Manufacturers of coolers and freezers are staying cool in the face of regulations that have forced them into a temporary holding pattern. Although the industry was gearing up to meet the updated commercial refrigeration equipment standards from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) that are coming in 2017, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) recent proposal to de-list specific hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) in certain applications added uncertainty to the mix.

Scott Mallernee, sales development manager, Traulsen, said the removal of R-134a and R-404A from the EPA’s approved list as of Jan. 1, 2016, is causing manufacturers to very quickly adopt alternative refrigerant choices. At Traulsen, the likely candidates to replace R-134a and R-404A are R-290 (propane) or a blend such as R-450A.

“Regardless if we use a blend or R-290, our commitment to customers is to have a compliant unit ready for Jan. 1, 2016,” Mallernee said.

He noted that R-134a and R-404A will still be available to service existing equipment, so customers buying new equipment that uses those refrigerants this year should still expect to get about 15-20 years of service from the equipment.

“Ultimately, though, the economies of scale will probably be what’s at the end for R-134a and R-404A,” Mallernee said. “Much like R-22, people will only service the equipment as long as it makes economic sense to do so.”

Mallernee added Traulsen is notifying all of its certified contractors and advising them to train technicians on R-290.

“Our sister company in England has had propane in its offering since 1985,” he said. “The initial adoption rate was quite slow for them, and I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s also the case here in the U.S., but R-290 is a very efficient refrigerant, and there should be no fear of it out there.”

Bill Keske, vice president of marketing, the Delfield Co., said low cost of ownership is important to customers, and the company is constantly looking for ways to eliminate parts that commonly fail within its reach-in coolers.

For example, despite vexing children for years, the answer to the question of, “Does the light go out when the refrigerator door closes?” is no longer yes. The company has done away with the door light switch by installing an LED light that uses very little energy, puts an insignificant amount of heat into the cabinet, and lasts the life of the unit. “We determined there was no longer any reason to turn the light off, so we eliminated the door switch,” Keske said.

Another simple, yet innovative, idea was eliminating the door handle for an integral handle built into the side of the door.

“We watched how people actually used the reach-ins, and everybody basically grabbed the side of the door to open it,” Keske said. “Our design not only eliminates the handle, but it helps eliminate premature wear of the door gasket because the gasket isn’t constantly being touched.”

Other features include an improved thermal break that prevents condensation and eliminates the need for a heater around the perimeter of the door, and a defrost-on-demand feature that eliminates the mechanical time clock by using electronic controls to sense coil conditions and control defrost cycles.

Keske noted that, although low cost of ownership is important, when customers need service, the company wants to ensure technicians are well-prepared. This is especially true as the company begins to use R-290 in its equipment.

“We see R-290 as the refrigerant of the future,” Keske said. “R-290 works on two levels: It helps us meet the stronger energy-efficiency requirements that are coming from the U.S. Department of Energy in 2017, and it meets the EPA’s push for natural refrigerants that have a low global warming potential (GWP). However, one of the concerns we have moving to R-290 is if we have the service infrastructure to support it, because these units are going to require some different service techniques. So, we’re working very closely with our contractors and their technicians to make sure they’re ready.”

Grant Price, sales manager, Continental Refrigeration, said a growing number of his company’s customers take a long-term view of their equipment and desire dependability and ease of serviceability.

“This growing customer segment is not looking for the least expensive unit; they’re looking for something that will hold up and can be depended on for years,” Price said. “Our units must function well in a hot kitchen, and, when necessary, a quick repair is crucial. The units must be easy to service, and parts must be readily accessible.”

To that end, Price said what Continental is not doing may be just as important as what it is doing. “We’re not reducing metal thicknesses, eliminating service ports, or reducing components that make sense and are critical for peak operation times in food service operations,” he said. “For us, a large part of our job is showing an end user the differences, helping them to understand why our unit may cost a little more than another. But, once they buy it they usually understand very quickly.”

As far as refrigerants, Continental is testing propane, but Price said the company is anticipating other options will be approved before the EPA’s Jan. 1, 2016, deadline, and/or the deadline will be pushed back.

“Propane is definitely going to be in the mix, but we don’t think it’s going to be the only answer,” he said. “In fact, it can’t be the only answer because, as it is worded now, it will significantly impact systems for fast recovery and remote systems. We believe there are going to be some blends that come from National Refrigerants or other refrigerant manufacturers. There are a lot of refrigerants being made and tested right now that we think will be approved before the final deadline.”

At Turbo Air, an integral automatic condenser cleaning brush will now be standard across the company’s model line.

Rick Blinson, executive vice president, national accounts, Turbo Air, said the company began installing the automatic condenser cleaning brush on selected pieces of equipment about three years ago.

“The most common problem we were experiencing in the field was compressors burning up because people weren’t cleaning the condenser,” Blinson said. “We put the automatic condenser cleaning brush on 15-20 models for about three and a half years, and we found that, on those models, we had zero compressor failures caused by a dirty condenser. In addition, the systems equipped with the automatic condenser cleaning brush were running more efficiently, and we had fewer service calls on them. So, starting Jan. 1 of this year, we’ll add it across the board on every item that we sell.”

Turbo Air units now also offer smart defrost functions. Electronic controls monitor sensors in the evaporator and analyze if a defrost is needed every six hours. According to Blinson, eliminating two unnecessary defrost cycles per day can save 15-18 percent in energy costs.

As far as refrigerants, Blinson said the industry has fought the U.S. EPA’s delisting of the commonly used HFC refrigerants, but said, “The government will ultimately decide what we do.”

“As far as R-290, nobody is going to know how to work on those systems for the first six months or so,” Blinson said. “The government wants refrigeration equipment manufacturers to train people how to work on R-290 systems, but that’s not our job. Our job is to manufacture and sell equipment.”

Master-Bilt’s enhanced reach-in blast chiller/freezer, the MBCF99/59-14A, acts as both a blast chiller and freezer. It can chill 99 pounds of product from 194? to 37?F in 90 minutes and freeze 59 pounds of product from 194? to 0? in 240 minutes. The unit features Master-Bilt’s exclusive Food Identification Controller (FIC), which automatically adjusts blast-chilling cycles with a single multi-sensor probe. The FIC is designed to prevent surface freezing and degradation while preserving nutritional values of the food by monitoring temperatures in the core, beneath, and on the surface.

Master-Bilt’s blast chillers all feature 20 preset blast-chilling cycles and a multilingual, multi-sector LCD control board that displays interior temperature, product temperature, and ventilation speed. All models meet 2015 Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) protocol standards.

SIDEBAR: CO2 Is the Real Thing for Coke

At the end of 2014 the Coca-Cola Co., through its eKOfreshment initiative, had placed more than 1.4 million hydrofluorocarbon (HFC)-free coolers in the U.S. The company’s refrigerant of choice: CO2.

“For more than a decade, the company has invested more than $100 million in research, development, and commercialization efforts to advance the use of climate-friendly, HFC-free cooling technologies along with improved energy efficiency,” said Tomas Ambrosetti, global program director for eKOfreshment, The Coca-Cola Co. “New technology has given us the ability to replace traditional HFC refrigerants with a more energy-efficient and naturally occurring gas: CO2.”

Ambrosetti added that, beyond the company’s HFC-free achievements, its investment in sustainable refrigeration has helped make CO2 is a commercially viable option for the cold drink and food equipment industry.

Publication date: 7/6/2015

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