A Natural Conversation About Refrigerants

June 4, 2012
While HFC refrigerants appear firmly entrenched in the HVACR industry landscape for the foreseeable future, it is interesting to see how so-called “natural” refrigerants such as ammonia, HCs, and CO2 could have an impact.

For a number of years now I have been writing about the HCs and CO2 in terms of inroads they have been making on the refrigeration side. That, too, pertains to one of the oldest natural refrigerants, R-717, NH3 or as it is best known, ammonia.

Ammonia has been around seemingly forever and has found its place typically in major industrial refrigeration applications such as refrigerated storehouses and ice hockey rinks. Those are pretty large scale systems where in many cases ammonia has proven the better, more cost effective refrigerant. But those who advocate use of ammonia have long said it can be used in smaller systems as might be found in commercial buildings where the HCFCs and HFCs have long dominated.

Now ammonia applicants have stepped up their advocacy in terms of the range of applications.

At this past spring’s International Institute of Ammonia Refrigeration Industrial Refrigeration (IIAR) Conference & Exhibition in Milwaukee, two technical papers demonstrated that.

Here’s how they were promoted in the printed program.

“As the supermarket industry in the United States looks to the phase-out of refrigerants like R-22, the feasibility of an outdoor ammonia chiller system utilized in a secondary loop or cascade application should not be overlooked. The United States is in a great position to take advantage of the ammonia system technologies that have developed over the years.”

“It is becoming increasingly clear that HFC refrigerants are offering a solution to ozone depletion problems associated with CFCs and HCFCs, but have done very little, if anything, about global warming problems associated with the use of CFC and HCFC chemical refrigerants. The GWP of the new HFC family of chemical refrigerants is now becoming a growing concern.”

No longer are the ammonia advocates content to stay in their industrial refrigeration niche (a widespread one to be sure). They want people to look at ammonia as an alternative to f-gases when it comes to new installations.

It should be noted here that another recent dynamic is entering into play. At that same IIAR conference, there was a workshop where those present encouraged IIAR to expand its research and education capabilities to embrace HCs and CO2. In fact, ammonia refrigeration has been used in conjunction with CO2 in cascade systems for a number of years now as a way to lower ammonia charges on sites, thus reducing some complex regulatory aspects of a pure ammonia project while still giving the customer a cost-effective and energy-efficient system.

FMI Talk

And natural talk regarding a variety of refrigerants is extending beyond IIAR. At the most recent Food Marketing Institute (FMI) Expo in Dallas in May, there was more attention paid to CO2 as a refrigeration refrigerant than ever before. And more than a few people on the show floor were predicting a growing interest in so-called natural refrigerants in supermarket refrigeration.

In smaller refrigeration units, more attention is being paid to HCs, with the Environmental Protection Agency SNAP approval of several of them for use in small systems.

What is happening here is that the natural folks — CO2, HCs, and ammonia — are all getting themselves on the same page and expanding their predictions of places they think those refrigerants will work.

The strongest advocate of natural refrigerants in Europe — the association Eurammon — has long included ammonia in its advocacy along with HCs and CO2, and IIAR has had a long relationship with Eurammon. The Milwaukee conference just seemed to notch things up a bit more as demonstrated by the papers, workshops, and panel discussions. All of the above were willing to put HCFCs and HFCs in the crosshairs to a greater extent than ever before. Add the FMI expo to the mix and you have some interesting developments brewing.

Publication date: 6/4/2012