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Refrigerant Strategies for Achieving Regulatory Compliance

Andre Patenaude | Director – Solutions Integration,

Emerson’s Commercial and Residential Solution’s Business

Choosing a refrigerant is one of the most important decisions facing food retailers today. With regulatory mandates set to take effect soon, questions about refrigerants and equipment strategies continue to dominate industry conversations. In a recent article that appeared in Contracting Business, I offered tips for achieving regulatory compliance using a variety of lower-global warming potential (GWP) refrigerants. You can also view our formatted article here.

After years of regulatory uncertainty, supermarket owners and operators have developed varying degrees of refrigerant transition fatigue. But with the passing of the American Innovation and Manufacturing (AIM) Act in late 2020, regulatory compliance is again becoming a top priority. The AIM Act brings hydrofluorocarbon (HFC) regulations back into focus at a national level and proposes a significant phasedown of HFC refrigerants over the next five years.

Because compliance will no longer be a concern only for those located within California and U.S. Climate Alliance states, many operators are evaluating their retrofit and replacement options for the first time. But it’s important to understand that there is no one-size-fits-all strategy. In addition to regulatory compliance, operators must consider other key decision criteria, including operational safety, reliable system performance, the total cost of ownership (TCO) and their own corporate sustainability objectives.

At one end of the continuum, some are pursuing a one-time investment that can get them to the end game of compliance. Others may prefer to take a more incremental approach, i.e., focusing on a strategy that meets near-term compliance targets but is also capable of adapting to future standards. No matter how far along your company is on its sustainability journey — or how much progress (or lack thereof) you’ve made on your refrigerant transition — there are a wide variety of options from which to choose.

Retrofit to R-448A/R-449A in existing centralized direct expansion (DX) systems

For operators hoping to preserve their existing investments, replacing R-404A with R-448A will allow them to achieve sustainability improvements with minimal retrofit requirements. R-448A’s slightly higher discharge temperatures require additional compressor cooling, such as: head cooling fans and/or demand cooling modules or the installation of a vapor-injected scroll compressor. While this strategy may be viable for lowering carbon emissions, it may not satisfy future low-GWP regulatory requirements.

Move the condensing unit outdoors

Outdoor condensing units (OCUs) that utilize R-448A are designed to deliver lower-GWP refrigeration by servicing a limited number of medium- (MT) or low-temperature (LT) fixtures. Ideal for small, urban store formats or large supermarkets deploying new refrigeration capabilities outside of their existing DX systems, OCUs offer installation flexibility and reliability in a variety of scenarios. As A2L refrigerants become available for use in the future, this distributed OCU approach will enable even lower-GWP refrigeration.

Distribute scroll racks throughout the supermarket

Scroll racks provide a scaled-down, distributed version of a conventional rack system that can be strategically installed in proximity to different refrigerated sections. This allows retailers to significantly reduce their overall refrigerant charge — today with R-448A and potentially A2Ls in the future — while benefiting from increased system reliability and energy efficiency. In Europe, A2L versions of these systems have already been successfully trialed and deployed.

Deploy micro-distributed (self-contained) units

Ideal for retrofits, remodels and spot merchandising, flexible stand-alone (aka self-contained) units are factory-charged with R-290 and a 150g charge limit. With the recent Underwriters Laboratories (UL) approval of potentially larger R-290 and A2L charges, this micro-distributed approach will support even greater system capacity in the future. They also utilize lower-GWP HFCs. Manufacturers are designing larger self-contained cases that can integrate a single compressor, refrigeration circuit and electronic controls within the unit itself. This approach can then be scaled from one to multiple units with all cases connected to a shared water loop to remove heat from the store.

Simplify with a distributed scroll booster

Another emerging distributed approach utilizes the low-pressure, lower-GWP R-513A for LT and MT circuits in a scroll booster architecture. This system is designed to eliminate the high discharge temperatures and compression ratios typically found in LT systems. Today, distributed scroll booster systems deliver improved energy efficiencies and high reliability within a familiar A1 operating envelope. This architecture also provides future-state regulatory assurance by offering compatibility with very low-GWP A2Ls.

Boost compliance with CO2 (centralized)

CO2 transcritical booster systems offer an environmentally friendly alternative to HFC-based centralized DX systems. Utilizing R-744 for LT and MT loads, this proven architecture allows operators to achieve compliance with regulations for the foreseeable future. However, the refrigerant’s high-pressure and unique performance characteristics increase system complexities and require the assistance of CO2-trained technicians. This system strategy is already widely adopted globally and is becoming more popular among U.S. retailers suffering from refrigerant transition fatigue.

At Emerson, we are developing refrigeration technologies to help industry stakeholders meet their current and future regulatory mandates. Not only can we help you successfully deploy any of the strategies discussed in this blog, but we’re also ready to help you make the transition to a low-GWP refrigeration strategy that aligns with your operational and sustainability objectives.

Selecting Condensing Units for Walk-in Coolers and Freezers

         Don Gillis | Lead Technical Trainer

          Emerson’s Educational Services

Outdoor condensing units (OCUs) have become essential for providing remote refrigeration in the walk-in coolers and freezers (WICFs) used by food retailers, foodservice operators, cold storage facilities and processing plants. As OCU technologies and end-user preferences continue to evolve, contractors need to understand many considerations when selecting an optimal OCU for their specific application and operational requirements. In a recent E360 article, we evaluated key selection criteria and explored today’s leading OCU options.

Sustainability goals, refrigerant regulations and efficiency standards

To help operators comply with environmental regulations and meet their sustainability initiatives, OCU equipment manufacturers are integrating lower-global warming potential (GWP) refrigerants. However, this doesn’t necessarily mean that contractors and end-users will need to adapt to completely new servicing and operating procedures. Many OCUs are designed to use a newer generation of lower-GWP A1 hydrofluorocarbon (HFC) refrigerants — such as R-448A and R-449A — which represent minimal changes in terms of safety protocols or servicing.

But since these lower-GWP A1 refrigerants have degrees of glide, contractors need to be aware of how the sizing and selection process may be impacted. Refrigerants with glide may have a diminishing impact upon system capacity, which might require you to select a slightly larger-horsepower OCU — and unit cooler/evaporator — to meet your refrigeration load requirements.

As safety standards and building codes evolve over the next few years, mildly flammable A2Ls will likely be added to the list of refrigerant alternatives used in OCUs. Today, Emerson is actively qualifying our OCUs for use with A2Ls and will be ready to support operators seeking even lower-GWP A2L options when they are approved.

When it comes to OCU use in WICFs, refrigerants are only part of the sustainability equation. Per the Department of Energy’s (DOE) 2020 rule, WICFs must meet 20–40 percent energy reductions on new and retrofit systems below 3,000 square feet. To calculate the energy efficiency of a complete WICF system, the DOE uses a metric created by the Air-Conditioning, Heating, and Refrigeration Institute (AHRI) called the Annual Walk-In Energy Factor (AWEF).

If you are a contractor installing a condensing unit and/or unit cooler, you must ensure this equipment meets or exceeds the minimum AWEF ratings based on capacity and application — such as medium- (MT) or low-temperature (LT); indoor or outdoor; and refrigerant type. To comply with the DOE standard, simply combine a Copeland™ AWEF-rated condensing unit with an AWEF-rated unit cooler.

Copeland outdoor refrigeration units

Copeland outdoor refrigeration units are designed to comply with regulations and provide sustainable refrigeration for a wide variety of modern operator requirements. Combining the reliable efficiency of Copeland scroll compressor technology with variable speed fans, large condenser coils and smart electronic controls, Copeland X-Line Series outdoor refrigeration units provide whisper-quiet performance in compact enclosures, delivering maximum installation flexibility.

Copeland outdoor refrigeration unit, X-Line Series — available in a horsepower range from ¾ to 6 HP, the X-Line is designed for LT and MT applications, such as WICFs and display cases commonly found in convenience stores (c-stores), restaurants, supermarkets and cold storage facilities. It delivers best-in-class energy efficiencies, a slim profile, ultra-low sound levels, superior diagnostics and built-in compressor protection. Offering AWEF-rated efficiencies and lower-GWP (R-448A and R-449A) refrigerant options, the X-Line supports reliable refrigeration while solving many of today’s operational challenges.

Copeland digital outdoor refrigeration unit, X-Line Series — The digital X-Line Series builds upon the field-proven Copeland scroll and X-Line OCU platforms to deliver superior cooling and energy efficiency in MT applications. Providing variable-speed fan motor control, the digital X-Line Series enables variable-capacity modulation to deliver more precise, reliable refrigeration, longer-lasting equipment and lower energy bills. Available in 3, 4, 5 and 6 HP models, the digital X-Line Series also supports multiplex refrigeration architectures — where one OCU provides cooling for multiple fixtures — to meet a variety of modern refrigeration challenges:

  • Reducing the number of refrigeration fixtures and/or refrigeration loads
  • Precisely sizing refrigeration units and loads to an application
  • Eliminating compressor cycling, which negatively affects system performance and equipment longevity
  • Improving food quality and extending shelf life via tighter temperature control
  • Removing constraints that prevent the installation of multiple fixed-capacity OCUs

Calculate the capacity of your OCU

At Emerson, we are committed to helping contractors calculate refrigeration loads and select OCUs to meet a diverse range of LT and MT refrigeration requirements. By selecting the correct OCUs for your customers’ WICF applications, you can ensure reliable, efficient system performance throughout their lifecycles. To simplify this process, Emerson has created a free online Box Load Calculator tool to assist manufacturers and operators to select, purchase and identify the appropriate equipment for their application. Simply navigate to the Equipment Selection tab, enter your application parameters and estimated refrigeration load, and review your optimal equipment options as you evaluate your specific refrigeration requirements.

Refer to Emerson’s Box Load Calculator to help select a condensing unit for your application.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Applying Artificial Intelligence to Commercial Refrigeration

Charles Larkin | Director of Data and Analytics, Cold Chain

Emerson’s Commercial and Residential Solutions Business

Over the past decade, artificial intelligence (AI) has become an ever-present aspect of everyday life. From e-commerce and smartphone functions to social media to modern industry, AI and advanced machine learning (ML) algorithms analyze continuous streams of data to derive predictive insights and optimize performance. Although these data science techniques are not new to commercial refrigeration, food retail and foodservice operators have been relatively slow to embrace AI’s vast potential. I recently participated in an ACHR The News article where we discussed AI’s barriers to adoption and how Emerson is helping to prove the value of AI to its customers.

AI is not a new concept for the food retail and foodservice industries. Many prominent retailers are already using AI techniques in customer-focused areas of their businesses, such as personalizing their consumer rewards and loyalty programs. In fact, several leverage in-house data science teams to champion these initiatives. But when it comes to turning AI’s focus toward refrigeration, very few have the domain expertise or experience applying AI to other critical facility systems — which can be significantly more complex and require a completely different knowledge base.

Another barrier to implementing AI in commercial refrigeration is the challenge of aggregating different sources and types of operational data into a useable format. Many food retailers already have some type of control system in place. Since different control system vendors collect and process data differently, it can be difficult to ensure the accuracy and consistency of the data. In addition, many vendor systems have proprietary constraints that don’t allow data to be shared easily.

Although the industry recognizes the potential of AI to deliver value in commercial refrigeration, food retailers and their servicing teams still have questions about its role in their operations. Demonstrating the value of AI across a wide range of food retail applications will be necessary in order to remove these doubts.

Engaging in proof-of-concept trials

At Emerson, one of the most important jobs we have is to provide the expertise and data science programs to build the business case for AI’s potential value to our customers. As a refrigeration controls, components and equipment manufacturer, we are focused on developing AI-enabled controls and integrated equipment that can deliver numerous benefits for operators and contractors alike.

Currently, we are engaging some of our customers in short-term, proof-of-concept trial periods. This gives us opportunities to demonstrate how our AI and ML solutions can integrate with their operations and deliver the potential for long-term, continuous refrigeration performance improvements. Once they see how quickly we’re able to deliver value and offer a return on investment (ROI), they’re much more interested in exploring a longer-term engagement.

The core of AI and ML technologies resides within the system control devices, which are typically incorporated into the equipment itself. By capturing data from sensors, modern equipment controls can perform a variety of key system optimization functions — from system fault protection and diagnostics to performance management and event scheduling. And in many instances, we can enable these capabilities without having to perform a significant retrofit.

Many of our existing customers already have a data-rich infrastructure — including sensors, controls and modems — that we can tap into and begin delivering insights. We often recommend installing additional sensors, which is relatively inexpensive compared to a full retrofit.

Adding up the advantages

As for the advantages that AI offers, not only can it deliver significant reliability and longevity benefits to commercial refrigeration equipment, but it can also address an ever-expanding variety of store operator and contractor concerns. For operators, we’re building data models that help them to optimize food quality and safety and reduce waste — in applicable case types and perishable food categories.

For contractors, we’re developing ML algorithms that are designed to detect asset health or condition issues. Over time, this data will allow retailers and their contractors to:

  • Implement more predictive maintenance programs
  • Reduce energy costs
  • Keep assets running in optimum condition

Today, Emerson is leveraging AI and ML to optimize critical aspects of our customers’ operations. Our solutions utilize sensors that deliver data to powerful control devices — such as the new Lumity™ E3 supervisory control — and integrate with advanced, cloud-based software. By leveraging the deep domain expertise of our refrigeration engineers, we’re able to create data models that maximize refrigeration performance and help our customers to achieve a variety of key food retail and foodservice objectives.

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