A Century of Chiller Technology

A convergence of technologies had to occur to make the modern, high-efficiency centrifugal chiller a reality. To appreciate the technology fully, we must go back in history and understand the origins of the air conditioning and refrigeration industry. Along the way, we will find an important diversion in aerospace and the critically important centrifugal compressor. Ultimately, we will find that the modern chiller is a testament to advanced technology that was developed in multiple fields.

Some of the first advances in and applications of modern industrial refrigeration were in the United States. In May 1922, Willis Carrier revealed the “Centrifugal Refrigeration Machine” – a very early incarnation of what we now call a chiller [1]. The first installation went to a Philadelphia candy manufacturer; it’s interesting to know that the birth of modern refrigeration and air conditioning started on a large scale. Back in those days, economy of scale enabled the technology to be developed. It was not until a decade later that the core technology began to be adopted into compact units that could be used in smaller businesses such as boutique shops. It took several more decades for smaller residential air conditioners to take off commercially.

Shown in the photograph below is Carrier’s first centrifugal chiller in his New Jersey factory [1].

First Centrifugal Chiller
Photo from [1]
The size of this machine is evident, as is the fact that its design, at the time, necessitated components be spread out in space for assembly and maintenance. By modern standards, the same footprint space could be used to accommodate a modern chiller with over 500 refrigeration tons in capacity. By comparison the original design has less than 100 refrigeration tons of capacity.

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