Refrigeration may be defined as the process of achieving and maintaining a temperature below that of the surroundings, the aim being to cool some product or space to the required temperature. One of the most important applications of refrigeration has been the preservation of perishable food products by storing them at low temperatures. Refrigeration systems are also used extensively for providing thermal comfort to human beings by means of air conditioning. Air Conditioning refers to the treatment of air so as to simultaneously control its temperature, moisture content, cleanliness, odour and circulation, as required by occupants, a process, or products in the space. The subject of refrigeration and air conditioning has evolved out of human need for food and comfort, and its history dates back to centuries. The history of refrigeration is very interesting since every aspect of it, the availability of refrigerants, the prime movers and the developments in compressors and the methods of refrigeration all are a part of it. The French scientist Roger ThÝvenot has written an excellent book on the history of refrigeration throughout the world.
In olden days refrigeration was achieved by natural means such as the use of ice or evaporative cooling. In earlier times, ice was either:
1. Transported from colder regions,
2. Harvested in winter and stored in ice houses for summer use or,
3. Made during night by cooling of water by radiation to stratosphere.
In Europe, America and Iran a number of icehouses were built to store ice. Materials like sawdust or wood shavings were used as insulating materials in these icehouses. Later on, cork was used as insulating material. Literature reveals that ice has always been available to aristocracy who could afford it. In India, the Mogul emperors were very fond of ice during the harsh summer in Delhi and Agra, and it appears that the ice used to be made by nocturnal cooling.
In 1806, Frederic Tudor, (who was later called as the “ice king”) began the trade in ice by cutting it from the Hudson River and ponds of Massachusetts and exporting it to various countries including India. In India Tudor’s ice was cheaper than the locally manufactured ice by nocturnal cooling. The ice trade in North America was a flourishing business. Ice was transported to southern states of America in train compartments insulated by 0.3m of cork insulation. Trading in ice was also popular in several other countries such as Great Britain, Russia, Canada, Norway and France. In these countries ice was either transported from colder regions or was harvested in winter and stored in icehouses for use in summer. The ice trade reached its peak in 1872 when America alone exported 225000 tonnes of ice to various countries as far as China and Australia. However, with the advent of artificial refrigeration the ice trade gradually declined.
1.2.1. Art of Ice making by Nocturnal Cooling:
The art of making ice by nocturnal cooling was perfected in India. In this method ice was made by keeping a thin layer of water in a shallow earthen tray, and then exposing the tray to the night sky. Compacted hay of about 0.3 m thickness was used as insulation. The water looses heat by radiation to the stratosphere, which is at around -55°C and by early morning hours the water in the trays freezes to ice. This method of ice production was very popular in India.
As the name indicates, evaporative cooling is the process of reducing the temperature of a system by evaporation of water. Human beings perspire and dissipate their metabolic heat by evaporative cooling if the ambient temperature is more than skin temperature. Animals such as the hippopotamus and buffalo coat themselves with mud for evaporative cooling. Evaporative cooling has been used in India for centuries to obtain cold water in summer by storing the water in earthen pots. The water permeates through the pores of earthen vessel to its outer surface where it evaporates to the surrounding, absorbing its latent heat in part from the vessel, which cools the water. It is said that Patliputra University situated on the bank of river Ganges used to induce the evaporative-cooled air from the river. Suitably located chimneys in the rooms augmented the upward flow of warm air, which was replaced by cool air. Evaporative cooling by placing wet straw mats on the windows is also very common in India. The straw mat made from “khus” adds its inherent perfume also to the air. Now-a-days desert coolers are being used in hot and dry areas to provide cooling in summer.
1.2.3. Cooling by Salt Solutions:
Certain substances such as common salt, when added to water dissolve in water and absorb its heat of solution from water (endothermic process). This reduces the temperature of the solution (water+salt). Sodium Chloride salt (NaCl) can yield temperatures up to -20°C and Calcium Chloride (CaCl2) up to - 50°C in properly insulated containers. However, as it is this process has limited application, as the dissolved salt has to be recovered from its solution by heating.