When hundreds of ammonia refrigeration engineers, manufacturers, contractors, and end users gather in one place, technical talk is sure to follow.

Such was the case at the most recent International Institute of Ammonia Refrigeration Conference in Nashville, Tenn. From workshops to panel discussions to technomericals on the expo floor to corridor conversations, creating refrigeration efficiently and environmentally correct dominated the discussion.

A number of technical papers were presented at the conference, with authors on hand to summarize their findings and field questions from attendees.

In this Refrigeration Zone article, the first in a two-part series, four of the technical papers are summarized. (Four additional articles will be featured in the June 2 Refrigeration Zone section.) They are presented here to give contractors and service technicians an overview of some of the industry’s latest developments.

Refrigerant Discharges

In a presentation comparing various methods of mitigating over-pressure induced ammonia refrigeration discharges, Don Fenton, professor, department of mechanical engineering, Kansas State University, discussed the research of he and his colleague Tyler Hodges.

“A literature review was conducted and among the methods discovered, five were selected for further study, including discharge into a tank containing standing water, discharge into the atmosphere, discharge into a flare, discharge into a wet scrubber, and an emergency pressure control system. All the methods were compared applying quantitative risk analysis where failure rates of each system were combined with ammonia dispersion modeling and with the monetized health effects of a system’s failure to contain an ammonia release,” Fenton said.

“It was determined that the ammonia release height had the greatest influence on the downwind cost impact relative to the other variables, including weather conditions and release from multiple sources. While the discharge into a tank containing standing water was determined to have the lowest failure rate, the other discharge methods can be designed to have comparable failure rates and comparable release consequent cost. The emergency pressure control system, now required by codes, used in conjunction with the other ammonia release mitigation systems, was determined to be very effective.”

Layers of Protection

Providing what were called “layers of protection in an ammonia refrigeration system” was discussed by Peter Jordan, senior principle engineer, Mbd Risk Management Services. He described what he said was a “Layers of Protection Analyses (LOPAs) to analyze specific scenarios in two ammonia refrigeration systems. The LOPAs were able to formally analyze the reliability of these systems and, to a certain extent, produce results which can provide guidance.”

The point he stressed was, “Everyone involved in the ammonia refrigeration industry must continuously strive to design, operate, and maintain the safest possible systems. The potential risk associated with an unsafe system should be readily apparent.

“But, we often ask ourselves the question, ‘When is it safe enough?’ LOPA can be very helpful with the question.”

Air-Cooled Condensing

When it comes to comparing evaporative and air-cooled condensing for ammonia systems, Doug Scott, president, VaCom Technologies, told audience members that even though “use of air-cooled ammonia systems is uncommon, the efficient use of air-cooled condensing could allow the benefits of ammonia to be realized more widely.”

Scott’s findings focused on cost-effectiveness and energy usage, among other topics.

“The use of air-cooled condensers for ammonia systems is potentially attractive. Energy cost is greater in all areas evaluated, but when water costs are considered, the net operating cost is lower in all six U.S. locations considered in this paper. Energy usage for air-cooled condensers over evap-cooled condensers ranged from almost no increase to an 8 percent increase in Denver.

“Water usage was calculated based on heat rejection from the hourly simulation and typical water bleed rates. Actual water usage may be lower or could be substantially higher if not carefully controlled. The study results are dependent on control assumptions, in particular the use of variable-speed control of all fans in unison and ambient-following control.

“Given the wide range of water costs, utility rates (and rate shapes in peak periods), site-specific analysis may often be necessary to accurately identify operating costs of evap- and air-cooled condenser options.

“Future work is required for both evap- and air-cooled condensers to evaluate installed average performance in order to achieve more accurate annualized analysis, as well as establish performance expectations.”

Exhaust Aspect

Regarding the connection between machinery exhaust treatment and ammonia refrigeration, Kim Snowden, owner, Snowden Engineering, said attention should be paid to this because “Historically, most ammonia refrigeration machinery rooms exhaust directly to the atmosphere. While this practice is fine during normal operations, it can leave emergency responders in a predicament during and following a release.”

In her paper, she stated, that “present treatment options and considerations to reduce the ammonia concentration in exhaust air before it discharges to atmosphere.”

In exploring ways of dealing with the ammonia concentration in exhaust air, Snowden said, “Overall, discharge treatment of ammonia refrigeration machinery room ventilation is a good tool to be aware of. In no way should it be mandated for every facility. The work IIAR and others did to work with code officials to remove the code requirement for discharge treatment in ammonia refrigeration systems is commendable. It serves as a great example where easing of regulations allows facilities to work with their local fire departments to weigh risks and options for the specific facility and siting.”

EDITOR’S NOTE: More technical presentations from IIAR will be examined in the June 30 Refrigeration Zone. 

Publication date: 5/5/2014

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