IIR/IIF Congress 2003 Washington D.C.
Grad. Research Assistant
Mechanical Engineering Department,
University of Illinois
The Summer of 2003 found members of the International Institute of Refrigeration converging on the capitol city of the United States, Washington D.C., for the 21st International Congress of Refrigeration. Held the 17th through the 22nd of August in the Marriott Wardman Park Hotel, the Congress was organized into parallel sessions that allowed attending members the opportunity to follow their professional interests without overlaps of the various Commissions that make up the IIR. Since members hail from all around the world, the congress also provided an opportunity to catch up with old colleagues and the opportunity to meet new ones. The classical and luxurious hotel down the hill from the National Zoo provided the backdrop for presentations of work completed and discussions of work yet to be done, food shared and company enjoyed.
The Congress started with a bang in the plenary presentation by Dr. William Phillips of NIST (National Institute of Standards and Technology). A Nobel Prize winning physicist. Dr. Phillips entertained and enlightened the crowd with demonstrations of cryogenics aided by liquid Nitrogen and magnetic levitation demonstrations. Dr. Phillips' work is far below the typical realms that most of the IIR membership deal with; even scientists working in cryology probably do not approach the pico-Kelvin range that his laser-cooled atoms reach. Nonetheless, he demonstrated that the field of refrigeration and cooling is more than just keeping humans comfortable or keeping food from spoiling on the way to the supermarket. Cooling is a cutting edge area of research, especially in the realms of the super-cold, and the people looking for ways to remove heat are at the edge of science.
Following the plenary sessions held every morning, the conference sessions were broken up into morning sessions with poster sessions following immediately afterwards in the respective areas of interest before lunch and two afternoon sessions after lunch. Five to six sessions were held simultaneously for each of the allotted times. Each twenty minute presentation contained a summary of months, if not years, of application of the scientific method to refrigeration.
The content of this Congress demonstrated a strong swing towards natural refrigerants. Ammonia, Propane, Isobutane all made appearances, but the fluid of interest was clearly the "new old refrigerant" CO2. Papers involving Carbon Dioxide peppered the sessions involving new fluids, but CO2 research is not restricted to its fluid properties. The high pressures involved mean that new components and new systems are being developed, and many presentations demonstrated active research in those areas as well. Compressor technology, microchannel heat exchangers that are well suited to the high pressures, and new ways of analysing and optimising transcritical systems are all being developed by IIR members.
The other dominant theme of the congress was research in the food sector. The question of how to keep food from spoiling has been of interest for mankind since the beginning of time, but the question only gets more in depth as the distances between food production and consumption get larger. Presentations were made for novel methods of ensuring the quality of commercial food that ran the entire scope of the food distribution chain. Among the papers presented were computer thermal models of individual food items that assist in the initial freezing, environmental modification of the packaging areas of food, high-tech computer controls that were integrated into the transport and storage refrigeration systems, computational simulations of the air distribution inside refrigerated cabinets, concern for the requirements on the "air curtains" in supermarket cases, and analyses of complete refrigeration systems for the supermarkets. From the farm to the dinner table, IIR members are working to improve and ensure food quality.
But the conference was not only presentations of research accomplishments. Each morning, different short courses were held to further the education of the IIR membership, with topics ranging from the basics of the refrigeration cycle to safe methods of handling cryogenic fluids. Interspersed throughout the days, technical tours were offered to give people the opportunity to see facilities where refrigeration work was being done. The tour destinations, like the short courses, varied much in content, from a compressor manufacturing plant, to the NIST laboratory. This author took the opportunity to go on the National Cathedral tour, where the chief engineer spoke to us about the design and workings of the air conditioning.
The refrigeration community is changing quickly to keep up with international agreements regulating ozone depleting chemicals, the frontiers of science and cryogenics, and also the increasing demands of cooling and comfort that people require and expect. The IIR Congress of 2003 was a chance for the researchers and engineers from around the world working on cooling to gather and share; plan and develop strategies for continuing the advancement of science and education.