The Science of Refrigerants


The Science of Refrigerants

A ‘refrigerant’ is defined as any substance that absorbs heat through expansion or vaporization and loses it through condensation in a refrigeration system.



Usually refrigerants include only those working mediums which pass through the cycle of evaporation, recovery, compression, condensation and liquefaction. These substances absorb heat at one place at low temperature level and reject the same at some other place having higher temperature and pressure. The rejection of heat takes place at the cost of some mechanical work.

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We can classify refrigerants in mainly two categories –

  • Primary refrigerant : are those working mediums or heat carriers which directly take part in the refrigeration system and cool the substance by the absorption of latent heat e.g. Ammonia, Carbon dioxide etc.
  • Secondary refrigerant : are those circulating substances which are first cooled with the help of the primary refrigerants and are then employed for cooling purposes, g. ice, solid carbon dioxide etc. These refrigerants cool substances by absorption of their sensible heat.

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Again, we can group primary refrigerant into –

Halocarbon compounds :


R-10 — Carbon tetrachloride (CCl4)

R-11 — Trichloro-monofluoro methane (CCl3F)

R-12 — Dichloro-difluoro methane (CCl2F2)

R-13 — Mono-bromotrifluoro methane (CBrF3)

R-21 — Dichloro monofluoro methane (CHCl2F)

R-22 — Mono chloro difluoro methane (CHClF2)

& so on..

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Hydrocarbons :


R-50 — Methane (CH4)

R-170— Ethane (C2H6)

R-290— Propane (C2H8)

R-600— Butane (C4H10)

R-601— Isobentane [CH(CH3)3]

& so on..

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Inorganic compounds :


R-717— Ammonia (NH3)

R-718— Water (H2O)

R-729— Air (mixture of O2, N2, CO2 etc.)

R-744— Carbon dioxide (CO2)

R-764— Sulphur dioxide (SO2)

& so on..

Desirable properties of an ideal refrigerant :

Some important properties which an ideal refrigerant should have, are as —

  • Low boiling point
  • Low freezing point
  • High saturation temperature
  • High latent heat of vaporization.
  • Non-toxicity
  • Non-flammable and non-explosive
  • Low specific heat
  • High thermal conductivity
  • Ease of leakage location
  • Low power consumption per tonne of refrigeration.


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