Like My Father's Old Ties, Additives Are Back in Vogue

by Marc Sandofsky, contributing editor

When my father passed away some 33 years ago, I was quick to lay claim to his vintage collection of neckties. In truth, the ties were old and somewhat ugly, but they were my father’s and I was certain that if I waited long enough, they would come back in vogue. I’m still waiting.

So what could this possibly have to do with supermarket refrigeration?

Last month, I was asked by the president of a small energy service company (ESCO) to travel to New York City to provide some energy savings suggestions for several small supermarkets.

Like most ESCOs, he was extremely conversant on the subjects of lighting, motors, and variable frequency drives (VFDs). However, when it came to refrigeration, he was an admitted neophyte and looking to learn.

So we talked about high-efficiency air conditioning units, desiccant dehumidifiers, anti-sweat heater controls, evaporative cooling, condenser fan VFDs, floating head pressure controls, and a number of other potential strategies.

When I finally ran out of suggestions, he expressed surprise that I hadn’t mentioned refrigerant additives. He explained that he had used them on several jobs and figured he was reducing energy use by 20% or more. He wanted to know what I thought.

He was less than pleased when I responded that savings claims of 20% were highly suspect. In support of my less than diplomatic answer I explained that in the early 1990’s I had spent time with an individual who was marketing a similar product, and had learned quite a bit about that business.

Over the years, there have been a number of additives. Most of the early versions were paraffin-based, and when the paraffin turned to wax, it tended to clog the expansion valves. The newer versions are not paraffin- based, and I have heard no reports of them damaging the systems to which they are added.

My associate had been selling a new lubricant to the railroad industry when someone speculated it would work well in cooling system compressors. He decided the idea had merit so he ran some tests and calculated it was reducing energy use by 5-20%, depending on the system. He attributed the savings to a reduced friction as well as the additive’s ability to clean out the deposits on the inside of the coils.

The testing complete, he added green die to his additive and went to market. His cost was roughly $1 per 8 ounce bottle. He sold it to distributors for $60, who sold it to dealers for $120. By the time it reached the end users, they were paying $240. Because of the inflated price, the already suspect savings claims had to be inflated even more to justify the expenditure.

My luncheon companion responded that he was paying about $240 for his additive, but he was certain it was actually saving 20% or more. Discretion seemed in order, so I nodded and changed the subject.

I find it remarkable that 14 years later, there are still companies out there claiming to reduce cooling system energy use by upwards of 20% through the use of an additive. If this were actually achievable, the government should make the additives mandatory since it would go a long way towards solving our energy problem.

However, I wouldn’t bet one of my father’s ties on it, because 20% is a great deal of savings, and it stands to reason that if it could actually be achieved, a major manufacturer would be buying up this company like gold.

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