Cooling Capacity Control for Multi-Evaporator Vapor Compression Systems

Multi-evaporator vapor compression systems (ME-VCS) provide cooling to multiple zones. The thermodynamic conditions in these zones are independent: the heat loads often differ, and the occupants of these spaces often have different desired room temperatures. Therefore, in order to regulate each zone to its desired setpoint temperature, the amount of thermal energy removed by each evaporator must be controlled independently. However, a common evaporating pressure introduces coupling between all the evaporators that makes this objective difficult- the valve and piping arrangement imposes the constraint that all evaporators operate at the same temperature.
In order to control the per-zone cooling, a common control strategy employed in the literature is to duty cycle the evaporator (alternate between a fully-open and fully-closed valve). However, duty cycling causes periodic disturbances to not only the local zone, but also to many critical machine temperatures and pressures, and these disturbances are often not transient but instead persist indefinitely. Fluctuations induced by the periodic disturbances can degrade the ability of the machine to regulate zone temperatures with zero steady state error, cause excessively high or low temperatures during peaks of the period, and couple into most machine signals of interest in ways that are difficult to describe with low order dynamical models.
An observed behavior of refrigerant mass distribution in multi-path heat exchangers is exploited for control purposes. Multi-path heat exchangers are characterized by an inlet header pipe that splits refrigerant flow to two or more parallel paths through the heat exchanger and collects those paths into a common outlet header pipe. In the paper, we describe the following empirical phenomenon exploited for control: as the inlet valve is decreased, refrigerant mass flow rate entering the heat exchanger is reduced, and at some critical flow rate, refrigerant is shown to preferentially flow in some paths more than others, causing maldistribution. This uneven refrigerant distribution is repeatable, reduces the capacity in a continuous manner and can be exploited with feedback controllers to regulate the per-zone cooling. A feedback controller is designed to provide stability and robustness to per-zone conditions and setpoints for this controller that relate per-path superheat temperature to overall evaporator capacity is created in such a way as to be robust to changes in local zone temperatures and the overall system evaporating temperature. This strategy provides zone decoupling and ultimately creates a virtual control input for a supervisory controller such as a model predictive controller. Experiments demonstrate the effectiveness of this approach on a two-zone air conditioner in laboratory tests.