It’s hard to imagine life without some form of refrigeration, whether advanced or rudimentary in design. Whether cooling rooms during hot summers days, achieving optimum storage conditions in cellars or other areas, holding products at correct temperatures whilst being transported around the country, chilling perishable produce on-site or freezing foods to extend shelf life, refrigeration plays a massive part in today’s culture. Used both in domestic and commercial areas, this technology has a become a mainstay in the modern world.
Approaching World Refrigeration Day we take a look at the roots of refrigeration, where we are today and where advances in technology might take us in the future.
A Look Back at Refrigeration
Way back when, people just had to make do with what they had to hand to keep their foods adequately stored. Before the advent of man-made cooling devices, people had a number of methods they could employ depending on what was available in their surroundings.
Techniques included finding somewhere cool and dark, making use of nearby water sources or, where ice was available naturally, creating ice stores or houses. Chilling foods was extremely difficult for most people and so they relied on other methods for preserving foods such as salting, smoking, pickling, spicing or drying.
In 1755, the first true progress into creating a man-made system for chilling foods was brought about by the Scottish professor William Cullen. He designed the first basic form of refrigeration, putting basic principles into action. The possible extent of the application however, would not be recognised for many years.
Over the following 100 years, various experiments and projects were embarked upon investigating how evaporation of substances such as ether or alcohol could dramatically drop temperatures to below freezing. This led to the development of the first vapour compression system that was capable of working in a continuous cycle, as present day refrigeration does.
From there, the first gas absorption system using ammonia, sulfur dioxide and methyl chloride was brought about. This could be used in the home, in commerce or for transporting goods, opening up a whole new way to preserve foods.
The initial system was developed and enhanced until the late 1920’s when a synthetic refrigerant, composed mainly of CFC’s was created, bringing the world of refrigeration to the point at which we would recognise it today.
Where We Are Now
Refrigeration continued to develop, harnessing the science behind new technologies and the knowledge garnered through ongoing research. Refrigeration became more focused on our changing perceptions of the world, advances in technology and a deeper understanding of environmental impact.
In 1996 the use of CFC’s was banned, these refrigerants being replaced with more environmentally friendly alternatives. In 2015 F-Gas regulations were implemented to make sure that the refrigeration industry abided by globally acknowledged standards. The primary aim of this legislation to prevent ongoing damage to the planet through global warming and greenhouse gas emissions. Read more about F-Gas Regulations here.
Advances have also been made in regards to design, the quality of manufacture, the materials used and the features that you can expect such as more precise temperature control, LED lighting and improvements in insulation.
You can even chart the progress of some of the long-standing manufacturers. Foster for example were established in 1946 and recently, to celebrate their golden anniversary, ran a competition to discover the oldest piece of commercial refrigeration out there, still operational and in use. The winner? A pass-through chiller, 42 years old and still going strong. This exercise just goes to show the potential longevity of equipment if it’s well-made, regularly serviced and well looked after.
Looking Forward to the Future
As with everything, development and innovation continue. Research into green operation, gases and efficiency are ongoing and sure to take the refrigeration industry from strength to strength.
A key focus for many groups at present is on magnetocaloric effect (MCE). Magnetic refrigeration is an exciting new prospect that eliminates the need for harmful gases. This method of chilling is thought to result in greater efficiency and more environmental benefits. The principle relies on changes in temperatures caused by alterations to magnetic fields. While advancements are being made, there are still areas that require further exploration.
Declarations that have already been made include the full elimination of CFC’s by 2030 and that all HFC’s with a Global Warming Potential (GWP) of more than 2500 will be banned in all newly manufactured equipment by 2020.
The world of refrigeration has progressed vastly from its humble origins to equipment that we use today. With technological and scientific advancements already under investigation, refrigeration will undoubtedly continue to develop and flourish in the future.
Celebrate World Refrigeration Day on 26th June 2019. #wrefd19