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Blog 2: Regulatory climate leads to inventive uses of natural refrigerants

AndrePatenaude_Blog_Image Andre Patenaude | Director, CO2 Business Development

Emerson Commercial & Residential Solutions

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Today, more supermarkets, restaurants and convenience stores are re-evaluating natural refrigerants to comply with environmental regulations and achieve sustainability objectives. As refrigeration technology continues to improve, equipment manufacturers are working closely with these forward-thinking companies to develop innovative solutions. These efforts have resulted in several creative natural refrigerant applications that expand upon their traditional uses in commercial refrigeration.

For example, the idea of using ammonia (NH3 or refrigerant name R-717) in food retail is relatively unheard of — until recently. In 2015, the Piggly Wiggly supermarket company opened a new 36,000-square-foot store in Columbus, Ga., that utilizes an NH3/CO2 cascade system manufactured by Heatcraft Worldwide Refrigeration. The all-natural refrigerant system uses an ultra-low charge of ammonia (53 pounds) located on the facility’s roof — away from occupied spaces and virtually eliminating any safety concerns. The innovative system earned the retailer the highest certification level (platinum) from the EPA’s GreenChill Partnership, making it only one of 10 supermarkets in the U.S. to receive the award. It’s also the fourth supermarket in the U.S. to use this NH3/CO2 cascade architecture.

In cold storage applications, where ammonia has been the preferred refrigerant for decades, companies are increasingly looking to carbon dioxide (CO2) to proactively lower ammonia charges and avoid regulatory entanglements. So, as older ammonia systems near replacement, many operators are evaluating the best option to expand their facility’s low-temperature capabilities. They’re accomplishing this by adopting NH3/CO2 cascade systems that not only utilize very low charges of ammonia, but also keep the R-717 circuit out of occupied spaces.

Propane is also making comeback, so much so that Target recently announced their intentions to use only propane in their self-contained units. Many other retailers have followed suit, implementing R-290 units as part of their refrigeration portfolios. It’s an indication that the mainstream perceptions about the viability of R-290 are shifting. Its lower charge limits make R-290 a logical fit for Target’s smaller, stand-alone refrigerated display cases and coolers. All of this is part of the retailer’s pledge to become a sustainability leader in the food retail space.

From strictly environmental or performance perspectives, these new natural refrigerant systems are tough to beat. Of course, there are other important considerations when selecting a commercial refrigeration system — such as safety and maintenance requirements — where natural refrigerants pose unique challenges. But these newer systems are proof of how operators are making the decision to go natural and deal with these challenges. Target, for example, gave its contractor network advanced notice to seek the necessary training before deploying its self-contained, R-290 units.

Often, these new systems are also delivering energy-efficiency improvements. And in many self-contained R-290 units being installed across the country, they are also meeting the DOE’s mandate for energy efficiency. So, for true future-proof refrigeration systems, natural refrigerants are currently the best option available to meet both EPA and DOE regulatory requirements.

Read the full Accelerate America article [pg.16].

 

R-290 in U.S. Commercial Foodservice

AllenWicher Allen Wicher | Director, Foodservice Marketing

Emerson Commercial & Residential Solutions

 

Many factors are lining up to help make the case for R-290, from demographics and sustainability to regulations. Watch the full video for more on overcoming common challenges, and to learn how one company, H&K International, successfully made the shift to focusing on R-290-based products.

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Regardless of the EPA’s current or future actions, Emerson sees a significant market dynamic toward sustainability, lower Global Warming Potential (GWP) and higher efficiency — especially in the spaces where     R-290 is acceptable for use.

R-290 is a natural, hydrocarbon-based substance. In addition to its low GWP of 3 and Ozone Depletion Potential (ODP) of 0, Emerson’s compressor test labs* found that R-290 yields more than 20 percent better Energy Efficiency Ratio (EER) on average compared to R-404A and other HFCs. R-290 systems have been found by many to be highly reliable. Hydrocarbons can be used in multiple applications such as secondary systems, self-contained cases and condensing units.

The current charge limit for R-290 is only 150 grams, which can limit unit size and potentially create significant challenges for makers of stand-alone, medium-temperature reach-ins. Manufacturers of larger equipment are also understandably reluctant to take on the inefficiencies of supporting multiple refrigerants in their lineups.

Emerson is participating on the AHRI Flammable Refrigerants Research Subcommittee which will be investigating the impact of R-290 refrigerant charge limit increases. Increasing the charge limits could open up more applications in ice, commercial reach-ins, and potentially in some packaged solutions. The Subcommittee intends on submitting the results of its investigation for use in evaluating Codes and Standard revisions for IEC, UL, ASHRAE and others.

Most ultra-low-GWP refrigerants (A2L or A3 with a GWP less than 150) have some level of flammability, which may create some challenges. That said, R-290 systems tend to be reliable when proper protocols and procedures are followed. Integrated cases and packaged walk-in systems can use multiple 150g refrigeration systems in a single appliance. These have low- and medium-temperature applications that help to address today’s EPA and DOE compliance challenges, though DOE test procedures are still in development.

H&K International offers a compelling real-world example of the benefits R-290 offers to commercial foodservice. In the United States alone, the company projects its customers will save more than $769,000 in utility costs over the next three years, with additional savings each year R-290 equipment is in operation.

Watch the full video for more on overcoming common challenges, and to learn how one company, H&K International, successfully made the shift to focusing on R-290-based products.

* The results presented in this post are based on Emerson’s testing. Results may vary based on additional testing and application.

[Webinar Recap] Global HFC Phase-down, FSMA and Smart Buildings

RajanRajendran2 Rajan Rajendran | V.P., System Innovation Center and Sustainability

Emerson Commercial & Residential Solutions

 

Note: This webinar was presented prior to the January 26, 2018 court rulings on SNAP 20 and 21.

View our most recent E360 Webinar, “Regulations 2018: What’s Set, Pending and Proposed.”

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In our most recent E360 Webinar, I had the opportunity to present, alongside two of my Emerson colleagues, a discussion about what’s predicted on the 2018 regulatory horizon. As we enter the new year, the global HFC refrigerant phase-down continues in varying degrees in different regions around the globe. Here’s a summary of the current activity:

United States — Kigali amendment and the EPA

  • Although the U.S. has not yet ratified the Kigali amendment to the Montreal Protocol, the U.S. State Department issued a statement on Nov. 23 in Montreal that it had “initiated steps to ratify” the amendment.
  • Also in 2017, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit vacated Rule 20 and sent it back to the EPA for revision, stating in its ruling that the EPA had exceeded its authority under the Clean Air Act, Section 612 to require replacements of HFCs. Petitions for a rehearing were filed by several third parties, including leading refrigerant manufacturers and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC).
  • Per EPA Rule 20, R-404A and R-507A are de-listed in new remote condensing units as of January 1, 2018.

Europe — F-Gas phase down

The year 2018 marks a significant drop in the F-Gas (i.e., HFCs) phase-down quota, from the previous 93% of the original baseline to 63%, where it currently resides. As a result, we are seeing an increase in HFC prices in Europe.

Canada — Kigali amendment and HFC ruling

Canada has ratified the guidelines set forth by the Kigali amendment. It has also issued a final HFC ruling that establishes a progressive phase-down schedule.

California Air Resources Board (CARB) — HFC phase-down effort

California has not only signaled its intent to adopt EPA Rules 20 and 21, its CARB initiative calls for even greater phase-down measures, making the target for future phase-downs as low as 150 GWP in certain applications.

Next, Amy Childress, vice president — marketing & planning, cargo solutions, and John Wallace, director of innovation, spoke on the topics of Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) and smart buildings.

FSMA — food safety and temperature management impacts

One of the ways food retailers can help prevent food-borne illnesses and comply with FSMA’s record-keeping requirements is by using automated temperature monitoring systems. These systems are easy to implement and provide proactive alerts to help prevent conditions that threaten food safety.

Smart buildings and the smart grid

While the concept of smart buildings with advanced building management and control system technologies is not new, the idea of equipping them with the tools that allow them to transact with services which are outside the building is. This ability to transact in real time when devices are connected can bring benefits not only to local electric utilities (which operate the grid) but also to building owners. There is increasing congressional interest in the potential benefits of smart buildings and their ability to not only respond to internal facility conditions but also consider outside factors such as real-time utility pricing.

To learn more about these topics, view this webinar in its entirety.

Blog 1: Why natural refrigerants are playing a larger role in commercial refrigeration

AndrePatenaude_Blog_Image Andre Patenaude | Director, CO2 Business Development

Emerson Commercial & Residential Solutions

 

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In an era driven by historic regulatory activity and the necessity to deploy sustainable refrigeration system architectures, more businesses are looking at systems based on natural refrigerants to help them achieve these goals. Unlike the synthetic hydrocarbon (HFC) refrigerants that have commonly been used in refrigeration applications — such as R-404A, R-507A and HFC-134a — ammonia (NH3 or refrigerant name R-717), propane (refrigerant name R-290) and carbon dioxide (CO2 or refrigerant name R-744) are three naturally occurring refrigerants that pose very little threat to the environment.

The direct environmental impacts of refrigerants are measured by two key factors: global warming potential (GWP) and ozone depletion potential (ODP) — while their indirect impacts are measured by energy efficiency. While new synthetic refrigerants are being developed that offer lower GWP and no threat to the ozone layer, many of them are either largely untested or have yet to be deemed as acceptable substitutes by global environmental regulations, such as those set forth by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). In contrast, natural refrigerants are not only the benchmark for ultra-low GWP and ODP, they’re also acceptable for use in most refrigeration applications (subject to use conditions).

Let’s start by looking at the historic usage and performance characteristics of these natural refrigerants.

Ammonia
With its superior thermodynamic properties, R-717 was a logical first choice for early refrigeration systems. Classified as a B2L, its toxicity and mild flammability require the careful adherence to safe application procedures. The introduction of lower-risk, synthetic chlorofluorocarbon (CFC) refrigerants in the mid-twentieth century turned the refrigeration industry away from R-717. Even so, ammonia’s suitability in low-temperature applications has made it a mainstay in industrial, process cooling, cold storage and ice rink applications to this day.

Propane
Propane is a hydrocarbon that was also identified in the early days of refrigeration as an extremely effective refrigerant. Offering high-capacity, energy-efficient performance and a very low GWP (3), its A3 classification (flammable) led to concerns about its safety. And as synthetic refrigerants became available, R-290 was overlooked in favor of its CFC and HFC counterparts. However, since the 2000s, R-290 has been regaining global popularity as a lower-GWP, effective alternative to R-404A and HFC-134a — especially in a wide range of low-charge, reach-in displays.

Carbon dioxide
CO2 is non-flammable and non-toxic and has proved to be a very effective natural alternative to HFCs in both low- and medium-temperature applications. CO2-based refrigeration systems have been successfully deployed in commercial and industrial applications in Europe for nearly two decades. Because of its low critical point and high operating pressure (around 1,500 psig or 103 bar), CO2 refrigeration strategies — such as cascade, secondary and transcritical booster — must be designed to account for its unique characteristics. In light of current environmental regulations, the popularity of these systems has increased significantly in North America in recent years.

Read the full Accelerate America article [pg.16].

Can Amendments to Apprentice Act Address the Technician Shortage?

RajanRajendran2 Rajan Rajendran | V.P., System Innovation Center and Sustainability

Emerson Commercial & Residential Solutions

This blog summarizes an article from ACHR News, entitled “Amending the Apprentice Act”. Click here to read the article in its entirety.

In October, we discussed the growing technician shortage within our industry and ways in which the Apprenticeship Act could help bridge that gap. Here’s an update on how this amendment has taken the next step in the legislative process.

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This past summer, President Trump signed an executive order to expand apprenticeship programs and vocational training. Now, Sen. Roger Wicker of Mississippi has proposed the Apprenticeship Enhancement Act of 2017, amending the National Apprenticeship Act. In short, if this were to be passed, the Department of Labor’s apprenticeship agency would be required to act quickly on applications and create an apprenticeship program within 90 days.

This all sounds like a step in the right direction, but what does it mean for the HVAC industry?

“This legislation could be a game changer for the HVAC and refrigeration industry, which is in desperate need of technical staff,” said Don Langston, president of Aire Rite Air Conditioning & Refrigeration Inc. and Air Conditioning Contractors of America (ACCA) chairman of the board. “My goal, as chairman of ACCA, has been to help address the skills gap and workforce challenges that the industry is facing. I offer full support of ACCA as Senator Wicker works to advance this legislation.”

With that being said, here are some additional pieces of information to consider:

  • It’s estimated that by 2022, the U.S. will need 115,000 HVACR technicians.
  • There are more than 44 million student loan borrowers, each borrower accumulating an average debt of $37,172 — with no guarantee of a job/steady salary upon graduation.
  • Apprenticeships are typically funded by outside resources, eliminating participant needs for student loans.
  • The average starting yearly salary for apprentices is $60,000.

Expanding apprenticeship programs and vocational training could help bridge the gap between the technician shortage and students in search of a career that won’t saddle them in student loan debt. Skilled apprentices in the U.S. not only earn a higher average starting wage than the average college student, they do so without the financial burden and stress of not finding a job in a timely manner post-graduation. With more money to be made and an open job market, it stands to reason that these new apprenticeship programs will fill quickly.

While this legislation may not be the panacea to the technician shortage, it could be huge step toward eliminating it. We’ll continue to watch this legislation closely and see how it develops.

To read more about the apprentice act, visit the full ACHR News article

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