ASHRAE Journal - September 2019 - 44

ASHRAE - CELEBRATING 125 YEARS

specialized applications like households (as discussed
with a preset pressure controller, connected to the
above), retail groceries or butcher shops, and air condisystem low side, which would cycle the condensing
tioning. Ammonia proved unsuitable for household or
unit. A float metered refrigerant into a flooded-type
merchant uses, and although some existing refrigeratevaporator that responded to the changing load. These
ing machinery manufacturers did try to enter that field, VRF systems had become fairly widespread by the late
downsizing their industrial equipment proved difficult. 1920s, particularly in larger cities. Most used sulfur
Besides, they were satisfied providing for the expanding dioxide or methyl chloride refrigerant and contained
demand for cold storage and ice making. And there was
a large refrigerant charge that sometimes let loose into
the new technology of air conditioning for industrial
the building if a line ruptured-with spectacular result
processes, as well as for personal comfort. These appliif sulfur dioxide was involved. With searing lungs and
cations potentially exposed building occupants to a toxic stinging eyes, occupants would flee to the streets, even
refrigerant leak. For air conditioning, ammonia, as well
in the middle of the night. However, a methyl chloride
as the other toxic or flammable refrigerants mentioned
leak produced a more subdued-but deadly-situation.
previously, would not be acceptable. What to do?
Methyl chloride has a sweet, ethereal odor, not irritatObviously the solution was to use a
ing like sulfur dioxide. In sufficient
FIGURE
8
Before
the
chlorofluorocarbon
refrigerdifferent refrigerant. Previously used
concentration, it has both an anesants, service on many household refrigerators
alternatives to ammonia, such as
thetic and toxic effect. There were a
required a gas mask! (From: Frigidaire Installation
and
Service
Manual,
April
1927,
p.
4).
methyl chloride and sulfur dioxide,
number of instances where a methyl
had been used in Europe and proved
chloride system leaked enough
technically suitable for low-capacity
refrigerant at night to kill entire famsystems. Some others, such as ethyl
ilies. These tragedies were sensationchloride and isobutane were also
alized in newspapers, and the public,
used. For air-conditioning applicawith the battlefield deaths from
tions, carbon dioxide, dichloroethpoison gas used in WWI still fresh
ylene and methylene chloride were
in their minds, demanded action to
used. All these refrigerants, except
prohibit "death gases" from being
CO2, were problematic-toxic and/or
used in refrigeration systems. City
flammable.
health departments responded with
By the late 1920s, household
restrictions on use of large refrigerarefrigerators were reliable but still
tion systems as well as refrigerants4
(Figure 8).
costly. Apartment houses, with a
Improved reliability and lower cost
concentration of tenants, proved
had propelled household refrigerato be a potentially lucrative market
tor sales into the millions by 1928, and refrigerator
for refrigerator manufacturers. Apartment dwellers
manufacturers became alarmed that private and public
balked at purchasing a high-priced refrigerator, but
concern and restrictions would affect their burgeoning
apartment owners, when constructing new buildmarket. The Frigidaire Corporation division of General
ings and competing for tenants, often opted for a new
idea-VRF! Yes, VRF, Variable Refrigerant Flow systems, Motors had been using sulfur dioxide refrigerant since
1918, even touting the refrigerant's advantage as being
the concept recently popular in the air-conditioning
non-toxic because it was "self-alarming" and a leak
industry. At that time, the concept was used by placwould compel a user to get out before any serious health
ing a central refrigeration condensing unit in the
effects occurred. Frigidaire management was concerned
apartment house basement, directly connected with
multiple liquid and suction lines to small refrigerators enough about their business that they asked the newly
formed General Motors Research Laboratory to develop
in each apartment. The VRF aspect was accomplished
a completely new refrigerant that would be non-toxic,
by using "low-side float" refrigerant controls in each
non-flammable and chemically stable. Thomas Midgley,
apartment, with the central system maintaining constant evaporator pressure (and therefore temperature) a research engineer, was assigned to that task. With his
44

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ASHRAE Journal - September 2019

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of ASHRAE Journal - September 2019

Contents
ASHRAE Journal - September 2019 - Intro
ASHRAE Journal - September 2019 - Cover1
ASHRAE Journal - September 2019 - Cover2
ASHRAE Journal - September 2019 - 1
ASHRAE Journal - September 2019 - Contents
ASHRAE Journal - September 2019 - 3
ASHRAE Journal - September 2019 - 4
ASHRAE Journal - September 2019 - 5
ASHRAE Journal - September 2019 - 6
ASHRAE Journal - September 2019 - 7
ASHRAE Journal - September 2019 - 8
ASHRAE Journal - September 2019 - 9
ASHRAE Journal - September 2019 - 10
ASHRAE Journal - September 2019 - 11
ASHRAE Journal - September 2019 - 12
ASHRAE Journal - September 2019 - 13
ASHRAE Journal - September 2019 - 14
ASHRAE Journal - September 2019 - 15
ASHRAE Journal - September 2019 - 16
ASHRAE Journal - September 2019 - 17
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ASHRAE Journal - September 2019 - 19
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