Identifying Lubricants for Compressor Bearing Designs


Today’s refrigeration and air conditioning market is not only driven by the environmental aspects of the refrigerants, but also by the energy efficiency and reliability of system operation. Numerous types of compressor designs are used in refrigeration and air conditioning applications which means that different bearings are used; and in some cases, multiple bearing types within a single compressor. Since only one lubricant is used, it is important to try to optimize the lubricant to meet the various demands and requirements for operation. This optimization entails investigating different types of lubricant chemistries, viscosities, and various formulation options. 

What makes evaluating these options more challenging is the refrigerant which changes the properties of the lubricant delivered to the bearing. Once the lubricant and refrigerant interaction are understood, through various test methods, then work can start on collaborating with compressor engineers on identifying the lubricant chemistry and formulation options. These interaction properties are important to the design engineer to make decisions on the adequacy of the lubricant before compressor tests are started. 

This paper will discuss the process to evaluate lubricants for various types of compressors and bearing design with a focus on what’s needed for current refrigerant trends. In addition, the paper will show how the lubricant chemistry choice can be manipulated through an understanding of the bearing design and knowledge of interaction with the refrigerant to maximize performance. Emphasis will be placed on the evaluation of synthetic lubricants for both natural and synthetic low GWP refrigerants. 

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Written by: Joe Karnaz (a) - Technical Director, Shrieve; Chris Seeton (b) - Global Application Engineering Director, Shrieve; Liz Dixon (c) - Global Technology Director, Shrieve


  1. Introduction
  2. Refrigerant Direction
  3. Lubricant and Refrigerant Interaction
  4. Compressor Design and System Demand
    4.1. Rotary
    4.2. Reciprocating
    4.3. Scroll
    4.4. Screw
  5. Lubricant Options for Low GWP Refrigerants
    5.1. Hydrocarbon Refrigerants
    5.2. R-32
  6. Conclusions