Refrigeración

Refrigeración con Amoniaco

El amoniaco (NH3) pertenece al grupo de los llamados “refrigerantes naturales” junto al dióxido de carbono, el agua, el aire y los hidrocarburos (etano, etileno, propano, propileno, butano e isobutano). Los refrigerantes naturales destacan porque son eficientes y tienen bajos costes de mantenimiento. Además, son baratos y están disponibles en grandes cantidades.

Los sistemas con amoniaco, hidrocarburos y dióxido de carbono se aplican cada vez más en instalaciones de refrigeración. El amoniaco es utilizado como refrigerante muy frecuentemente y la demanda de sistemas con dióxido de carbono está creciendo de manera muy rápida.

Iremos hablando de los diferentes refrigerantes naturales, pero en este artículo nos vamos a centrar en la refrigeración con amoniaco.

El amoniaco como refrigerante

El amoniaco, como decíamos, es un refrigerante muy utilizado en la actualidad en el sector industrial. Sus excelentes propiedades térmicas lo hacen ser un refrigerante ideal para grandes instalaciones frigoríficas como fábricas de hielo, almacenes refrigerados… Además, tiene un precio competitivo y no perjudica la capa de ozono ni contribuye al calentamiento global.

nh3_amoniaco_refrigerante

El punto de ebullición del amoniaco a la presión atmosféricas estándar es de -2.22ºC. Las presionesen el evaporador y el condensador a las condiciones de tonelada estándar de -15ºC  y 30ºC son 2.37 bar y 11.67 bar, respectivamente. Son presiones moderadas y por tanto puede utilizarse material de peso ligero en la construcción del equipo de refrigeración. Sin embargo la temperatura adiabática en la descarga es relativamente alta, 98.89ºC para las condiciones de tonelada estándar, por lo cual es adecuado tener enfriamiento con agua tanto en el cabezal como en los cilindros del compresor.

 

Hay una serie de metales, como el cobre o el latón, con los que el amoniaco se vuelve corrosivo en presencia de humedad. Es importante por tanto evitar el uso de amoniaco en sistemas de refrigeración que empleen estos metales. Por lo general, el amoniaco no es corrosivo en los metales con los que normalmente se construyen los equipos de refrigeración.

El amoniaco no es miscible con el aceite y por tanto no se diluye en el aceite del cárter del cigüeñal  del compresor. Sin embargo, deben de hacerse los arreglos necesarios para eliminar el aceite del evaporador y habrá que usar un separador de aceite en el tubo de descarga de los sistemas de amoniaco.

El amoniaco es fácil de conseguir y es uno de los refrigerantes más baratos, estos dos hechos unidos a su estabilidad química, su afinidad por el agua y la no miscibilidad con el aceite hacen que sea un refrigerante ideal para ser usado en grandes sistemas.

Además, debido a sus excelentes propiedades de transferencia de calor, el amoniaco es adecuado en grandes instalaciones de enfriamiento líquido, conservación y congelación de todo tipo de productos.

Con frecuencia hemos podido escuchar que el amoniaco es peligroso. Es un refrigerante tóxico e inflamable en determinadas y altas concentraciones, pero manejado adecuadamente, no representa peligro alguno de hecho, como comentamos, viene utilizándose desde hace años en instalaciones de refrigeración sin que haya causado problemas mayores. Eso sí, es preciso que los técnicos estén cualificados y que la instalación cuente con sistemas de detección de fugas y una correcta ventilación o el uso de un sistema de absorción, que funcione en caso de fugas.

Además para incrementar la seguridad se suele utilizar en salas de máquinas ubicadas estratégicamente, sobre todo en el caso de sistemas de gran tamaño, que suelen contar con áreas especialmente seleccionadas para ellos.

Una instalación segura de amoniaco requiere comenzar por un diseño de ingeniería que contemple todas las medidas de seguridad necesarias y continuar por un mantenimiento de la instalación adecuado que minimice el riesgo de fugas. Con estos cuidados, un sistema de refrigeración con amoniaco será más seguro que cualquier otro sistema de refrigeración, con las ventajas añadidas de utilizar un refrigerante ecológico, de larga duración y energéticamente inmejorable.

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