R290, small diameter tube, suction line, heat exchanger
R290 is a potential refrigerant replacing R22 because of its zero Ozone Depletion Potential (ODP) and virtually zero Global Warming Potential (GWP). However, R290 is flammable and requires excellent containment to avoid leakage and reduce the risk of fire. The use of small diameter copper tube (5 mm or even smaller) is an effective way to reduce refrigerant charge and thus reduce the risk of fire in the event of a refrigerant leak. However, employing small diameter copper tube will increase pressure drop and consequently reduce system performance. A suction line heat exchanger which employs the low temperature refrigerant in suction line to cool down the refrigerant before expansion value is a potential solution to improve system performance because R290 has low discharge temperature compared with HFC refrigerants (e.g. R22, R410A). This paper presents an investigation of application of a suction line heat exchanger in an R290 air conditioner with small diameter copper tube. A theoretical analysis is proposed at first to investigate the effect of the suction line heat exchanger on capacity and system energy efficiency under variable evaporating and cooling temperatures. A prototype R290 air conditioner with and without a suction line heat exchanger is tested in order to explore the effect of a suction line heat exchanger on system performance and refrigerant charge in real working conditions. Finally, a refrigerant circuit solution for heat pump air conditioners is proposed. The results of theoretical analysis indicate that the capacity and system energy efficiency increase linearly with the heat exchange of the suctionline heat exchanger, and the suction line heat exchanger can improves capacity by up to 12% and system energy efficiency by up to 4% under both cooling and heating modes. This is because the suction line heat exchanger increases the sub-cooling but has less impact on compressor power due to good thermal properties of R290. Further, the evaporating and condensation temperature have insignificant impact on the performance of suction line heat exchanger. The experimental results show that the suction line heat exchanger improves the cooling capacity and system efficiency by 5.3% and 4.5%, respectively. These results agree well with that of the system analysis. The sub-cooling temperature increases 10.2o C and the discharge temperature increases 25.4o C. Further, the suction line heat exchanger reduces the refrigerant charge by as much as 6%. This is because suction line heat exchanger increases the discharge temperature, and thus the superheat region of the condenser increases resulting in less refrigerant in the condenser. Overall, the use of a suction line heat exchanger in a system with small diameter copper tube improves the performance of R290 and more importantly reduces the refrigerant charge.