Barflies have an amazing working knowledge on a lot of subjects. They are, on the whole, a bunch of pretty bright people, having great fun playing at this "what-if" exercise that is Eric Flint's 1632 universe. Hanging out in cyberspace, and in real life with some of these 'flies, has been an educational, intellectually stimulating, and an occasionally intellectually humiliating, experience. While putting this article together, I have learned more than just the basic history of refrigeration, which by itself is fascinating. (In fact, I knew quite a bit to start before I started this, but that is another story.) I have learned much more about how truly complex life really is.
It has been said that it is a truly wise man who realizes that the things he does not know are far, far more important that what he truly does know. I have finally figured out what that means.
As one of those (hopefully) bright barflies, I can come up with a pretty good technical argument and occasionally spin a halfway acceptable yarn. Occasionally even contribute! But I was unprepared for the "AH-HA" moment that hit me during the third rewrite of this article. That "AH-HA" is this.
We do not know what we do not know.
We do not even know what questions to ask.
We are unconsciously unaware incompetents.
In all things associated with this universe—up to the "AH-HA" anyway—I seriously and consistently underestimated the complex interdependence of industry, suppliers, and processes, which make up our modern world. If I need to order five gallons of ammonia, or thirty pounds of R-22, I do not have to invent that infrastructure to make everything from the containers the material is shipped in to the tires on the delivery truck. It is beyond the comprehension of any single individual. Even the most talented engineers you know couldn't do it. The young and aggressive ones would think they could, but the wise ones would know better.
Doing what needs to be done in this fictional world is hard. Even those tasks that we consider easy to do. For Grantville to survive and prosper, up-timers and down-timers will need to recreate the systems and that web of interdependence. Mike Stearns is right. Open the library to all comers. It is impossible to do otherwise.
So when you are kicking back on the sofa after reading one of the many Gazettes, or some of Eric's original books, and the thought crosses your mind, "Why did they do it that way? That is silly. It would be easier if they just painted it blue, or built a sterling engine, or used a rigid design airship . . . ." Stop and think.
Think about what you do not know, and start from there.
In this article, we are going to discuss refrigeration, how the various processes actually work, and analyze the resources available to Grantville. We are also going to look at ways we can move major industries forward by utilizing existing refrigeration resources. Finally, we want to look at how we can develop down-time methods of refrigeration with down-time available technology and speculate on the market forces that will drive investments. We are also going to touch briefly on the process of air liquefaction, which is critical for industrial gasses.
Refrigeration is one of those things that nobody thinks about, but many processes and systems depend upon. It is nearly as critical to a technical and manufacturing economy as our famous nitric acid. A substantial portion of the refrigeration industry keeps food cool, chemical plants and refineries running specific processes, and operating rooms at the correct temperatures. Modern machining and manufacturing depends greatly on climate control.
Beer is important
Beer is as important to 1632 Germany as water is to a fish. It is the all-purpose beverage, one of the few liquids that will generally not give you some sickness after ingesting it. At least as long as it is not consumed in excessive quantity. Prior to refrigeration, beer could only be brewed until February or March, and then restarted in the fall. Wort cooling (an important step in the brewing process) could not be accomplished, as there was no supply of cooling that occurred naturally during those times of the year. Equipment was idle for parts of the year, not making any beer or money for the owners. As soon as down-time brewers hear about the magic process of refrigeration, there will be a stampede to acquire this technology. This "new" technology, combined with a better knowledge of yeast and its influence on the fermentation process is revolutionary.
Down-timers do not yet understand yeast and its function in the brewing process. Proper yeast fermentation temperatures are critical to a palatable beer. Up-timers can teach the Germans a thing or two about beer. If not flavor, then technique. There may be initial issues with German beer purity laws, as they did not take into account refrigeration and forbade summer production of beers. However, those rules were changed in OTL when refrigeration became the standard. And who says that any brewer in the USE has to follow those laws? Besides, that is Bavaria, and who listens to them?
The first practical vapor compression refrigeration system (there are several such claims with many variations), was developed and installed by Carl Paul Gottfried Von Linde in 1871, in Munich. It was for a brewery. It is conceivable that the brewing industry will invest heavily in this technology. (They gave Linde 70,000 florins after only reading his research paper!) I see no reason why the same thing would not happen again in this time line as in ours. Beer is important.
The other industry that drove refrigeration in OTL was ice. There was a tremendous infrastructure developed prior to refrigeration to cut ice from fresh bodies of water, store, and deliver it to market. Walden Pond was used as an ice harvest location. My grandmother called her refrigerator an "ice box." Two things killed the ice harvesting. The first was the pollution that increased in ponds and lakes made the harvested ice unsanitary. The second was the advent of vapor compression refrigeration. Vapor compression refrigeration was initially used in "icehouses" where ice was made year round. Later, icehouses were replaced by the electric refrigerator, which finally killed the home ice delivery industry.
The ice making and brewing industries drove the early refrigeration market in OTL, and the dynamics will be similar in the 1632 world.
However, there is another important factor to consider that did not happen in our time line. Seventeenth-century investors are simultaneously starting the chemical industry, petrochemical industry, pharmaceutical industry, steel industry, precision manufacturing and instrumentation industries, gunpowder industry, textile industries and electronics industries, to name a few.
And every one of those industries is reliant on refrigeration in some manner. Many could not exist without advanced climate or process cooling apparatus. Some can "get by" without it for a while. Steel is a good example.
Steel? Refrigeration is needed to make steel? Well, not exactly the steel itself. But without refrigeration, there will be no basic oxygen furnaces, and therefore fewer specialty steels. Refrigeration is needed to extract the oxygen from the air, along with argon, helium, nitrogen and other gasses. We cannot even use our oxy-acetylene torches until we develop an economical process to separate the oxygen out of the air, which will generally require refrigeration. It can be made by electrolysis and capturing the oxygen from the process, but that provides wet oxygen that is more difficult to use.
Unlike OTL, the demand for refrigeration and air conditioning is going to be explosive. This dynamic economy will have a need for the existing refrigeration resources of Grantville to quickly develop the brewing, ice, and cold storage industries. This means your small home air conditioning system will be worth quite a bit, possibly more than the home and land that it services. This may satisfy a few small prototype industrial applications, or possibly the Captain General's new palace in Magdeburg, but the demand will be strong. Far stronger than the number of viable systems in Grantville.
The challenge will be to best utilize existing resources, such as home systems, supermarket refrigeration, automobiles, restaurants, slurpee machines and even home refrigerators. We will need refrigeration that can operate without electrical power, while at the same time we develop new sources of refrigeration from the 1632 tech base.
The technology will not have the luxury to gradually evolve with the industries it serviced, like in OTL. Instead of evolving gradually over a period of fifty years, we are going to need cooling almost instantly, across a wide range of industries.
Before we get too far with all of these applications, let's learn a little more about the different refrigeration processes and how they work.
What is Refrigeration?
In its simplest form, it is the controlled movement of heat from one location to another. When you are cooling something, you are removing heat from one location, and are relocating it to another. That is why it is cool in the house and the condensing unit (the box with the fan on it) outside the house has all of that hot air blowing out of it. We are just moving the heat around. There are whole bunches of ways to accomplish this. The two main methods are vapor-compression and absorption. From there the options take off to an almost infinite number of permutations and modifications.
"Refrigeration" is the process of mechanically moving heat from one place to another. "Air Conditioning" is controlling the temperature and humidity in an occupied space. Many times, refrigeration is used in the air conditioning process.
In the United States, the amount of refrigeration that any particular machine is producing is stated in "tons" of refrigeration. This has nothing to do with ironclad displacements, but is based roughly on a ton of ice.
In the early days of refrigeration, if you owned a theater, you wanted it cool. Early theaters (and other buildings) were cooled with ice. If you go to one of these old vaudeville houses that became a movie theater, you will notice little vents in the floor. Many times they put lighting in them now.
Underneath the rows of seats, there were blocks of ice that were placed in front of large fans, sometimes steam powered fans. As the air left the fans, it blew across the ice and cooled down. It then was discharged out of the little vents in the floor.
If you wanted to sell a theater owner a machine to take the place of his ice (which he ordered by the ton) you would want to give him the equivalent rating.
“How many tons of ice will I get out of this, Mr. Carrier?"
“This is a thirty ton machine, Mr. Ziegfeld.”