 # The Cool Science of Air Conditioning: Understanding Heat Transfer and Refrigeration

Heat transfer is the movement of thermal energy from one location to another as a result of a temperature difference. The rate of heat transfer is typically measured in watts (W) or British thermal units per hour (BTU/hr).
There are three main types of heat transfer: conduction, convection, and radiation.
Conduction: Heat transfer through a solid material due to a temperature gradient. The rate of heat transfer by conduction can be calculated using the following formula:
Q = kA(ΔT)/d
where:
Q is the rate of heat transfer (W)
k is the thermal conductivity of the material (W/m·K)
A is the cross-sectional area (m²)
ΔT is the temperature difference (K or °C)
d is the thickness of the material (m)
Example:
The thermal conductivity of copper is 401 W/m·K, a copper rod has a cross-sectional area of 1 cm² and a thickness of 2 cm. The temperature difference between one end and the other is 100 degree celsius.
Q = 401 x 10⁻³ W/m·K x 1 x 10⁻4 m² x 100 K / 2 x 10⁻2 m = 2 W
Convection: Heat transfer through a fluid (liquid or gas) due to the movement of the fluid. The rate of heat transfer by convection can be calculated using the following formula:
Q = hA(ΔT)
where:
Q is the rate of heat transfer (W)
h is the convection heat transfer coefficient (W/m²·K)
A is the heat transfer area (m²)
ΔT is the temperature difference between the fluid and the surface (K or °C)
Example:
The convection heat transfer coefficient of air is 10 W/m²·K, a surface area of 1 m², and a temperature difference of 20 °C.
Q = 10 W/m²·K x 1 m² x 20 K = 200 W
Radiation: Heat transfer through electromagnetic waves, which does not require a medium to travel through. The rate of heat transfer by radiation can be calculated using the following formula:
Q = σA(T^4_2-T^4_1)
where:
Q is the rate of heat transfer (W)
σ is the Stefan-Boltzmann constant (5.67 x 10⁻8 W/m²·K⁴)
A is the area of the radiating surface (m²)
T1 and T2 are the temperatures of the two surfaces in kelvin (K)
Example:
A heater with surface area of 1 m², emitting heat at 800 K and surrounding at 300 K
Q = 5.67 x 10⁻8 W/m²·K⁴ x 1 m² x (800⁴-300⁴) = 9,5x10⁵ W.
Overall, the heat transfer rate is affected by the temperature difference, the heat transfer coefficient or thermal conductivity, and the surface area through which the heat is transferred.
Which one does air conditioning use and how does it work?
Air conditioning uses a combination of the three types of heat transfer: conduction, convection, and radiation. The main process used in air conditioning is refrigeration, which is a type of convection heat transfer.
The basic principle of air conditioning is to remove heat from the air inside a building and transfer it to the outside air. The process involves the use of a refrigerant, which is a substance that can easily change between a liquid and a gas. The refrigerant is used to absorb heat from the indoor air and transfer it to the outdoor air.
The process of air conditioning typically involves four main components:
The compressor: Compresses the refrigerant, increasing its temperature and pressure.
The evaporator: Allows the refrigerant to expand and cool down, absorbing heat from the indoor air as it evaporates.
The condenser: Allows the refrigerant to release the heat it has absorbed, through the process of condensation.
The expansion valve: Regulates the flow of refrigerant between the evaporator and the condenser.
The refrigerant is circulated through these components in a closed loop, absorbing heat from the indoor air in the evaporator and releasing it to the outdoor air in the condenser. The compressor is used to compress the refrigerant and increase its temperature, allowing it to absorb more heat from the indoor air. The expansion valve is used to control the flow of refrigerant between the evaporator and the condenser, ensuring that the refrigerant is at the right pressure and temperature at each stage of the process.
The process of air conditioning is a heat transfer process. The heat absorbed from the indoor air is transferred to the outdoor air by the refrigerant.
Air conditioning systems also use a fan to circulate the air around the building, which helps to distribute the cooled air and remove the warm air. Additionally, modern systems also add a filter to the air flow to remove dust, dirt and other impurities from the air.
So is air conditioning an efficient way to transfer heat?
Air conditioning is a relatively efficient way to transfer heat, but the efficiency can vary depending on a number of factors.
One of the key factors that affects the efficiency of an air conditioning system is the size of the unit. A unit that is too small for the space it is cooling will have to work harder to maintain the desired temperature, which can lead to higher energy consumption and higher operating costs. A unit that is too large will cycle on and off frequently, which can also lead to higher energy consumption.
Another factor that affects the efficiency of an air conditioning system is the quality of the installation. A poorly installed or maintained unit can suffer from a variety of problems, such as leaks in the ductwork or poor insulation, which can reduce its efficiency.
The efficiency of an air conditioning system is also affected by the climate and weather conditions where it is located. For example, in hot and humid climates, the system will have to work harder to remove the high levels of moisture from the air, which can reduce its efficiency.
The SEER (Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio) is a measure of how efficient an air conditioning system is. The SEER is calculated by dividing the cooling output of a unit over a typical cooling season by the energy consumed in watt-hours during the same period. A higher SEER rating means that the unit is more efficient.
Overall, a well-sized, well-installed and well-maintained air conditioning system can be a very efficient way to transfer heat. They are designed to provide a comfortable living environment and can save energy and costs if the system is well designed and size for the space, and maintained properly.