CFCs, which had been used for this purpose, have become discredited, and their production halted, due to the depletion of the ozone layer. Of course, they are prohibited for use in new systems.
Since the invention of the refrigerating machine in the past century, large refrigerating systems in the food, beverage, and chemical industries have predominantly been built for ammonia refrigerant. Today, this is still the case.
It is a fact that ammonia in comparison to other substances can serve its purpose with by far the least consumption of energy. Nearly all over Europe, in almost all dairies, breweries, slaughterhouses, and large freezing plants, ammonia has been used for many decades.
It is surprising that competing substances could ever challenge ammonia’s position as a refrigerant.
Yet, some challenges were offered, including the propagation of so-called “safer refrigerants.” In fact, some ammonia producers also produce other refrigerants, which can be marketed much more profitably.
At the same time, assembling copper piping is part of the daily routine of technicians. But due to ammonia’s incompatibility with copper, different technologies have to be used for building ammonia systems — a job which so far can only be mastered by a few specialized companies.
In general, ammonia is a natural refrigerant with only minor risk potential. Some points:
Of course, there is no reason for thoughtless handling of ammonia, and in any case, there are reasons for legitimate reservations where the effects on a crowd are concerned if suddenly exposed to the smell of ammonia. Increased attention is also required for preventing liquid ammonia from getting into sewage or ground water.
In this respect, ammonia differs substantially from the other natural refrigerants currently under discussion, such as propane and butane.
Gaseous ammonia is considerably lighter than air. Therefore, it ascends quickly to higher atmospheric layers. There, it decomposes within a few days. The released nitrogen is washed out by rain and spread out as a fertilizer in the ground of the farther surroundings.
In comparison to existing old systems, modern ammonia systems are designed for clearly reduced refrigerant charges. They correspond to ideas that do justice to today’s environmental awareness.
The fears of ammonia’s risks, which are for a large part unnecessary, must not lead to exaggerated requirements by supervisory authorities.
EDITOR’ S NOTE: This material was translated from the original German and was prepared by Eurammon of Frankfurt, Germany, for distribution at a past IKK trade show.
The two following articles offer two differing viewpoints on refrigerants that have been put under something of a political microscope: ammonia (NH3) and R-134a. Ammonia use is heavily regulated in North America, which adds to its expense, and 134a’s GWP is causing some in Europe to opt for its eventual discontinuance.