How do water chillers work?

Written by g.k. bayne
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Water chillers range in size from the common cold drinking fountain to large industrial chillers that can accommodate thousands of gallons of liquid. Regardless of the size, water chillers all perform the same function--to cool down the liquid to a desired temperature. Water chillers do not really cool the liquid in as much as they remove heat. In the absence of heat, the liquid then becomes cool. The purpose of a water chiller is to remove unwanted heat in the liquid, and then carry that heat away so it can be discharged elsewhere. This process is called refrigeration.

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Tubes and Coils

In every water chiller, the liquid is separated from the refrigerant by sealed tubes or coils. The liquid, in this case water, is passed through a series of sealed tubes in and around a compressed refrigerant of either freon or ammonia. As the refrigerant gas comes in contact with the warm water there is an exchange that takes place. The heat from the warmer water is passed through the metal sealing tubes and into the gas of the refrigerant. The gas is then "sucked" off through the vessel by a compressor. The vessel in this case is called the heat exchanger. The heat exchanger is a sealed container that contains both the gas refrigerant and the water coils or tubes.

Heat Exchangers and Compressors

The refrigerant enters the heat exchanger in the form of a liquid. As the liquid refrigerant comes in contact with the sealed tubes that contain the water, it "flashes" into a gas. This flashing of the refrigerant, from a liquid into a gas, is when the heat is exchanged from the warmer water through the metal tubes and into the refrigerant. The heat that is now in the gas is carried away by the suction of the compressor. The compressor can then move this hot gas from the heat exchanger and then cool it by passing it through a condenser. The condenser is of the same design as the engine radiator that sits in the front of a car.


The condenser, through the operation of a fan, then releases the heat that was captured by the gas into the air. The gas then turns back into a liquid or "condenses" as it cools and then exits the condenser. The liquid refrigerant is than forced back into the heat exchanger vessel to perform the same work of removing heat from the warm water. This is called a sealed refrigerant system. The same type of system is used on the refrigerator in the kitchen. The condenser on a refrigerator is located to the rear of the large cooling box and is usually placed against the wall. If you have ever noticed why the rear of the refrigerator is warmer than the front, this is due to the compressor pushing the refrigerant gas to the condenser. The condenser is releasing the heat that was collected from the "inside" of the refrigerator and back into the room.

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