In the early years of the twentieth century, the vapor absorption cycle using water-ammonia systems was popular and widely used. After the development of the vapor compression cycle, the vapor absorption cycle lost much of its importance because of its low coefficient of performance (about one fifth of that of the vapor compression cycle).
It is also used in industrial environments where plentiful waste heat overcomes its inefficiency.
The absorption cycle is similar to the compression cycle, except for the method of raising the pressure of the refrigerant vapor.
In the absorption system, the compressor is replaced by an absorber which dissolves the refrigerant in a suitable liquid, a liquid pump which raises the pressure and a generator which, on heat addition, drives off the refrigerant vapor from the high-pressure liquid.
Some work is needed by the liquid pump but, for a given quantity of refrigerant, it is much smaller than needed by the compressor in the vapor compression cycle. In an absorption refrigerator, a suitable combination of refrigerant and absorbent is used.
The most common combinations are ammonia (refrigerant) with water (absorbent), and water (refrigerant) with lithium bromide (absorbent).