In efforts to increase the efficiency of residential and commercial air conditioners and heat pumps, it is found that the compressor has the highest electrical energy usage of the system. Therefore, it is appropriate to try to increase the efficiency of this component to reduce its energy usage. Another challenge with heat pump design is that some compressor types have drawbacks that make modulation difficult.
To answer these challenges, we are developing an isothermal liquid compressor. The compressor uses propylene glycol to compress carbon dioxide. In the compression chamber the propylene glycol can enter either from the bottom to create a liquid piston for compression or it can enter through a spray nozzle at the top of the chamber. In the latter case, heat transfer from the gas to be compressed to the liquid droplets is high. This allows near isothermal operation of the compressor, which increases the efficiency by 17% to 30%, compared to adiabatic compression. In addition, the isothermal liquid compressor enables very efficient and simple part load modulation.
Experimental results demonstrating the operation of the liquid compressor are presented. Initial data demonstrated a temperature rise of 7 K at pressure ratios of almost 4. For comparison at the same initial pressure, temperature, and pressure ratio, adiabatic compression would result in a temperature increase of approximately 70 K. Plotting data on a P-h diagram demonstrates that the compression started at superheated state and ended in supercritical state. Testing was later performed with repeated compressions in the superheated region of the P-h diagram at liquid flow rates of 2 x 10-3 m3/min and 2 x 10-3 m3/min to understand the limitations of the prototype for use with an actual heat pump system. This work demonstrated a novel cycle on a T-s diagram. Results from this work will be used to develop a second-generation prototype where more rapid cycling is possible.