What is refrigeration?
Refrigeration is a process in which work is done to move heat from one location to another. Refrigeration has many applications including but not limited to; household refrigerators, industrial freezers, cryogenics, air conditioning, and heat pumps.
Cold is the absence of heat, hence in order to decrease a temperature, one "removes heat", rather than "adding cold." In order to satisfy the Second Law of Thermodynamics, some form of work must be performed to accomplish this. The work is traditionally done by mechanical work but can also be done by magnetism, laser or other means.
The use of ice to refrigerate and thus preserve food goes back to prehistoric times. Through the ages, the seasonal harvesting of snow and ice was a regular practice of most of the ancient cultures: Chinese, Hebrews, Greeks, Romans, Persians. Ice and snow were stored in caves or dugouts lined with straw or other insulating materials. The Persians stored ice in pits called yakhchals. Rationing of the ice allowed the preservation of foods over the warm periods. This practice worked well down through the centuries, with icehouses remaining in use into the twentieth century.
In the 16th century, the discovery of chemical refrigeration was one of the first steps toward artificial means of refrigeration. Sodium nitrate or potassium nitrate, when added to water, lowered the water temperature and created a sort of refrigeration bath for cooling substances. In Italy, such a solution was used to chill wine and cakes.
During the first half of the 19th century, ice harvesting became big business in America. New Englander Frederic Tudor, who became known as the "Ice King", worked on developing better insulation products for the long distance shipment of ice, especially to the tropics.
First refrigeration systems
The first known method of artificial refrigeration was demonstrated by William Cullen at the University of Glasgow in Scotland in 1756. Cullen used a pump to create a partial vacuum over a container of diethyl ether, which then boiled, absorbing heat from the surrounding air. The experiment even created a small amount of ice, but had no practical application at that time.
In 1758, Benjamin Franklin and John Hadley, professor of chemistry at Cambridge University, conducted an experiment to explore the principle of evaporation as a means to rapidly cool an object. Franklin and Hadley confirmed that evaporation of highly volatile liquids such as alcohol and ether, could be used to drive down the temperature of an object past the freezing point of water. They conducted their experiment with the bulb of a mercury thermometer as their object and with a bellows used to "quicken" the evaporation; they lowered the temperature of the thermometer bulb down to 7 ?F (-14 ?C) while the ambient temperature was 65 ?F (18 ?C). Franklin noted that soon after they passed the freezing point of water (32 ?F) a thin film of ice formed on the surface of the thermometer's bulb and that the ice mass was about a quarter inch thick when they stopped the experiment upon reaching 7 ?F (-14 ?C). Franklin concluded, "From this experiment, one may see the possibility of freezing a man to death on a warm summer's day".
In 1805, American inventor Oliver Evans designed but never built a refrigeration system based on the vapor-compression refrigeration cycle rather than chemical solutions or volatile liquids such as ethyl ether.
In 1820, the British scientist Michael Faraday liquefied ammonia and other gases by using high pressures and low temperatures.
An American living in Great Britain, Jacob Perkins, obtained the first patent for a vapor-compression refrigeration system in 1834. Perkins built a prototype system and it actually worked, although it did not succeed commercially.
In 1842, an American physician, John Gorrie, designed the first system for refrigerating water to produce ice. He also conceived the idea of using his refrigeration system to cool the air for comfort in homes and hospitals (i.e., air-conditioning). His system compressed air, then partially cooled the hot compressed air with water before allowing it to expand while doing part of the work required to drive the air compressor. That isentropic expansion cooled the air to a temperature low enough to freeze water and produce ice, or to flow "through a pipe for effecting refrigeration otherwise" as stated in his patent granted by the U.S. Patent Office in 1851. Gorrie built a working prototype, but his system was a commercial failure.
Alexander Twining began experimenting with vapor-compression refrigeration in 1848 and obtained patents in 1850 and 1853. He is credited with having initiated commercial refrigeration in the United States by 1856.
Dunedin, the first commercially successful refrigerated ship.
Meanwhile in Australia, James Harrison began operation of a mechanical ice-making machine in 1851 on the banks of the Barwon River at Rocky Point in Geelong, Victoria. His first commercial ice-making machine followed in 1854 and his patent for an ether liquid-vapour compression refrigeration system was granted in 1855. Harrison introduced commercial vapor-compression refrigeration to breweries and meat packing houses, and by 1861 a dozen of his systems were in operation.
Australian, Argentine, and American concerns experimented with refrigerated shipping in the mid 1870s, the first commercial success coming when William Soltau Davidson fitted a compression refrigeration unit to the New Zealand vessel Dunedin in 1882, leading to a meat and dairy boom in Australasia and South America. J & E Hall of Dartford, England outfitted the 'SS Selembria' with a vapor compression system bring 30,000 carcasses of mutton from the Falkland Islands in 1886.
The first gas absorption refrigeration system using gaseous ammonia dissolved in water (referred to as "aqua ammonia") was developed by Ferdinand Carr? of France in 1859 and patented in 1860. Due to the toxicity of ammonia, such systems were not developed for use in homes, but were used to manufacture ice for sale. In the United States, the consumer public at that time still used the ice box with ice brought in from commercial suppliers, many of whom were still harvesting ice and storing it in an icehouse.
Thaddeus Lowe, an American balloonist from the Civil War, had experimented over the years with the properties of gases. One of his mainstay enterprises was the high-volume production of hydrogen gas. He also held several patents on ice making machines. His "Compression Ice Machine" would revolutionize the cold storage industry. In 1869 he and other investors purchased an old steamship onto which they loaded one of Lowe?s refrigeration units and began shipping fresh fruit from New York to the Gulf Coast area, and fresh meat from Galveston, Texas back to New York. Because of Lowe?s lack of knowledge about shipping, the business was a costly failure, and it was difficult for the public to get used to the idea of being able to consume meat that had been so long out of the packing house.
Domestic mechanical refrigerators became available in the United States around 1911.
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