COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — International Institute of Ammonia Refrigeration (IIAR) is experiencing a double transition in 2013. Annually, the institute elects a new chairman to a one-year term. This year, Robert Port Jr., supply chain engineering director, technical services, ConAgra Foods, was chosen for the position during a business meeting at IIAR’s Industrial Refrigeration Conference and Exhibition at the Broadmoor Resort in Colorado Springs, Colo. At that time, Joe Mandato, senior vice president at Evapco Inc., completed his tenure as chairman.

Meanwhile, the organization’s COO, Bruce Badger, announced plans to retire in June after six years as president. Taking his place will be David Rule, who has decided to emerge from four years of retirement to take the position, after working for 26 years at Evapco.

The significance of the transition is not lost on Port, who said, “My top concern is that the transition goes smoothly.”

Port noted positive momentum within IIAR under Badger’s watch, citing membership growth, financial stability, expanded international efforts, increased advocacy regarding regulatory matters, and a strong positioning of IIAR in the growing attention to natural refrigerants.

Recognition was given to Badger during the business meeting where he was recognized for his long involvement in the industry. Before coming to IIAR, he was vice president for York Refrigeration Group and managing director for Evapco Asia Pacific.

While overseeing that transition, Port himself brings a unique perspective to the top elected position. He noted that IIAR, in recent years, has been seeking to move ammonia beyond its identity as a niche-market refrigerant and place it firmly in the broader natural-refrigerant sector along with CO2 and HCs. He said natural refrigerants represent viable options to ozone depleting substances and refrigerants with high global warming potential, and continues to put pressure on such f-gases as HCFCs and HFCs.

And Port certainly understands the range of refrigerants from f-gasses to naturals. He started his professional career as a refrigeration contractor with his father in the St. Louis-based Bartold Corp., which, at that time, was primarily working with f-gases in supermarket and light industrial applications. During Port’s time at Bartold, a friend of his father’s was experiencing issues within an ammonia facility. The same problem was recognized as the cause of an explosion at a nearby facility. The owner turned to Port’s father as a trusted contractor to provide solutions, which provided Port his first involvement with ammonia as a refrigerant.

He then gained employment with Hixson Architects & Engineers, Cincinnati, designing food plants for 12 years, before moving on to Target Corp. At Target he was involved with both f-gas supermarkets and ammonia warehouses. That led to his current position with ConAgra, where as engineering director he oversees buildings and utility solutions for more than 40 food plants, utilizing a wide range of refrigerants.

Port’s ascension to the top elected position comes at a time when IIAR is paying more attention to the broader topic of natural refrigerants, not just ammonia for industrial applications. In fact, during the conference, a presentation noted a supermarket in California running exclusively on CO2 and ammonia. Also, a panel discussion examined growth and opportunities for the gamut of natural refrigerants, including ammonia, CO2, HCs, air, and water.

“The concerns around global warming and ozone depletion are not going away,” said Port. “Refrigerants play a big role in the debate of both energy utilization and atmospheric impacts of leakage. Throw in the perceptions associated with safety, and the lack of clear direction of where government regulations are going, and confusion reigns.

“The majority of the country doesn’t understand the issue of natural refrigerants. One interesting fact is that every major retailer has dabbled with ammonia, CO2, and HCs as natural-refrigerant solutions. There just needs to be more learning in this regard.”

Publication date: 6/10/2013

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