The Quest for Greener Refrigeration

May 1, 2007
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Tritsis: ARI seal testifies to performance claims

Menzer: expect mandatory recovery policies

Baunchalk: refrigerant performance characteristics key considerations

Chunn: consider each application when offering solutions

Whether or not you believe in global warming, or that there's a hole in the ozone layer, you'll just have to accept the fact that the two issues show no sign of going away.

Refrigeration product manufacturers and associations believe both to be very real crises, along with rising energy costs (certainly a more comprehensible and down-to-earth occurrence).

"The impact of the global energy situation on our industry is significant," said John Galyen, president, Danfoss North American Refrigeration & Air Conditioning, speaking at the fourth Danfoss EnVisioneering Symposium on Advanced Energy Strategy, held April 17 in Washington, D.C.

"Global raw material and labor costs are rising, spurred on by intense development efforts in countries like China and India. These cost pressures will further burden energy efficiency technologies that were already struggling with a first cost-driven demand."

Danfoss, and other manufacturers, as well as testing organizations, associations, and enterprising refrigeration contractors, are not standing still. They're exploring the possibilities and coming up with some answers.

Contracting Business spoke with an assortment of those industry leaders, for a sampling of what's happening, and what lies ahead, as commercial refrigeration gets greener.

New standard for commercial systems
Some refrigeration equipment manufacturers are taking a proactive approach to equipment efficiency, with helpful guidance from the Air Conditioning Refrigeration Institute (ARI), Arlington, VA. ARI has formalized a cooperative testing program in conjunction with established product evaluation bodies, including Underwriters Laboratories (UL).

Each year, UL conducts testing on thousands of HVACR products. Doug Lockard, ME, U.S. sales director for UL's appliances, lighting, and HVAC divisions, says that energy efficiency, as it relates to a product's green performance capabilities, is now receiving more attention.

UL now applies ANSI/ARI Standard 1200: Commercial Refrigerated Display Merchandisers and Storage Cabinets in evaluating refrigerators, display cases, and storage cabinets used in supermarkets and restaurants. ANSI/ARI-1200, developed by ARI's commercial refrigeration manufacturer's division, was recently adopted by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) through rule making, as the testing standard for self-contained and remote condensing commercial refrigerators, according to Bill Tritsis, ARI's senior director, certification programs.

"It's not a design standard, nor is it mandatory. However, it describes how to calculate the performance of a commercial refrigerator," Tritsis says.

"ANSI/ARI 1200 provides a guide for comparing equipment by measuring system performance and power consumption. It allows manufacturers of this equipment to come to ARI and receive the ARI seal of certification that testifies that the performance claims have been proven," Tritsis says.

How efficiency is measured
To assess the energy efficiency of a refrigerated case under ANSI/ARI 1200, a UL representative and senior engineer visit a manufacturer's site in partnership with ARI, to witness a series of energy efficiency tests. Once the unit is judged to be in compliance, it receives an energy efficiency rating.

"The equipment goes through some standard operating conditions, and they put it in a temperature controlled environment, to observe how the unit performs and how much power is drawn," explains Lockard. "Each year after that, we audit a small percentage of units that are produced, to ensure ongoing compliance with the standard."

Taking energy savings to the drawing board
Equipment manufacturers, therefore, are working overtime to develop products that are both energyefficient and environmentally-friendly.

For example, Heatcraft Refrigeration Products (HRP), Stone Mountain, GA, began a concerted efficiency campaign in 2003, with its Energy Solutions line of energy saving products.

"Since 2003, Energy Solutions has gone beyond energy savings," says Kevin Chunn, HRP's director of marketing. "Now, we're trying to make it easy for contractors to identify new and innovative products that will help them reduce customers' operating costs, and protect the environment through use of more environmentally-friendly products."

According to Chunn, HRP's entire line of evaporators and air-cooled condensors are now R410A compatible, and the company has introduced higher efficiency motor options, such as an EC motor with built-in variable speed control for aircooled condensors. "And later this year, we're coming out with a line of brushless BLDC motors for our unit coolers," Chunn says.

Knowing that the heat load from a defrost cycle increases a refrigeration compressor's running time and energy use, HRP developed the Smart Defrost Kit, which it says reduces unnecessary defrost cycles by 40% (see CB, Mar. 2007, p. 60). HRP's factoryinstalled Beacon II System with Smart Defrost reduces 75% of unnecessary defrost cycles.

Chunn says a contractor's first step toward meeting customer needs should be to consider each application, and the most logical solution.

"For example, if a contractor is working for a convenience store or restaurant customer, he could begin to narrow the options based upon the equipment being used," Chunn says. "That's where the different motor options come into play, to drive down the electrical consumption of the evaporator.

"On condensing units, you could also add a high efficiency motor. For supermarkets, we have similar offerings of unit coolers, air-cooled condensors and related options."

‘Individuate' yourself!
Hill PHOENIX, Conyers, GA, began an initiative five years ago that seeks to set new standards in system environmentalism and energy savings.

"We call it ‘Individuate,' says Brad Schwichtenberg, vice president of business development. "Our approach is that there's no single answer, but rather, many ‘individualized' answers to the many questions related to green technology."

Hill PHOENIX's green initiatives include process improvements and design innovations.

A "zero leak" initiative launched five years ago has reduced refrigerant leaks that were occurring during shipment of factory-charged systems.

"We found that the jostling that occurs during shipping was causing factory-charged systems to lose refrigerant," Schwichtenberg says. "But, by utilizing a variety of quality measurement tools and methods, including parietal charts, and challenging our vendors, we've taken the leak rates down to less than 1%."

From a design perspective, Hill PHOENIX has had success with a variety of distributed refrigeration systems located in closer proximity to the cases and coolers, which greatly reduce refrigerant use.

"Distributed refrigeration results in fewer line runs, and the line runs are shorter in length, which results in an estimated 30% reduction in refrigerant loss," Schwichtenberg says.

A second Hill PHOENIX design strategy involves the use of their secondary coolant technology called Second Nature, and the utilization of ABS piping. The refrigerant mixture and piping methods provide both environmental and installation benefits.

"For medium temperature applications, we use water blended with 35% propylene glycol," Schwichtenberg explains.

"You place the compressor racks in uneven parallels, attached to two heat exchangers. It keeps all refrigerant piping in the mechanical room, except for what you have to take up to the condenser. This design cuts down on the amount of refrigerant you need to circulate throughout the store; and it allows for loop piping instead of circuit piping."

The acrylonitrile-butadiene-styrene (ABS) pipe is the same material used to make Lego building toys.

"The specific formulations of each ABS element are what give it its inherent properties for our application," Schwichtenberg says.

"ABS piping is glued rather than brazed, which causes a fusion process that melts the joints together for a stronger bond. It installs faster, and is cheaper than expensive copper. It reduces the carbon footprint in the store, and is much lighter for one technician to handle."

David Mink, vice president of Certified Commercial Service & Equipment, Knoxville, TN, has used ABS piping for six projects since 2006.

"In comparing ABS versus traditional copper piping installations, there are many advantages," Mink says. "ABS pipe weighs less than half of copper pipe, has much lower thermal conductivity than copper, has excellent impact resistance, and actually installs faster than copper brazing. My installation crews are not fearful of new technology, and are convinced that ABS piping, along with Second Nature refrigeration systems, is here to stay."

"With Second Nature technology, we can set valve stations and flow rates during start-up and never have to go back and make seasonal adjustments," says Mink. "From a maintenance standpoint this is invaluable. With a traditional direct expansion (DX) system, especially when used in meat cases, you tend to have to make adjustments in summer and winter. We have one store that has had a Second Nature system for 14 months, and we've never had to make any adjustments."

Refrigerants getting greener
Global warming and ozone depletion concerns have grabbed the lion's share of news headlines, and refrigerant formulators continue to research and develop formulas to meet the approval of U.S. and global agencies, now and into the future.

Performance characteristics of refrigerants — such as global warming potential (GWP) and ozone depletion potential (ODP) — are now key considerations in the development process. Also key is Life Cycle Climate Performance (LCCP), which takes into effect all of the potential threats a refrigerant might pose to the environment, according to Mark Baunchalk, global business manager, DuPont Refrigeration, Wilmington, DE.

DuPont's latest offering to the green refrigerant market is the ICEON 9 Series of mineral oil compatible, non-ozone depleting retrofit refrigerants, introduced in 2006 to replace R-22, and as a way to help supermarket managers avoid costly equipment replacements.

"The customer can continue to use existing equipment by retrofitting with ICEON blends, or they could replace equipment with HFC 404A, a zero ozone depletion/near azeotropic blend of HFC refrigerants R-125, R-143A, and R-134A.

"R-404A is the ultimate and long term HFC zero ozone depletion replacement for refrigerant R-502," says Baunchalk, who adds that contractors, distributors, and other refrigeration professionals can benefit from various manufacturers' educational programs related to new refrigerants and environmental issues. For example, a DuPont webinar hosted by HPAC Engineering magazine featured atmospheric scientist Dr. Mack McFarland of DuPont. The webinar can be heard through a link at

Refrigerant containment efforts
Standard 147 of the American Society of Air-conditioning, Heating, and Refrigeration Engineers (ASHRAE) — Reducing the Release of Halogenated Refrigerants from Refrigerating and Air Conditioning Equipment and Systems —was developed to address refrigerant containment during the life of a product, including its design, product development, manufacturing, operation, and service.

"ASHRAE Standard 147 is an active standard that is still being revised," says Mark Menzer, ARI's vice president of engineering and research. "The considerations we're dealing with now relate to what the leak standard should be, and whether the leak rates in the standard are appropriate for all classes of equipment; or, should there be separate leak standards for hermetic (factory-built and charged) systems, versus larger, built-up systems in the field. Those systems have more joints,more refrigerants, and have leaks that are harder to control," Menzer explains. "The consensus is leaning towards establishing different leak standards for different types of equipment."

Policing refrigerant recovery
Menzer says HVACR contractors play a significant role in refrigerant handling, and their in-field practices are critical elements in the success of initiatives such as Standard 147.

"So much of it comes back to the contractor," Menzer says. "The amount of refrigerant that's lost while making refrigerant and assembling equipment is minuscule. It's often during the service phase — if poor practices are followed, or if a technician vents a refrigerant into the atmosphere — when most refrigerant is lost."

ARI is working on developing a voluntary industry incentive program for refrigerant recovery, recycling, and destruction. However, with myriad players in the process — including domestic producers, bulk refrigerant importers, and those who import pre-charged equipment — ARI believes only a mandatory refrigerant control program will be effective.

"Eventually, it will have to be a mandatory program, made into law through Congress," Menzer says.

What's a contractor to do?
Refrigeration contractors may feel as if they're being made to run yet another gauntlet of business challenges. But as our experts have tried to show, it can be beneficial to add up the various upsides associated with refrigeration mandates and new product development:

  • equipment you install will run cleaner and more efficiently than older equipment
  • customers will save money, and thank you for it
  • your work will establish your company as an innovative leader
  • educational programs by associations and manufacturers will help ensure that your technicians will have a firm knowledge base.

Not everything needs to be completed in one fell swoop. Take your time, ask questions, and carefully plot your course, one green day at a time.

Evaporators – Smaller diameter tubing made from a continuous length of aluminum tubing, allowsfor a reduction in the amount of refrigerant in coil, and reduces braze joints, which have the potential to leak.

Evaporators – Larger sized, with more passes allows the case to operate at a higher suction pressure, which in turn allows the system to operate at a higher suction pressure, reducing compressor operation and increasing energy savings.

LED lighting - Reduces energy consumption, increases bulb life, generates less heat to the case. Provides dimming capabilities and ‘instant on,' with no warm up time like fluorescent bulbs.

Innovator doors with Always Clear – Reduces electricity used for antisweat heaters; molded composite frame/housing provides better insulating qualities, which reduces heat transfer to inside of case.

ECM motors - Electrically commutated motors reduce electrical consumption to operate evaporator fans.

Louvered air grills – Reduce turbulence as compared to traditional honeycombs providing an energy saving air curtain.

Courtesy Rolf Blom, an instructor with Hussman, Minneapolis, MN. To read Blom's article on distributed refrigeration systems, see CB, Sept. 2006, p. REF-2.

About the Author

Terry McIver | Content Director - CB

A career publishing professional, Terence 'Terry' McIver has served three diverse industry publications in varying degrees of responsibility since 1987, and worked in marketing communications for a major U.S. corporation.He joined the staff of Contracting Business magazine in April 2005.

As director of content for Contracting Business, he produces daily content and feature articles for CB's 38,000 print subscribers and many more Internet visitors. He has written hundreds, if not two or three, pieces of news, features and contractor profile articles for CB's audience of quality HVACR contractors. He can also be found covering HVACR industry events or visiting with manufacturers and contractors. He also has significant experience in trade show planning.