficiency Loss

Negative Pressure Efficiency Losses

The sum of these conditions could mean that a “so-called” benefit by using a negative pressure chiller at 2 gpm is to mask the potential of up to 12.8% loss in efficiency as the chiller goes into part load with reduced condenser water. (This efficiency loss also occurs at full load due to the leak factor.

When a promotion to use a different condition (2 gpm/ton), other than a recognized industry standard (3 gpm/ton), an in-depth understanding of the issues is required to know the whole truth. The 2 gpm/ton promotion may help the contractors budget by using smaller pumps and towers. However, the owner of the system is left with a less efficient chiller along with system problems due to the undersized pumps and towers along with a possible chiller failure due to oil loss. Carefully review your system requirements before you believe the marketing hype.

Jim Parsnow Director of Environmental Systems Marketing for Carrier Corporation assists building and operational managers in strategic considerations in the application of new refrigerants. He can be reached at 315-433-4376 or