What is an Absorption Refrigerator?

Malcolm Tatum

An absorption refrigerator is a type of cooling unit that makes use of some type of heat source to create the energy that ultimately makes it possible to operate the cooling system found in the device. Refrigerators of this type may use any number of alternative sources to create the energy required for the operation of the unit, including solar energy or even some type of fuel like kerosene. An absorption refrigerator is an ideal alternative in locations that cannot support the use of the more common compressor refrigerator, usually due to a lack of consistent availability of electrical current from a power grid.

Man with a drill
Man with a drill

The use of absorption refrigerators include both residential and commercial applications. In terms of personal use, this type of refrigeration unit is very practical when there is a need to keep food items cool during a long trip. Smaller units can fit snugly into a recreational vehicle and make use of the fuel source to maintain a constant temperature that prevents the food from spoiling. Larger models are ideal for use in remote cabins that are not connected to a power grid. When not in use, the units can be shut down and stored with relative ease.

A commercial absorption refrigerator is often practical for storage of large amounts of perishable items at sites with no access to a consistent source of electricity. One of the benefits of this design is that unlike traditional refrigeration units that make use of compressors and several components to create the cooling effect, absorption refrigerators often use ammonia as the fuel of choice. The liquid is converted to gas without the need for much in the way of internal components. The gas eventually cooling and creating the freezing effect. Consumption of the fuel is usually very efficient, which makes it possible to operate the system for an extended amount of time on a relatively small amount of fuel.

The concept behind an absorption refrigerator has been around since the middle of the 19th century, when the French scientist Ferdinand Carre invented the earliest version using a fuel of water combined with sulfuric acid. The essential design was refined in the early years of the 20th century, leading to the commercial production of the first refrigerators in 1923. While this type of refrigerator is rarely used in residential or commercial settings with access to electricity, the absorption refrigerator remains a useful device for keeping food cold when traveling or when access to electrical current is limited or non-existent.

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