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Robert A. Clark, Richard N. Smith, and Michael K. Jensen

Department of Mechanical Engineering, Aeronautical Engineering and Mechanics Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute Troy, New York 12180-3590

(518) 276-6351; (518) 276-6025 (FAX)


This paper will describe the design, construction, and testing of an integrated heat recovery system which has been designed both to enhance the performance of a residential refrigerator and simultaneously to provide preheated water for an electric hot water heater. A commercial, indirect-heated hot water tank was retrofitted with suitable tubing to permit it to serve as a water cooled condenser for a residential refrigerator. This condenser operates in parallel with the air-cooled condenser tubing of the refrigerator so that either one or the other is active when the refrigerator is running. The refrigerator was housed in a controlled-environment chamber, and it was instrumented so that its performance could be monitored carefully in conjunction with the water pre-heating system. The system has been tested under a variety of hot water usage protocols, and the resulting data set has provided significant insight into issues associated with commercial implementation of the concept. For the case of no water usage, the system was able to provide a 35 Ctemperature rise in the storage tank after about 100 hours of continuous operation, with no detectable deterioration of the refrigerator performance. Preliminary tests with simulations of “high water usage,” “low water usage,’’ and “family water usage” indicate a possible 18-20% energy savings for hot water over a long period of operation. Although the economic viability for such a system in a residential environment would appear to be sub-marginal, the potential for such a system associated with commercial-scale refrigeration clearly warrants further study, particularly for climates for which air conditioning heat rejection is highly seasonal.


The use of waste heat recovery in energy systems design has long been an important tool in reducing total energy costs. The economies of scale often dictate that such techniques be applied to large systems and energy intensive processes, particularly when the heat rejection system and the

heat source can be integrated at the initial design stage. For residential and small-scale commercial systems, the need to purchase components such as refrigerators and water heaters separately combined with requirement for a high level of

reliability usually precludes a practical consideration of heat


every household in the country, as well as many commercial

For example, if ways could be

and industrial environments.

found economically to recover some of the energy rejected from air conditioning or refrigeration systems, the cumulative

benefit would be significant. The principal problem, of

course, is establishing a low per-unit cost of retrofitting an existing system or initiating new designs. The particular opportunity investigated in the present paper is to preheat the supply water for a hot water system using refrigerator condenser waste heat. In northern climates of the United States, refrigerators are “always on,” while residential air conditioning is used seasonally and intermittently. Furthermore, at a small commercial scale, such as for restaurants or “fast food” establishments, the potential gain from integrating the refrigeration capacity with the hot water requirements is even greater. An added potential benefit of attempting to link these two systems is the opportunity to provide water cooling, rather than air cooling, of the refrigerator condenser. However, since refrigerators are somewhat self-regulating (for example, to accomodate the significant fouling of condenser tubes which is expected in many household environments), care must be taken so that water cooling does not, in fact, deteriorate the cooling capacity of the refrigerator or detract from its reliability. Anantapantula and Sauer (1994) described the use of air economizers to maintain the desired temperature in a building. During a cooling process, air is removed from the area to be cooled and circulated through the economizer, which vents a set amount of the warm building air and replaces it with the

cooler outside air.

interior of the building.

system with a two-story office building, they discovered that

However, such systems have an impact on literally

This air is then circulated back to the

After simulating this heat recovery

an energy cost savings of 49% could be obtained if this heat


conditioning system. In another study (Cohen, 1986), is was found that it was

feasible to modify the hot water and air conditioning systems

in a restaurant so that the heat from the hot refrigerant exiting

the compressor could be used as an additional heat source to produce hot water. A water-cooled desuperheater was placed in between the compressor and the condenser. The water used in

the desuperheater was continuously circulated to a preheat storage tank and back. It was estimated that the payback period for such a system would range from 3 to 4 years for fast- food and full-service restaurants located in the southern United States. Mills and Perlman (1986) investigated several methods of heat recovery as applied to a residence. One of the more interesting approaches involved the reclamation of heat from water after it has been utilized. Waste water is collected in a 454 liter holding tank, which also contains the evaporator for

a 1.2 kW water-to-water heat pump. When the water temperature in the holding tank rises above a certain point, the heat pump is activated, transferring heat from the holding tank

to the condenser which is mounted inside a 272 liter fresh hot

water storage tank. An experimental prototype of this system was constructed and tested using a water usage pattern that was derived from a accepted standard hot water delivery schedule. The tests indicated that an energy savings of up to 60% over a typical 272 liter electric hot water heater was possible. The same paper also addressed water heating through heat recovery from the exhaust air from sources such as the kitchen and laundry room. This exhaust air is passed through the evaporator of a 1.4kW air-to-water heat pump, which transfers heat to a condenser mounted in a fresh water storage tank. This system was constructed and tested with the same hot water usage pattern mentioned above, with a maximum energy savings of 42% over a standard hot water heater being observed. Heat pump water heaters have the potential to offer sidnificant energy savings compared to electric hot water heaters. Kesselring (1984), in a description of the state of the

art of heat pump water heaters, estimated savings of about 50%

over electric resistance heaters. The Hawaiian Electric Company (HEC, 1995) reported a savings of up to 59% over electric heaters for its customers. Lannus and Kesselring (1990, 1991) described the design of an integrated air source heat pump which simultaneously provides space heating and water heating for a residence. The system is marketed by the Carrier Corporation and has been successful at reducing residential power consumption, particularly in moderate climates for which heat pumps are appropriate. Heat pumps have been also been used for direct water heating. Crispaire Corporation (1994) produces heat pumps that can be directly attached to existing electric water heaters. As specialized heat pumps, air conditioners can also be

modified to produce hot water. Chan and Toh (1993) developed an experimental prototype of a thermosyphon system that recovered the compressor superheat from an air conditioning system to produce hot water. This prototype had a small storage tank, a heat exchanger, and a 3.5 kW domestic air conditioner. Water from the storage tank circulates by a thermosyphon effect through the heat exchanger. Their system was able to warm 10 gallons of water to an acceptable temperature within one night.









A similar application might be envisioned with a refrigerator. Although the cooling capacity of a typical refrigerator is much smaller than that of an air conditioner, its use is continuous throughout the year, even in colder climates, and some installations (restaurants, etc.) may have significant

refrigration capacity installed.

investigated the possibility of reclaiming refrigerator waste heat to produce hot water. In their system it is necessary to recover the heat from the compressor itself to maintain an acceptable water temperature when the hot water is used. Furthermore, since there is no secondary condenser for the refrigerator, during periods of low hot water use it is necessary to discard some of the hot water in the tank. Because many questions remain as to how refrigerator condenser heat may be recovered effectively, it was decided to develop a laboratory experiment which would provide pre- heating of domestic hot watcr without disrupting thc performance of the refrigeration system or requiring any unusual intervention (such as discarding over-heated water) by the consumer. The system which was constructed is based on residential scale refrigeration and hot water use. The interaction of actual water usage pattems with the refrigeration cycle was a principal area of study. Therefore, control and monitoring of the refrigerator performance as well as the heat recovery was an important part of the design. It is recognized that the heat rejection capacity of a typical refrigerator (in this

case, an 18 ft3 refrigerator/freezer) is not very high (300-400 watts). However, the configuration was convenient for study in the laboratory, accurate performance data for the refrigerator was available from the manufacturer, and the small scale system was relatively easy to monitor and control. An actual implementation of a design such as the present one would probably work better for a larger scale refrigeration system, such as a walk-in cooler for a restaurant or food service.

Bourne and Dakin




The constraints which were imposed on the development of an experimental system were (a) that operation of the refrigerator must be transparent to the existence of a water- cooled condenser, (b) that discarding of pre-heated water not be necessary, (c) that the system should suggest an installation which could be retrofit onto an existing refrigerator and onto

an existing hot water heater.

was constructed to serve as a water-cooled condenser for an 18-

ft3 household refrigerator and to simulate a pre-heating water supply source for a hot water heater. The refrigerant line was diverted to the tank with valves which are controlled by a computer which senses water temperature and switches the condensing back to air-cooled when the water temperature is too hot to operate the refrigerator. The possibility of in-line water- and air-cooled condensing (passive system) has also been built into the experiment. The tank is a 30 gallon (113 1) commercial indirect-heated hot water tank originally designed for steam condensation. It was necessary to replace the

condenser tubing with a more suitable tube size and length for refrigerant condensation, and a considerable effort went into the process of sizing and orienting the tubes to ensure adequate

Figure 1 shows

heat transfer for operation of the refrigerator. the experimental layout.

Therefore, a water storage tank



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The refrigerator is a General Electric 18 ft3 residential refrigerator with the freezer compartment on the top. The particular advantages of this appliance is that it is generic in its configuration, and extensive test and performance data was available from G.E. which could be used to size the condenser tubes in the water-cooled condenser. A controlled environment chamber for the refrigerator was constructed to provide a well-defined ambient temperature experienced by the refrigerator. A 300 watt light bulb provided sufficient heat, combined with two circulation fans and 4 in. thick foam insulation for the walls, to maintain the temperature to within

2 "C of a set point up to 35 "C. The data acquisition and experimental control system is



combined with boards which allow analog-to-digital

based on a Gateway

2000 4DX2-66


conversion to record temperature, pressure and flow rate data at several points in the flow loop and digital-to-analog output signals to control the operation of heaters, water flow valves, and refrigerant flow valves. The entire system is operated with

LABVIEWTMsoftware. The general configuration is illustrated in Figure 2.

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This section will describe the results from several

experiments which were conducted the integrated operation of

In the first

experiment, the performance of the refrigerator was measured before the water-cooled condenser was installed to provide a

the refrigerator and the water pre-heater system.


basis of comparison. After the condenser was installed, a run was conducted to find the maximum water temperature that could be obtained in the storage tank. Finally, the experimental system was tested with three different programmed water usage patterns to establish the increase in water temperature from the istorage tank inlet to the outlet. To ensure a common basis €or comparison , the following procedures were followed for all experiments: The automatic defrost was deactivated so thiat regular cycles of the refrigerator could be observed without interruption. The control box temperature was maintained at 32.2 "C, f 0.6 "C (90"F, f1 OF). (This is an industry standard setting.) The data recorded as a function of time were the piressures in both the condenser and the evaporator, the electkical power consumed by the compressor, the control box temperature, the freezer and fresh food area temperatures, the inlet and outlet temperatures for the condenser. Where appropriate, the storage tank temperatures near the top and the bottom of the tank were recorded, as well as the inlet and outlet temperatures of water flowing through the tank during water usage tests.

Tests of the



The first goal of this experiment was to establish the operating conditions of thie refrigerator before the water- cooled condenser was installed. Under normal operating conditions, the compressor cycles on and off to maintain thermostatically set conditions in the refrigerator fresh food area. For a medium setting on the thermostat, the condenser and evaporator reach pressures of about 10.6 bars and 1.2 bars, respectively, and the power to the compressor is about 156 watts (after a surge at each activation). When the compressor shuts down, the electric power decreases to zero, and the evaporator and the condenser pressures begin to equalize,


temperature in the fresh food area cycled between 0.6 "C and 6.1 "C, and the temperature in the freezer was relatively stable at -16.1 OC. This consistency is due to the thermal inertia of the 43 packages of wood chips placed in the freezer to simulate food. During compressor operation, the condenser inlet and outlet temperatures rose to about 63 "C and 42 "C, respectively. Using the condenser pressure, a value for the saturation temperature was obtained. By comparing this temperature with the outlet )temperature, it can be seen that the refrigerant leaves the condenser slightly subcooled by about 1 to 2 "C. The duty cycle started at about 46% and rose to a relatively stable 56%. According to the data sheet supplied by the manufacturer, this represents a typical value for the duty cycle at an ambient temperature of 32.2 "C. To establish steady state values for refrigerator system, an experiment was performed with the freezer and fresh food area doors open. The packages in the freezer used in the above experiment were also removed. The experiment followed the

approaching a pressure between


and 2.1 bars.

same test procedures as before, and the same measurements were taken over a 4 hour period. After some initial transients, the power consumption settled to a slight oscillation around 162 watts. The condenser pressure exhibited the same behavior, settling to a slightly larger oscillation around 11.6 bars. The evaporator pressure also showed initial transients but settled to a more constant value of 1.3 bars. After about 90 minutes, the ambient temperature reached 32.7 "C and began to

oscillate about 32.2 "C due to the heat source being switched

on and off. The oscillations of the ambient temperature correspond directly with the oscillations in both the

compressor power and condenser pressure noted earlier. The fresh food area rose to a final value of 30 "C, and the freezer temperature rose to 26.7 "C, but appeared to be 1 or 2 'C below a steady value The steady state values of the inlet and outlet temperatures of the condenser were 76.1 "C and 46.1 "C, respectively. The steady state value for the saturation temperature was 48.3 "C, indicating a subcooling at the condenser outlet of 2 "C.



"No Water Use" Tests. A 5-day test was conducted to determine the maximum water temperature in the preheater that could be achieved by the system. The water in the storage tank was brought down to ground temperature by allowing city water to flow through the tank for about 20 minutes before the test was initiated. Results are shown here for the last two hours of the test. Figure 3 shows the compressor power consumption and pressures for both the water-cooled condenser and the evaporator. As with the unmodified refrigerator, the compressor power shows a large spike when the compressor is initially turned on. Afterwards, the power drops off and follows the same downward trend shown by the condenser pressure. This indicates that the power consumption is a function of the pressure difference between the condenser and evaporator. The condenser pressure is also significantly higher than what was measured from the unmodified refrigerator. This is due to the fact that the

Performance with Water-Cooled

condenser in this test was submerged in water which had a temperature of about 39 "C as opposed to the refrigerator's own air-cooled condenser which was cooled by air at about 32 "C. From this, it can be seen that the condenser pressure is largely a function of the temperature of the ambient fluid surrounding

the condenser.

this behavior, as it ensures complete condensation of the refrigerant by increasing the condenser pressure and hence the saturation pressure. Figure 4 gives the temperatures associated with the condenser. While the compressor is running, the condenser outlet temperature and the saturation temperature stay at about 48.9 "C and 52.2 "C, respectively. While this indicates a larger subcooling of 3.3 "C verses 1.1 to 1.7 "C for the unmodified refrigerator, the actual amount of subcooling is probably less, as there was heat loss to the laboratory environment in the piping from the outlet of the condenser to

the point where the measurement was actually taken. The condenser inlet temperature underwent a brief transient before it rose to a value of 57.8 "C. Figure 5 gives the water temperatures at the top and bottom of the storage tank. The final water temperature at the top of the tank is about 47 "C. The rate of increase in the water temperature was about 11 "C during the first day and 2 "C during the final day. This indicates that the experimental system functions best when heating cold water, as the heat loss from the storage tank to the environment at higher water temperatures will significantly degrade the performance of the system. The compressor duty cycle varied between 51 and 55 % with more fluctuations than were observed for the air cooled condenser operation. This could be caused by a slightly low refrigerant

The capillary tube is the device responsible for





charge in the system obtained when the new condenser tubing was installed. Susequent review of the condenser tubing design revealed that the tubing was possibly undersized for this


application. These two factors would most likely result in a marginally performing refrigerator, which seems to be the current problem with the experimental system. (A larger


condenser has been installed in the system, but new tests have not yet been conducted.)




















Ebpwd Time (do)


12 Water Usaae Pattern Tests.

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Tests were conducted

with three standard water usage patterns (ASHRAE, 1995). The first two usage patterns represent the high and low usage for domestic water consumers, and the third pattern represents

c water usage for a typical family. The process control/data acquisition system was then set up to dispense water from the storage tank according to these patterns. The test were conducted over periods of 5, 9, and 5 days for the high, low, and family usage patterns, respectively.

Figures 6-8 give the temperature difference between the inlet and outlet water temperature for the preheating tank and water usage verses time of day for the last full day of each test.

For the high usage pattern test (Figure 6), the water use varied from a low of 1.63 liters at 4 AM to a high of 36.23 liters at 7 PM. The temperature difference varied from a low of 3.9 'C at

10 PM to a high of 7.6 "C at 9 AM, with an average value of 4.8 "C. For the low usage pattem test (Figure 7) the water use varied from no water usage from 2 to 7 AM to a high of 9.73

liters at 10 AM. The temperature difference varied from a low of 18.5 "C at 11 PM to a high of 20.3 "C at 2 PM, with an average value of 19.4 "C. Finally, for the family usage pattern test, the water use varied from no water usage from 4 to 5 AM to a high of 17.30 liters at 8 PM. The temperature difference



60 35. sa 30 8 40 3 15 E lV7l b 1: ?i M- II
3 15
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ranged from 6.4 “C at 12 AM to
a high of 10.2 OC at 10 AM,
with an average value of 6.9 OF.
The greatest values for the temperature difference were
obtained when the least amount of water was used. There is
also a time delay in the increase of the temperature difference
between times of low water usage in the early morning hours to
high water usage during the time when residents are typically
preparing to start their day. This effect is most pronounced in
the high water usage case. At 4 and 5 AM, only 1.63 liters of
water is dispensed from the storage tank. As expected, the
water in the storage tank heats up when only a little water is
used, but it isn’t until 7 AM that the temperature difference
begins to increase significantly from about 4.5 OC to 6.25 OC.
This is due to the heat in the water initially being dissipated
into and of out the piping between the storage tank and the
point at which the outlet temperature was recorded. As larger
amounts of water are drawn from the storage tank from 8 to 9
AM, the temperature difference increases to a maximum value
of 7.6 OC as the increased lhermal mass of the water begins to
counteract the heat loss in the piping. After 9 AM, the cold
water entering the storage tank causes the temperature
difference to decrease to around 5°C. Figures 7 and 8 show this
effect as well. This may have a serious impact on the
performance of an actual heat recovery system, as there would
be much more piping involved in connecting the storage tank
to an actual water heater.
The results of the first formal tests of a system designed to
couple a residential refrigerator with a water cooled
condenser/pre-heater have been presented. During the no water
usage test, the experimental system was able to increase water

temperature by about 30 OC. However, the time required to obtain this temperature increase was 5 days. As this does not reflect actual water usage, further tests were conducted with water usage patterns that approximated high water use, low water use, and the water use of a typical family. During these tests, the experimental system was able to heat the water by as much as 7.6 OC, 20.3 OC, and 10.2 “C, respectively. An economic analysis (Clark, 1996) revealed that a savings of 18.3 % on the water heater operating cost was possible. The actual economic viability would depend on the installation costs of a production unit, which are unknown at present. It should be noted that a number of system imperfections were discovered during the course of the present tests, and modifications have been installed, although the results from new tests are not yet available. Certainly a system based on larger capacity refrigerators could result in significantly enhanced performance.


This project was funded by a grant from the NYNEX Foundation and administered by the National Science Teachers Association. The assistance and motivation of two high school (now college) students, Eric Gandt and Aurelio Teleman, who initially studied the idea of refrigerator heat recovery, is greatly appreciated.


ASHRAE, 1995, ASHRAE Handbook: HVAC Applications, American Society of Heating, Refrigeration, and Air Conditioning Engineers, Atlanta,p. 45.10. Anantapantula, V. S. and Sauer, H. J., 1994, “Heat

Recovery and the Economizer for HVAC Systems,” ASHRAE J., Vol. 36, pp. 48-53. Bourne, R. C. and Dakin, W., 1994, “A Combined Refrigerator-Electric Water Heater,” Proc. of the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy(ACEEE) Summer Study of Energy Efficiency in Buildings, Vol. 3, pp. 3.19-


Chan, S. K. and Toh, K. C., 1993, “Thermosiphon Heat Recovery From An Air-conditioner For A Domestic Hot Water System,” ASHRAE Trans., Vol. 99, pp. 259-264. Clark, R.A., 1996, “Waste Heat Recovery From a Household Refrigerator,” M.S. Thesis, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Troy, New York. Cohen, J., 1986, “Heat Recovery for Restaurants,” EPRZ

J., Vol. 11, pp. 30-35.

Crispaire Corporation, 1994, Brochure for Model R106K2 Heat Pump Water Heater, Atlanta, Georgia. HEC, 1995, “Energy Costs for Household Appliances,” Internet Document (ecoskhtm), Hawaiian Electric Company. Kesselring, J., 1984, “Heat Pump Water Heaters, EPRI Report EM-3582. Lannus, A. and Kesselring, J., 1990, “Integrated Heat Pump System,” EPRI J.,Vol. 15, pp. 40-43. Lannus, A. and Kesselring, J.,1991, “Field Testing of the HydroTech 2000 Heat Pump,” EPRI J., Vol. 16, pp. 33-36. Mills, B. E. and Perlman, M., 1986, “Residential Heat Recovery,” ASHRAE J., Vol. 28, pp. 28-32.






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