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International Journal of Refrigeration 28 (2005) 756765

www.elsevier.com/locate/ijrefrig

Experimental investigation of silica gelwater adsorption chillers


with and without a passive heat recovery scheme
Xiaolin Wanga, Hui Tong Chuab,*, Kim Choon Nga
a

Department of Mechanical Engineering, National University of Singapore, 10 Kent Ridge Crescent, Singapore 119260, Singapore
School of Mechanical Engineering, University of Western Australia, MDBP M050, 35 Stirling Highway, Crawley WA 6009, Australia

Received 23 July 2004; received in revised form 23 November 2004; accepted 28 November 2004
Available online 7 April 2005

Abstract
We experimentally show that for the same heat exchanger inventory allocation, a four-bed adsorption chiller delivers a 12%
higher ultimate cooling capacity than its two-bed counterpart. In addition it delivers a significantly improved quality of
instantaneous cooling than a two-bed chiller at the same cooling capacity. The COP-enhancing feature of a passive heat
recovery scheme that does not involve additional pumping action or valves is experimentally proven. It improves the COPs of a
two-bed chiller and a four-bed chiller by as much as 38 and 25%, respectively, without any effect on their cooling capacities.
The highest COPs achieved with a two-bed and four-bed chillers are 0.46G0.02 and 0.45G0.02, respectively. These are
measured at a hot-water inlet temperature of 85 8C, cooling-water inlet temperature of 29.4 8C and chilled-water inlet
temperature of 12.2 8C.
q 2004 Elsevier Ltd and IIR. All rights reserved.
Keywords: Adsorption systems; Water; Silica gel; Experiment; Heat recovery; Improvement; COP

Refroidisseurs a` adsorption au gel de silice/eau avec et sans


recuperation de chaleur passive
Mots cles : Syste`me a` adsorption ; Eau ; Gel de silice ; Experimentation ; Recuperation de chaleur ; Amelioration ; COP

1. Introduction
Silica gelwater adsorption chillers are proven to be an
effective way to harness the potential of low-grade waste
heat [110], and solar energy [11,12] for useful cooling.
This genre of adsorption chiller uses an environmentally
benign refrigerant and, in its standard form, can be driven by

* Corresponding author.
E-mail address: htchua@mech.uwa.edu.au (H.T. Chua).
0140-7007/$35.00 q 2004 Elsevier Ltd and IIR. All rights reserved.
doi:10.1016/j.ijrefrig.2004.11.011

waste heat with temperatures as low as 55 8C. By adopting a


multi-stage design, the chiller could even be driven by 50 8C
waste heat and produce sizeable cooling capacities [1316].
Nishiyodo Kuchouki Co. Ltd [17] combined a watercirculation scheme and a mass-recovery scheme between
the adsorber and desorber during the switching process to
improve the coefficient of performance (COP). The efficacy
of the mass-recovery scheme was largely explained by
Akahira et al. [18]. Mayekawa manufacturing Co. Ltd also
installs an active water-recirculation scheme between the
two beds during the switching process into its adsorption

X. Wang et al. / International Journal of Refrigeration 28 (2005) 756765

chiller to improve the chiller COP [19]. Liu et al. [20] noted
the high cost of refrigerant gas valves and did away with the
need for them in their design. They also incorporated a
water-circulation scheme and a variant of the standard massrecovery scheme to improve both the COP and cooling
capacity. The aforementioned recirculation strategies are
considered an open-loop design as the various schemes are
connected to the external heat source and cooling tower. A
fully independent fluid recirculation loop, operated either
continuously or only during the switching period, could also
improve the COP of some types of adsorption chiller [21
23] and in particular multi-bed chillers [24], but is
predicated on the use of a high-temperature heat source
which precludes its use in silica gelwater adsorption
chillers. Such a scheme can also be complemented by a
mass-recovery scheme [25].
We had earlier proposed a multi-bed adsorption chiller
that aims to boost the maximum cooling capacity for a given
heat exchanger inventory allocation and reduce the temporal
fluctuation of the chilled water outlet temperature vis-a`-vis a
two-bed chiller [2628]. One objective of this article is to
experimentally demonstrate the aforementioned virtues of a
four-bed chiller in relation to a two-bed chiller. A combined
multi-stage, multi-bed chiller that took advantage of the
availability of very low-temperature waste heat and a singlestage three-bed chiller were subsequently studied by Saha
et al. [29,30].
Our second objective is to experimentally demonstrate
the substantial COP enhancement to the two- and four-bed
chillers of a passive heat recovery scheme that does not
employ additional pumping power or valves other than those
already found in a standard adsorption chiller. This is to
control the manufacturing cost [31]. It will be shown that
this scheme is achieved simply by controlling the watervalve opening schedule. The COPs of the two-bed chiller
and that of the four-bed chiller will be shown to be improved
by as much as 38 and 25%, respectively.

2. Experimental test facility


Fig. 1 shows an aerial view of the chiller test facility that we
have successfully prototyped in our laboratory. The chiller
controller has been designed to be flexible for programming
such that the test facility could presently operate in two-bed
and four-bed modes. The detailed operating schemes for the
standard two-bed mode and the standard four-bed mode are
recorded in Refs. [14,6,7,9] and [2628], respectively. In the
two-bed operating mode, two of the beds operate in phase,
whereas in the four-bed mode, all the four beds operate with a
constant phase difference so that there are always master and
slave adsorbers and desorbers. The controller can be freely
programmed such that the test facility can function in other
modes. The virtue of such a test facility is that the various
conceivable operating modes can be tested and compared with
the same heat exchanger inventory allocation.

757

Fig. 1. An aerial view of our adsorption chiller test facility [28].

Fig. 2 presents the schematic of our test facility. The


facility is extensively instrumented and the various
instrumentation points are marked out in the schematic.
5 kU thermistors with a 3 s time constant (G0.2 8C, YSI)
are generally employed for all the temperature measurements except for the hot-water outlet temperature measurement, for which a 2.2 kU thermistor with similar
specifications is used. It is important to use low time
constant and accurate temperature sensors so as to properly
capture the rapid temperature swings during the switching
period, otherwise one may erroneously measure a higher
COP due to the sluggish temperature response. Electromagnetic flow transmitters are used for flow rate measurements
(G0.5% of reading plus G0.05 L/min, Krohne). The
absolute pressure sensors that are used have an accuracy
G0.125 kPa (Yokogawa). It is estimated that the accuracy
of cycle averaged cooling capacity measurements is G
3.5%, COP measurements is G3.8%, and heat input
measurements is G1.7%.
The evaporator is spray assisted so as to enhance the
effective heat transfer coefficient. Two sight glasses are
installed at the evaporator to allow visual inspection of the
boiling efficacy. A low-fin tube bundle with internal
corrugation is used for the evaporator. At a chilled-water
rated flow rate of 48 L/min, the evaporator heat exchanger
has an overall heat transfer coefficient or U-value of
3028 W/m2 K. An internally bare, low-fin tube bundle is
used in the condenser. At a cooling-water rated flow rate of
120 L/min, the condenser has a U-value of 5833 W/m2 K.
The proprietary plate-type heat exchanger of Mayekawa
manufacturing Co. Ltd is employed for the bed heat
exchanger. With a cooling-water rated flow rate of
48 L/min, it has a U-value of 1002 W/m2 K. Each of the
four beds contains 36 kg of silica gel. When the test facility
is operated in the four-bed mode, each pair of beds draws the
cooling/hot water in series, so that each bed receives 48 L/min
of cooling/hot water and the total cooling/hot-water flow rate
is 48 L/min. When it is operated in the two-bed mode, each

758

X. Wang et al. / International Journal of Refrigeration 28 (2005) 756765

Fig. 2. Schematic of an adsorption-chiller test facility.

pair of beds draws the cooling/hot water in parallel, so that


each bed receives 24 L/min of cooling/hot water and the
total cooling/hot-water flow rate is still 48 L/min. It is
confirmed that regardless of the operation mode, the flow in
the bed heat exchanger piping is always maintained in the
turbulent regime and the minimum Reynolds number is
about 9000 in all the experiments. For the comparison
between the two- and four-bed operation modes, the chilled
water, condenser cooling water and total bed cooling water
flow rates are maintained identical. The switching period for
both modes of operation is fixed at 40 s.
The electrically fired chiller rating facility is able to
supply chilled water, cooling water and hot water at a
practically constant flow rate and a temperature process
control accuracy of G0.3 8C during cyclic steady state with
an occasional drift to G0.5 8C. This is despite the fact that
the waters emanating from the chiller test facility, with an
affiliated large temperature swing particularly during the
switching period, are sent back to the rating facility in a
closed loop manner.

3. Performance comparison between the standard twobed and four-bed modes


As mentioned earlier, the detailed operating schemes for

denotes an open valve, while

denotes a shut valve.

the standard two-bed and four-bed modes are documented in


Refs. [14,6,7,9,2628]. Fig. 3 features the performance
improvement offered by the standard four-bed scheme vis-a`vis the standard two-bed scheme. The performance ratings
for both the operation modes were conducted at a coolingwater inlet temperature of 29.4 8C, chilled-water inlet
temperature of 12.2 8C, and hot-water inlet temperature of
85 8C. It is evident that for a given heat-exchanger inventory
allocation, the four-bed mode delivers a 12% higher
ultimate specific cooling power (SCP) which is defined as
the ratio of cooling capacity to the total mass of adsorbent in
the chiller system. At the same cooling capacity and for
cycle times between 250 and 275 s, the improvement to the
COP is between 3 and 6%. This is primarily attributed to a
better match between the hot-water and bed temperatures
which reduces heat transfer irreversibility. Beyond 275 s,
both modes of operation enjoy the same COP. This is
expected as the four-bed mode serves to mitigate the heat
transfer irreversibility encountered during and immediately
after the switching period, the proportion of which
diminishes as the cycle time lengthens. It is reiterated that
the system waters flow rates are maintained the same for this
set of comparisons. In particular, for a total bed cooling/hotwater flow rate of 48 L/min, each of the two beds operating
in phase in the two-bed mode draws 24 L/min of cooling/hot
water, whereas each of the two beds in the four-bed mode

X. Wang et al. / International Journal of Refrigeration 28 (2005) 756765

759

Fig. 3. Performance comparison between the standard two-bed and four-bed modes.

consumes 48 L/min cooling/hot water. The performance of


the two-bed mode will expectedly improve if the total bed
cooling/hot-water flow rate is doubled so that each of the
two beds draws 48 L/min of water at the expense of a higher
pumping power. On the other hand, the performance of the
four-bed mode would also be enhanced if 96 L/min of
cooling/hot water is available.
Fig. 4 demonstrates the amelioration to the quality of
cooling offered by the four-bed mode in relation to that of
the two-bed mode at the same cycle time. In the four-bed
mode, the temporal fluctuation of the chilled-water outlet

temperature, and concomitantly the instantaneous cooling


capacity, is markedly reduced. This improvement to the
quality of cooling is desirable for air-conditioning and
dehumidification applications.
Fig. 5 presents the performance map of the four-bed
mode at assorted hot-water inlet temperatures. Again the
chilled-water and cooling-water inlet temperatures are
maintained at 12.2 and 29.4 8C, respectively. One appreciates that the four-bed mode could still deliver a sizeable
specific cooling power at a hot-water inlet temperature of
65 8C. The COP of the four-bed mode improves with the

Fig. 4. A comparison of chilled-water temporal temperature profiles and the instantaneous cooling capacities of the standard two-bed and fourbed scheme.

760

X. Wang et al. / International Journal of Refrigeration 28 (2005) 756765

Fig. 5. Performance map of a four-bed chiller at various hot-water inlet temperatures.

hot-water temperature, but its increase experiences a


diminishing return as the hot-water temperature approaches
85 8C.

4. A passive heat recovery scheme


We shall now present a passive heat recovery scheme
that aims to boost the COPs of both the two-bed and fourbed operation modes. It will be shown that this simple
scheme could boost the COP of the two-bed mode by as
much as 38%, and the four-bed mode by 25%. In addition, it
does not compromise the cooling throughput of the chiller.
In a standard two-bed or four-bed operation mode, as
soon as the switching period commences, the status of the
electromagnetic water valves is changed. Cooling water is
introduced to the hot bed and hot water to the cool bed.
Simultaneously, water emanating from the hot bed is
channeled to the cooling tower while that from the cool
bed is sent to the heat source. For a significant time period
after switching commences, the water from the hot bed is
still warm due to the resident water in the hot-bed piping as
well as the internal energy of the hot bed. Simultaneously,
for the same reasons, water from the cool bed is still cool.
This results in a very significant dip in the hot-water outlet
temperature, and a significant rise in the cooling-water
outlet temperature after switching commences. These
significant losses have earlier been quantified by a detailed
entropy generation analysis [32] and a cycle temperature
entropy diagrammatic analysis [33].
Essentially the essence of the passive heat recovery
scheme is to delay changing the status of the water valves
after the switching period commences for some prefixed

time period. This is to enable the water from the cool bed to
return to the cooling tower and the water from the hot bed to
the heat source. The optimal time period is reached when the
waters emanating from the hot and cool beds have identical
temperatures, at which point in time the status of the water
valve changes. Since this regenerative scheme only
concerns how the waters emanating from the beds are
being channeled while leaving the refrigerant-side of the
chiller and the speed of operation untouched, the chiller
specific cooling power should not be affected at all. The
experimental confirmation will be demonstrated later.
Referring specifically to our four-bed test facility, Fig. 6
encapsulates the essence of the passive heat-recovery
scheme as applied to a two-bed chiller and a four-bed
chiller. This succinct mode of presentation is an adaptation
of the depiction of Wade et al. [34]. Each of the circled
numbers (14) represents one of the four beds in the test
facility. The source of the heating input and the sink for the
heating rejection are the hot water supply system, whereas
the source of the cooling input and the sink for the cooling
rejection are the cooling tower. Referring to the two-bed
operation, for a substantial time period, beds 1 and 2 are
heated by the hot water and the water from these two beds is
sent back to the hot water supply system. Concomitantly,
beds 3 and 4 are cooled by the cooling water and the water
from these two beds is returned to the cooling tower. During
the bed switching period, cooling water is sent to precool
beds 1 and 2 and the water from these two beds is directed to
the hot water supply system. Simultaneously, hot water is
used to preheat beds 3 and 4 and the water from these two
beds is channeled to the cooling tower. This water
channeling scheme remains unchanged for a certain time
period even after the bed switching has ended until the

X. Wang et al. / International Journal of Refrigeration 28 (2005) 756765

761

Fig. 6. A passive regenerative scheme with heating/cooling inputs/rejections rotating clockwise.

temperatures of the waters from beds 1 and 2 as well as from


beds 3 and 4 are the same. Turning to the four-bed operation,
for a substantial time period, hot water is used to heat up bed
1 and serially bed 2, while the water from bed 2 is then
returned to the hot water supply system. In the meantime,
cooling water is sent to bed 3 and then bed 4, while the water
from bed 4 is directed to the cooling tower. During the
switching period, hot water is sent to heat bed 2 and then
preheat bed 3, while the water from bed 3 is then returned to
the cooling tower. At the same time, cooling water is
supplied to bed 4 and then precool bed 1, whilst the water

from bed 1 is channeled to the hot water supply system.


Again this water channeling strategy remains unchanged for
a certain time period even after the switching has completed
until the water temperatures for the waters from beds 1 and 3
are identical.
4.1. Modified two-bed mode
Table 1 delineates the actual water channeling schemes
for the standard two-bed mode as well as the modified twobed mode equipped with the passive heat recovery feature. It

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X. Wang et al. / International Journal of Refrigeration 28 (2005) 756765

Table 1
Water channeling schemes for the standard two-bed mode and the modified two-bed mode with a passive heat recovery scheme (*C#a/b, C:
normal operating period of a cycle, #a/b: 1a/b to 2a/b refer to the various stages of the normal operating period; sw: bed switching)
Water channeling strategies
Standard two-bed mode
*

C1b

sw
*

C2a

C2b

sw
*

C1a

C1b

Two-bed mode with a passive heat recovery scheme

Hot water

Cooling water

Hot water

Cooling water

V9/bed3/V16
V11/bed4/V14
V5/bed1/V20
V7/bed2/V18
V5/bed1/V20
V7/bed2/V18
V5/bed1/V20
V7/bed2/V18
V9/bed3/V16
V11/bed4/V14
V9/bed3/V16
V11/bed4/V14
V9/bed3/V16
V11/bed4/V14

V6/bed1/V19
V8/bed2/V17
V10/bed3/V15
V12/bed4/V13
V10/bed3/V15
V12/bed4/V13
V10/bed3/V15
V12/bed4/V13
V6/bed1/V19
V8/bed2/V17
V6/bed1/V19
V8/bed2/V17
V6/bed1/V19
V8/bed2/V17

V9/bed3/V16
V11/bed4/V14
V5/bed1/V19
V7/bed2/V17
V5/bed1/V19
V7/bed2/V17
V5/bed1/V20
V7/bed2/V18
V9/bed3/V15
V11/bed4/V13
V9/bed3/V15
V11/bed4/V13
V9/bed3/V16
V11/bed4/V14

V6/bed1/V19
V8/bed2/V17
V10/bed3/V16
V12/bed4/V14
V10/bed3/V16
V12/bed4/V14
V10/bed3/V15
V12/bed4/V13
V6/bed1/V20
V8/bed2/V18
V6/bed1/V20
V8/bed2/V18
V6/bed1/V19
V8/bed2/V17

specifies the routes taken by the cooling and hot waters via
the valves and the beds over the entire cycle time.
Fig. 7 presents the COP boosting achieved by the passive
heat recovery scheme for the two-bed operation mode. The
cycle time is 600 s and the bed switching time is 40 s. The
changeover of the water-valves status is delayed by 75 s
after bed switching commences. This achieves a near
optimal effect in enhancing the chiller performance.
Referring to Table 1, this set of conditions would correspond
to sw and C#a (#: 1, 2) being 40 and 35 s, respectively. The
specific cooling power with and without heat recovery is
97.2 W/kg. On the other hand, the specific heat input

without heat recovery is 287.5 W/kg, while that with heat


recovery is 222.2 W/kg. One could readily observe that the
heat input and heat rejection is significantly reduced and
thereby achieving a significantly higher COP. A 23%
reduction in heat input and a 17% reduction in heat rejection
have been achieved.
Fig. 8 charts out the effects introduced by the passive
heat recovery scheme on the two-bed operation mode over a
range of practical cycle times. The COP is seen to have
improved by 14% at long cycle times to 38% at short cycle
times. It is also confirmed that the heat recovery scheme
does not compromise the cooling throughput of the chiller.

Fig. 7. The energy-reduction effect of a passive heat recovery scheme on a two-bed chiller.

X. Wang et al. / International Journal of Refrigeration 28 (2005) 756765

763

Fig. 8. The efficacy of a passive heat recovery scheme over an assortment of cycle times for a two-bed chiller.

Table 2
Water channeling schemes for the standard four-bed mode and the modified four-bed mode equipped with a passive heat recovery scheme
(*C#a/b, C: normal operating period during a cycle, #a/b: 1a/b to 4a/b refer to the various stages of the normal operating period; sw, bed
switching)
Water channeling strategies
Standard four-bed mode
*

C1b

sw
*

C2a

C2b

sw
*

C3a

C3b

sw
*

C4a

C4b

sw
*

C1a

C1b

Four-bed mode with a passive heat recovery scheme

Hot water

Cooling water

Hot water

Cooling water

V9/bed3/V3/bed4/
V14
V11/bed4/V4/bed1/
V20
V11/bed4/V4/bed1/
V20
V11/bed4/V4/bed1/
V20
V5/bed1/V1/bed2/
V18
V5/bed1/V1/bed2/
V18
V5/bed1/V1/bed2/
V18
V7/bed2/V2/bed3/
V16
V7/bed2/V2/bed3/
V16
V7/bed2/V2/bed3/
V16
V9/bed3/V3/bed4/
V14
V9/bed3/V3/bed4/
V14
V9/bed3/V3/bed4/
V14

V6/bed1/V1/bed2/
V17
V8/bed2/V2/bed3/
V15
V8/bed2/V2/bed3/
V15
V8/bed2/V2/bed3/
V15
V10/bed3/V3/bed4/
V13
V10/bed3/V3/bed4/
V13
V10/bed3/V3/bed4/
V13
V12/bed4/V4/bed1/
V19
V12/bed4/V4/bed1/
V19
V12/bed4/V4/bed1/
V19
V6/bed1/V1/bed2/
V17
V6/bed1/V1/bed2/
V17
V6/bed1/V1/bed2/
V17

V9/bed3/V3/bed4/
V14
V11/bed4/V4/bed1/
V19
V11/bed4/V4/bed1/
V19
V11/bed4/V4/bed1/
V20
V5/bed1/V1/bed2/
V17
V5/bed1/V1/bed2/
V17
V5/bed1/V1/bed2/
V18
V7/bed2/V2/bed3/
V15
V7/bed2/V2/bed3/
V15
V7/bed2/V2/bed3/
V16
V9/bed3/V3/bed4/
V13
V9/bed3/V3/bed4/
V13
V9/bed3/V3/bed4/
V14

V6/bed1/V1/bed2/
V17
V8/bed2/V2/bed3/
V16
V8/bed2/V2/bed3/
V16
V8/bed2/V2/bed3/
V15
V10/bed3/V3/bed4/
V14
V10/bed3/V3/bed4/
V14
V10/bed3/V3/bed4/
V13
V12/bed4/V4/bed1/
V20
V12/bed4/V4/bed1/
V20
V12/bed4/V4/bed1/
V19
V6/bed1/V1/bed2/
V18
V6/bed1/V1/bed2/
V18
V6/bed1/V1/bed2/
V17

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X. Wang et al. / International Journal of Refrigeration 28 (2005) 756765

Fig. 9. The energy-reduction effect of a passive heat recovery scheme on a four-bed chiller.

4.2. Modified four-bed mode


Table 2 documents the water channeling strategies of
both the standard four-bed mode and the modified four-bed
mode imbued with the passive heat recovery scheme. It
delineates the actual routes taken by both the hot and cooling
waters via the valves and the beds over the entire cycle.
Fig. 9 features the input and rejected energy savings
achieved with the passive heat recovery scheme. The cycle
time was set to be 600 s and the switching time 40 s. The
valve delay time period is also set to be approximately 41 s.
In Table 2, this would correspond to sw and C#a (#: 1, 2, 3,
4) being 40 and 12 s, respectively. The specific cooling
power for this set of conditions is 114.6 W/kg. The specific
heat input with and without heat recovery are 268.4 and
343.8 W/kg, respectively. One could readily discern the
significant amount of saving in terms of heat input and
rejection, with the COP being boosted by 25% at this set of
conditions. Specifically, the heat input and heat rejection
savings are 16 and 17%, respectively. As with the two-bed
mode, the COP improvement is even higher at shorter cycle
times and lower at longer cycle times, while the cooling
capacities remain practically unchanged.
It is clear that the passive heat recovery system, on top of
improving the COP of an adsorption chiller, could also
effectively reduce the system outlet water temperatures
fluctuations. This implies that the peak capacities of the
various ancillary heat-and-mass-transfer equipment could
be reduced.

enhancement achieved with a four-bed silica gelwater


adsorption chiller vis-a`-vis a two-bed chiller. Specifically,
for the same heat exchanger inventory allocation, a four-bed
chiller could deliver a 12% larger ultimate cooling capacity.
At the same cooling capacity, a four-bed chiller also
achieves a significantly better quality of instantaneous
cooling.
We also demonstrate the efficacy of a passive heat
recovery scheme on both the two-bed and four-bed chillers.
For the two-bed chiller, the COP is enhanced by 14% at long
cycle times and 38% at short cycle times, whereas for the
four-bed chiller, the COP is enhanced by 25%. This scheme
also does not compromise the cooling throughput of an
adsorption chiller.

Acknowledgements
The generous financial supports of the National Science
and Technology Board of Singapore, the National University of Singapore, Cyclect Holdings Pte. Ltd, the Tokyo
University of Agriculture and Technology and the New
Energy Development Organization (NEDO) of Japan are
gratefully acknowledged. The excellent technical support
offered by Mayekawa Manufacturing Company Limited is
also gratefully acknowledged.

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5. Conclusions
We have experimentally demonstrated the performance

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