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Often called the “heart” of the system, the compressor plays a crucial role in the operation and performance of an air conditioning or refrigeration system. That’s because without a compressor, there is no cooling for people or product. However, many end users are looking for more from their systems than just reliable cooling; they also want sustainable equipment that features better energy efficiency and low-GWP solutions. Manufacturers have happily obliged, designing a number of new compressors that not only save energy, but also use low-GWP refrigerants.


Improved Efficiency

With 33 states having declared climate action plans that prioritize decarbonization, Danfoss’ main focus at the AHR Expo was on sustainability and reducing carbon emissions. In support of this mission, the company showcased its extensive range of compressor technology for heat pumps, heat recovery, chillers, data centers, food retail, and refrigeration, including solutions utilizing CO2 and other low-global warming potential refrigerants.

One of these solutions is the VZH variable-speed scroll compressor, which has an expanded operating envelope and improved efficiency. It has been used with R-410A but will be released later this year for use with R-454B, said Brian Dail, application engineering manager at Danfoss.

LG Gen3 Scroll Compressor.

NEW REFRIGERANT: Danfoss’ VZH variable-speed scroll compressor has been used with R-410A but will be released later this year for use with R-454B. (Courtesy of Danfoss)

“The VZH can be supplied as a stand-alone compressor, but it can also be paired with a fixed-speed compressor, providing a hybrid tandem solution,” he said. “Hybrid tandems allow for more turndown and a higher capacity in a single circuit.”

Danfoss also showcased its PSH line of vapor- and liquid-injected compressors, which have been available for years with R-410A and liquid injection (allowing low ambient heat pumps to still operate with a high condensing temperature). This year, Danfoss is launching it with a vapor injection option to improve its efficiency, and it will be released with approval to operate with both R-410A and R-454B, said Dail.

The new TGS380 and TTH375 oil-free centrifugal compressors were also display at the booth. The Model TGS380 is a new, oil-free compressor that is optimized for use in demanding air- or water-cooled chiller applications, said Eddie Rodriguez, strategic marketing manager for Turbocor Compressors Group at Danfoss. The wide operating map makes it ideal for use in comfort cooling, data center cooling, and higher lift applications (e.g., air-cooled chillers in hot ambient climates), while its higher capacity rating cuts costs by reducing the number of compressors needed on the chiller.

Danfoss TGS380 Compressor.

DEMANDING APPLICATIONS: The TGS380 is a new, oil-free compressor from Danfoss that is optimized for use in demanding air- or water-cooled chiller applications. (Courtesy of Danfoss)

“The Model TTH375 oil-free, high-lift centrifugal compressor gives customers an environmentally friendly solution to provide electric heating as an alternative to carbon-emitting fossil fuel heating,” said Rodriguez. “This model is the world’s first oil-free centrifugal compressor optimized for use in high lift applications such as heat pumps, heat recovery, low temperature process, and air-cooled chillers in high ambient climates.”


R-290 Compressors

The HVACR industry is migrating to lower-GWP refrigerants, and Embraco is addressing the trend by increasing the number of compressors it offers for R-290 equipment.

“Hydrocarbons not only have a GWP close to zero, but they are also more energy efficient than the traditional HFCs, making them a perfect future-proof solution,” said Michel Moreira, commercial refrigeration business director for North America at Nidec Global Appliance, responsible for the Embraco portfolio in the region. “In 2021, 65% of our compressors sold globally, in both residential and commercial sectors, already had natural refrigerants.”

One of those compressors is the EMX, which is the latest generation of the EM compressor platform. It features a high starting torque for applications that include ice makers, bottle coolers, beer merchandisers, under counters, and more. The EMX was also the focus of a case study that was released at the Expo, which showed that an ice maker achieved 34% energy savings and 35% increase in ice production after migrating from a R-404A compressor to the R-290 EMX compressor.

“For us, the study demonstrates that the migration to natural refrigerants is the next trend for the ice machine market, since it is a win-win situation: energy costs reduction and productivity increase combined with lower environmental impact,” said Moreira. “It is also a future-proof solution, as it is suitable for current and expected legislation setting limits on the GWP of refrigeration equipment.”

Embraco VNEX Compressor.

NEW PRODUCT: Embraco’s Michel Moreira highlighted the soon-to-be-launched VNEX variable-speed reciprocating compressor for large low- and medium-temperature food retail applications. (Staff photo)

Embraco also highlighted the soon-to-be-launched VNEX variable-speed reciprocating compressor for large low- and medium-temperature food retail applications. It is large enough to cover up to five-door reach-in commercial freezers and large open air refrigerators. Also shown at the booth was the NEX, which is the fourth generation of the NE compressor family. This fixed-speed solution is suitable for applications such as display cases, ice makers, professional kitchen refrigerators, beverage coolers, and blast chillers.

Embraco is also considering charge limits above 150 grams, in preparation to charge limit extensions expected to take place in the U.S. and the other regions of the world in the near future, said Moreira.


Low-GWP Solutions for A/C

Emerson expects a busy year ahead, as the air conditioning industry focuses on meeting upcoming state and federal regulations for refrigerants. This includes the impending phaseout of R-410A in new equipment, which will be replaced with A2L refrigerants. In addition, the company noted that the industry is seeing a decarbonization trend driving a shift toward more sustainable alternatives in space and water heating, such as heat pumps, and establishing higher minimum efficiencies across multiple product lines.

Emerson at AHR Expo 2023.

NEW SOLUTIONS: The Emerson booth showcased new compressor solutions for both air conditioning and refrigeration applications. (Staff photo)

Copeland Oil-Free Centrifugal Compressor.

OIL-FREE TECHNOLOGY: The Copeland oil-free centrifugal compressor offers a low-complexity solution that delivers high performance with groundbreaking Aero-lift bearing technology, according to Mike Oakley from Emerson. (Staff photo)

These trends were reflected in the air conditioning area of the booth, as Emerson showcased its technology that helps heat pumps deliver the higher efficiency, performance, and reliability needed to achieve overall sustainability goals. This includes the new Copeland oil-free compressor, as well as heat pump technologies for residential and commercial heating, and high-efficiency cooling solutions that utilize lower-GWP options.

“The Copeland oil-free centrifugal compressor offers a low-complexity solution that delivers high performance with groundbreaking Aero-lift bearing technology,” said Mike Oakley, director of oil-free centrifugal products at Emerson. “The compressor is designed to increase efficiency in chiller applications with low-GWP refrigerants, while offering a reduced carbon footprint and lower overall life-cycle cost with high part-load efficiency.”

Aero-lift is a unique technology, said Oakley, in that it allows the decoupling of all the complicated controls normally associated with this product. In addition, it offers a solution to power interruption.

“It just coasts down to a stop and is able to have rapid restarts as well,” said Oakley. “We've designed this for broad chiller applications, such as air- and water-cooled chillers. The air-cooled market is especially underserved, as most of those are screw-type compressors with oil. Our technology gets rid of the oil and offers an efficiency benefit, as well as lower maintenance and lifecycle costs.”

Also on display was the AHR Innovation Award-winning Copeland ZPSK7 two-stage scroll compressor, which is designed to support 2023 DOE regulation changes and comply with the 2025 shift to low-GWP refrigerants. This line of compressors is optimized for R-410A, R-454B, and R-32 refrigerants, offers proprietary design features to enable high compressor efficiency, and provides affordable comfort, reducing humidity and improving temperature control by modulating capacity.

Emerson also featured its Copeland™ ZPK7 scroll compressor for residential and light commercial applications, which is optimized for R-410A and delivers increased efficiency at key SEER2 and HSPF2 operating conditions. Copeland variable-speed scroll compressors provide precise temperature and humidity control by dynamically adjusting compressor speed to match capacity with heating and cooling demand in commercial and industrial applications.


Accelerated Transition

Over on the refrigeration side of the Emerson booth, the focus was on the environmental and energy regulations, sustainability targets, and market dynamics that are accelerating the transition to lower-GWP refrigerants. As Katrina Krites, director of strategic marketing, cold chain at Emerson, noted, most of the major retailers and food service companies are all about sustainability.

“They're trying to understand how they're going to reach their net zero goals, and a lot of them have put commitments and targets out there,” said Krites. “One of those pillars is the refrigerant landscape and how are they going to get from what their fleet looks like today to that lower-GWP fleet? All the regulations play into that.”

Jennifer Butsch and Katrina Krites.

HFC PHASEDOWN: Jennifer Butsch (left) and Katrina Krites discussed how Emerson is responding to new regulations, including the HFC phasedown. (Staff photo)

On regulations, Jennifer Butsch, director of regulatory affairs at Emerson, talked about the next big cut in HFC production, which will occur in January 2024.

“This is a 40% reduction from the baseline, and considering the baseline was established 10 years ago, our HFC usage only went up after that,” said Butsch. “So we're going to feel the impact. I think the question is, are we able to manage both new equipment and service? Do we risk any pockets of shortage throughout the channel? And who is going to feel that shortage? The goal is to make up that delta with reclaim, but the latest reclaim numbers are less than typical. We need to increase that, but for 2024, we might feel that pinch for sure.”

As far as products are concerned, the highlight of the booth was the AHR Expo Innovation Award winner, the Copeland ZFW variable-speed scroll compressor, which is designed for low-temperature commercial refrigeration applications such as self-contained, reach-in coolers and freezers, centralized rack applications, display cases, and walk-ins.

“An industry first, the Copeland variable-speed scroll solution has double the capacity of a fixed-speed compressor with an equivalent displacement, delivering up to 7 HP of cooling while providing a 20% to 30% efficiency improvement compared to other compressors in testing data,” said Jeff Lichty, director of product management, refrigeration at Emerson. “With vapor injection technology and a speed range of 1,000 to 7,000 rpm, the Copeland ZFW compressor offers unparalleled levels of control, while greatly reducing compressor cycling rates and improving reliability. Today, this robust solution is available with A1 refrigerants; we are working toward qualification with A2Ls and R-290 by 2024.”

Emerson also featured the Copeland ZSVH variable-speed horizontal scroll, which offers a low profile and variable-capacity modulation from ½ to 4 HP. The Copeland ASVF variable-speed hermetic reciprocating compressor and drive offer energy efficiency and performance gains in a small form factor.


Zero Carbon Footprints

During the AHR Expo, LG Electronic Component Solutions shared details of its product lineup for low-GWP compressors, as well as ECM and BLDC motor solutions for zero-carbon footprints.

“New minimum efficiency standards started this year, and most HVAC manufacturers are already testing low-GWP air conditioning and heating systems to prepare for 2025 regulations,” said Jeff Horne, senior account manager at LG Electronic Component Solutions. “As one of the leading compressor manufacturers, LG Compressors will be on the road to launch R-454B and R-32 compressors starting in the second half of 2023 at the earliest.”

LG Gen3 Scroll Compressor.

SCROLL COMPRESSOR: Jerry Edwards introduced LG Electronic Component Solutions’ Gen3 scroll compressor, which will be compatible with low-GWP refrigerants R-32 and R-454B. (Staff photo)

Speaking of which, Jerry Edwards from LG Electronic Component Solutions discussed the new solutions for LG’s residential and light commercial air conditioning and heat pump products.

“In the residential lineup, we have two main compression types, rotaries and scrolls, and those are what LG produces,” said Edwards. “So the rotary, we think of that one as lower cost but a little bit less forgiving of a machine, while the scroll is more efficient and quiet and is very reliable. For the last few years, we’ve been addressing the minimum efficiency requirements, so higher-efficiency machines that are meeting those Department of Energy (DOE) targetsl, and now we’re displaying the next big thing, which is the transition away from R-410A to R-32 and R-454B.”

To that end, Edwards introduced the Gen3 scroll compressor, which will be compatible with low-GWP refrigerants R-32 and R-454B. These are similar to the current Gen3 R-410A compressor, with only minor changes on size of displacement or oil. The new compressors provide better reliability and performance while offering significant improvements to motor efficiency and friction reduction. According to the company, the compressors feature improved startup and bushing performance, which results in better reliability and durability than previous LG scroll compressors. The compressors will be available in the second half of the year.

Another new offering, the UniRotary compressor, offers new features that allow for smooth, reliable restarts and increased durability for rotary compressor usage in unitary applications. LG’s rotary technology offers increased durability and longevity with a patented restarting solenoid valve that equalizes pressure mechanically, for a smooth start without any harsh electrical start devices.


A2L and A3 Offerings

In response to the global demand for net zero emissions or net zero energy, Tecumseh showcased its compressor technology designed for A3 and A2L refrigerants, such as R-290, R-453A, R-453C, and R-1234yf.

“We have also expanded our portfolio of compressors with low-GWP A2L refrigerants, where R-290-based light commercial compressors may not have enough capacity or CO2-based systems may be too large,” said Hiroshi Saito, vice president of global marketing and business development at Tecumseh. “Using A2L offerings, refrigeration OEMs now have more suitable choices to approach the refrigerant transitions while meeting low-GWP requirements.”

Tecumseh AL Series Compressor.

SMALL SIZE: Vinnie Pucci explained the benefits of the AL Series compressor, which uses R-290 and can deliver high-efficiency in a small housing for food retail and food service equipment. (Staff photo)

Products on display at the Tecumseh booth included the AL Series compressor, which delivers high-efficiency in a small housing for R-290-based food retail and food service equipment. This new compressor platform offers up to 15% improved performance and energy efficiency in a very compact and quiet housing that is estimated to be roughly 5% shorter in height compared to competitive products. Series AL models provide up to 20cc displacements and are designed specifically for low- and medium-back pressure applications in light commercial refrigeration.

“We are also leading the way when it comes to low-GWP A2L refrigerants, with our AE2, AJ2, FH2, and AG compressors,” said Saito. “We are one of the first companies to have developed compressors that support A2L refrigerants, and our A2L-ready compressors are the perfect solution for cold rooms, display cases, refrigerated cabinets, and beverage dispensers in food retail and food services.”

The heat pump market offers a huge opportunity, and Tecumseh highlighted its offerings for this market, which included rotary compressors VR2 and HG.

“We are the only compressor manufacturer in the Western hemisphere that has manufactured rotary compressors for air conditioning for decades,” said Saito. “We are taking advantage of these capabilities and are now working on heat pump compressors as well.”