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CO2 Emerges as an Industrial Refrigerant Alternative to Ammonia

Lee Van Dixhorn | Director of New Solutions Development, Vilter

Emerson’s Commercial and Residential Solution’s Business

With its excellent thermodynamic properties and high efficiencies, ammonia (aka NH3; refrigerant name R-717) has long been the preferred refrigerant in low-temperature (LT) cold storage warehouses and light-industrial refrigeration applications. But because operators assume a degree of risk when using ammonia, many are evaluating the potential of CO2 (refrigerant name R-744) as a green, lower-risk alternative. In a recent article for Engineered Systems, I explored the emergence of CO2 in the industrial sector.

 

Despite increasing global adoption in commercial refrigeration, CO2 has yet to make significant inroads in the industrial sector. Its high operating pressure and unique characteristics pose equipment design and system architectural challenges for original equipment manufacturers (OEMs). But today’s industrial OEMs are building upon the framework of successful CO2 architectures used within food retail applications, such as CO2 transcritical booster and cascade systems. Theoretically, it’s a matter of scaling these systems up for industrial use.

Market drivers of CO2 adoption

Efforts to increase the supply of CO2-based industrial refrigeration equipment are driven largely by new market demands.

 

  • Last-mile delivery considerations — In response to the accelerated adoption of e-commerce in food retail applications, many light-industrial distribution and fulfillment (D&F) facilities have arisen in urban areas to shorten the distance to consumers. But the risk of an ammonia leak in highly populated areas threatens to not only shut down a facility but also evacuate the surrounding area. Operators of these light-industrial facilities are seeking a lower-risk, green alternative.
  • Lowering ammonia charges and designing for safety — The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has mandated safety requirements for systems charged with more than 10,000 pounds of ammonia. This has led to the exploration of all-CO2system architectures and those that combine CO2 and ammonia to lower ammonia charges and move refrigeration circuits out of occupied spaces.
  • Global hydrofluorocarbon (HFC) refrigerant phasedown — The recent passing of the American Innovation and Manufacturing (AIM) Act has brought the global HFC phasedown back into focus in the U.S. Meanwhile, the California Air Resources Board (CARB) and/or U.S. Climate Alliance states are pushing forward with their own aggressive phasedown schedules. Industrial operators who have traditionally preferred using HFCs over ammonia are evaluating alternative refrigerant options, such as CO2.
  • Blurring of lines between commercial and industrial OEMs — With CO2emerging in the industrial sector, and low-charge ammonia systems being trialed in commercial architectures, OEMs are leveraging their legacy experience to cross into adjacent markets. However, commercial OEMs need to understand the increased demands of industrial applications and develop equipment that is built to withstand their rigors.
  • Sustainability initiatives — Regardless of all other market and regulatory considerations, many companies today are establishing and adhering to corporate sustainability objectives. This requires selecting refrigeration architectures that are both safe and environmentally friendly. As a green natural refrigerant, CO2is helping businesses to achieve these objectives.

Supporting the transition to CO2

Although it’s unlikely that CO2 will ever completely replace ammonia as the preferred refrigerant in large-charge industrial applications, CO2-based refrigeration equipment is becoming a more viable option in light-industrial scenarios.

With extensive expertise in both ammonia- and CO2-based refrigeration, Emerson is uniquely qualified to support traditional and emerging industrial applications. Our Vilter™ single-screw compression technology is not only built to withstand the rigors of industrial refrigeration, but it’s also capable of managing the high pressures of CO2 transcritical booster applications. In addition, our ever-expanding CO2 product portfolio includes a breadth of solutions for transcritical, cascade and secondary architectures.

From compression technologies, controls and variable-speed drives to supervisory services and a wide range of CO2-approved system components, we are a CO2 refrigeration solution provider and partner to leading industrial operators and food retailers.

 

Long-awaited R-290 Charge Increase Opens New Refrigeration Opportunities

Katrina Krites | Director of Strategic Marketing, Cold Chain

Emerson’s Commercial and Residential Solutions Business

For many years, the use of flammable refrigerants — such as A3 hydrocarbon R-290 (or propane) — has been a keen area of collective focus among the regulatory bodies governing refrigerant safety standards in commercial refrigeration. Offering excellent energy efficiencies and very low global warming potential (GWP), this natural refrigerant has long been approved for use in applications with a maximum charge limit of 150 grams. Recently, the Underwriters Laboratory (UL) has approved the second edition of its UL 60335-2-89 standard, which includes higher R-290 charge limits that would expand its potential uses in commercial refrigeration.

To date, R-290’s 150-gram charge limit has hindered its wider adoption, narrowing its use to self-contained refrigeration cases or requiring the use of multiple condensing units to achieve higher capacities. The updated UL standard raises the charge limits on these commercial stand-alone displays based on whether they have an open or closed design:

  • 500-gram maximum charge limit in open appliances (without doors)
  • 300-gram maximum charge limit in closed appliances (with doors or drawers)

The 500-gram charge in open appliances raises the limit to 13 times the lower flammability limit (LFL) of R-290, while the 300-gram charge limit in closed appliances is eight times that of R-290’s LFL.

From an application design perspective, these higher charge limits will help original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) to increase system capacities while capitalizing on R-290’s high efficiency and low-GWP rating (GWP=3). For contractors, consultants and end-users seeking to meet sustainability objectives or comply with refrigerant regulations, self-contained R-290 cases have become integral to their overall refrigeration strategies.

The first step toward wider adoption

The approved update to the UL 60335-2-89 standard is a key first step in the path toward wider R-290 adoption in commercial refrigeration. Although OEMs should begin planning their design cycles to enable these charge increases, other regulatory approvals will need to take place before higher-charge R-290 systems can be implemented throughout the U.S. and Canada. Pending approvals by other governing bodies include:

  • Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Significant New Alternatives Policy (SNAP) program
  • American Society of Heating, Refrigeration and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) 15 safety standards for refrigeration systems
  • Model Code updates in the upcoming code revision cycle
  • State and local building code updates

 

For many U.S. industry insiders, the R-290 charge limit increase represents a logical next step in the progression of this natural refrigerant. Even prior to the UL approval, some sustainably-minded operators have worked with their local building code administrators to implement systems with higher charges of R-290. In addition, a 500-gram R-290 charge limit has been in place in Europe since 2019, when the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) approved the increase under its IEC 60335-2-89 standard for self-contained commercial display cases.

R-290 ready compressors and condensing units

For years, Emerson has been producing compressors and condensing units, designed to deliver additional merchandising space for OEMs that develop self-contained R-290 refrigeration equipment. Our current R-290 compression portfolio includes:

  • Copeland™ fixed speed hermetic reciprocating compressors
  • Copeland variable speed hermetic reciprocating compressors and variable frequency drives (VFDs)
  • Copeland fixed speed scroll compressors
  • Copeland variable speed scroll compressors and variable frequency drives (VFDs)
  • Copeland M-Line condensing units
  • Controllers and system components approved for use with R-290

In addition, we’re currently expanding upon our R-290 qualified products to include the following compressors and condensing units, which will be available in 2022:

  • Copeland horizontal fixed speed scroll compressors
  • Copeland horizontal variable speed scroll compressor
  • Corresponding condensing units utilizing new horizontal scrolls

Our R-290 product portfolio will be updated to accommodate the larger R-290 charges that will be adopted in the future.

Preparing for the future of R-290

After years of speculation, the commercial refrigeration industry in the U.S. can begin planning for the use of systems with larger charges of R-290 — enabling higher-capacity refrigeration while benefiting from R-290’s proven efficiencies and lower-GWP rating. Emerson is prepared to support this transition by developing partnering with OEMs and stakeholders to design in higher R-290 charge limit solutions to achieve regulatory compliance, fulfill their sustainability objectives, and reduce energy consumption.

While there are challenges to the implementation of propane, for environmentally forward-leaning companies, it is an increasingly attractive option. While new clarity in the regulatory environment should help to clear the way for wider R-290 adoption, the implementation of industry-wide safety practices will be necessary for propane to gain full adoption.

Propane is more combustible than some HFCs and there are a number of special-use considerations for using it in refrigeration applications. Some examples include, but are not limited to:

  • Sealed/gas-tight or fire-/explosion-proof electrical components (UL471/EN 60079-15)
  • Spark-free fan motors (brushless)
  • Ventilation and leak sensor safety measures
  • Special charge and leak detection processes during manufacturing

It’s also important to note that while propane has tremendous potential in commercial refrigeration, it is not a “drop-in” refrigerant. Equipment and components must be specifically designed for use with propane, as it requires a different compressor that will not always directly match the capacity or cost of existing HFC models.

Please reference any applicable product and application safety standards for the detailed list of considerations.

The Helix: Bold Collaboration & Disruptive Innovation

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

Emerson’s Commercial & Residential Solutions Business

When Emerson first opened The Helix Innovation Center, we envisioned it as a catalyst to advance research and drive innovation for the global heating, ventilation, air conditioning and refrigeration (HVACR) industry.

In only a few short years, it has surpassed our best expectations, quickly becoming a place where industry experts can come together and work collaboratively to confront and solve some of the biggest challenges facing not just our industry, but our communities and the entire planet.

A perfect example of this is the work we’ve done at The Helix in regard to sustainable supermarket refrigeration. We recently introduced a new distributed scroll booster refrigeration architecture for retail operators that will help them meet their sustainability goals without introducing unnecessary serviceability complexities.

The Copeland™ scroll booster architecture helps reduce emissions from refrigeration systems by utilizing reduced charges of lower global warming potential (GWP) refrigerants and system design strategies that maximize energy efficiencies. It is designed for maximum application flexibility and optimized for use with a low-pressure refrigerant, R-513A.

This flexible architecture fills an urgent need within the food retail market, which is looking for commercially viable technology and equipment that not only delivers efficiency and simplicity, but also provides a positive impact on the environment. Until now, there has not been a single system architecture that addressed the wide range of sustainability objectives, as well as system cost and long-term serviceability considerations.

The combination of high performance, sustainability and serviceability made the distributed scroll booster an ideal choice for the Gem City Market, a new small-format supermarket that opened this April in a food desert in Dayton, Ohio.

The work being done at The Helix became a focal point for the project as Dayton community members, city officials and commercial refrigeration industry leaders came together to identify a solution that met the market’s configuration of the distributed scroll booster system that met the store’s unique footprint, floorplan and refrigeration requirements.

Special thanks to business partners Chemours and Hussmann, and my own company, Emerson, for donating expertise, resources and equipment for this important installation

This is a great example of why we built The Helix. There is no shortage of great ideas, innovative technology and dedicated commitment in the industry. Our innovation center provides an ideal place where are these elements can come together to achieve great things for our industry and our communities.

 

 

 

Innovative Solutions to Sustain Our Communities

John Rhodes |Group President, Cold Chain
Emerson’s Commercial & Residential Solutions Business

Putting our technologies and knowledge to work in pursuit of a better planet is in our DNA at Emerson. It’s ingrained throughout our culture and reinforced in our Purpose: We drive innovation that makes the world healthier, safer, smarter and more sustainable.

Our newest innovation – a unique refrigeration technology developed at our Helix Innovation Center in Dayton, Ohio – will help the local community, where the concept first came to life.  Gem City Market, a collaborative grocery store with the mission to equip, engage and empower our neighborhoods will be the recipient of our donation which was made in partnership with Hussmann and Chemours who donated additional refrigeration equipment in service of this initiative. We are proud to help through one of our core areas of expertise: providing sustainable refrigeration technology that can help protect food quality and safety.

The location of Gem City Market qualifies as a “food desert,” according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture Economic Research Service. In order to meet the standards of a food desert, more than 40% of the population must have an income of less than or equal to 200% of the federal poverty threshold and live more than a mile from a supermarket or large grocery store.

Food deserts are a persistent problem in many communities, and supply chain barriers to accessing healthy, affordable food contribute to this global issue. Many local and smaller retail stores within distance of underserved communities struggle to get their shelves stocked with local produce and fresh food due to the lack of perceived customer demand, limited technology and the lack of infrastructure to refrigerate these goods properly.

There are alternatives to costly full-scale refrigeration systems typically seen in supermarkets. Our new Copeland™ scroll booster refrigeration technology will help combat the issue of limited infrastructure to properly store perishables at Gem City Market. The first commercialization of technology developed at our Helix Innovation Center in Dayton, the Copeland scroll booster is a new-to-the-world flexible refrigeration architecture. This booster technology enables Gem City to use a lower global warming potential refrigerant to store food at its optimal temperature, helping them meet their sustainability goals and achieve stringent regulatory compliance.

Our scroll booster technology is a new architecture option for those who are in search of sustainable solutions – and is a testament to the power of innovation and collaboration. When committed people come together, we can create options for families to shop for nutritious food in their own communities. And when problem solvers come together in the name of leaving the world a better place, they are truly unstoppable.

 

Earth Day 2021: Partnering With Stakeholders for a Greener Future

John Rhodes |Group President, Cold Chain
Emerson’s Commercial & Residential Solutions Business

On this Earth Day (Thursday, April 22), more than a billion people around the globe will take stock of the planet’s health and the actions we all can do to protect the environment.

This year’s theme is “Restore Our Earth”. At Emerson, we see this as a call to action that we simply cannot ignore. Climate change and resource conservation are among the most pressing challenges facing our planet. According to NASA, Earth’s global average surface temperature in 2020 tied with 2016 as the warmest year on record. It is just one of many data points that show we have work to do to reverse a long-term warming trend.

The commercial refrigeration sector has been focused on mitigating climate change for decades. The Montreal Protocol, ratified in 1987, resulted in a successful effort to ban refrigerants with ozone depletion potential (ODP). In 2019, the Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol created a framework for phasing down the use of hydrofluorocarbon (HFC) refrigerants with high global warming potential (GWP).

However, phasing down high-GWP refrigerants is not enough to halt climate change on its own. We must also consider the total equivalent warming impact (TEWI) of commercial refrigeration systems — which takes into account direct emissions and the energy required to run these systems.

Emerson is committed to helping our customers to understand, navigate and comply with environmental and regulatory challenges. By providing solutions and guidance that promote sustainability and conservation, we are partners in the race to reduce commercial refrigeration’s TEWI.

Committed to global sustainability initiatives

At Emerson, we share a unified purpose to drive innovation that makes the world healthier, safer, smarter and more sustainable. Our planet is among the five causes supported by this important initiative, which drives us to deliver sustainable solutions that improve efficiency, reduce emissions, and conserve resources.

Around the world, we have intensified our efforts to be more efficient in our energy usage and reduce the intensity of our greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. But we know that’s not enough. Sustainability measures have a greater impact when they are part of a team effort. To that end, we have established an environmental sustainability framework that reflects our drive to be a partner for change. This “greening” framework defines our environmental initiatives according to three categories:

  • Greening OF — driving down our GHG emissions intensity by 20 percent by 2028
  • Greening BY — providing products, solutions and services to help our customers transition to a low-carbon future
  • Greening WITH — engaging with external stakeholders to develop innovative solutions and shape future policy

In short, we are continually innovating and fine-tuning technologies, tools and insights to help operators and businesses meet their own environmental, social and governance initiatives.

For example, consider our efforts in the cold chain. Using technology and data-driven insights, cold chain stakeholders can create greater temperature stability and certainty. This, in turn, can curb energy usage and reduce waste at every step along the journey from farm to consumer and beyond. Our cold chain solutions encompass an ever-widening scope:

  • Managing refrigeration — Continuing advances in refrigeration technology, monitoring and controls help operators to maintain proper temperatures, comply with food safety regulations and reduce spoilage.
  • Optimizing facilities and reducing energy — A commercial refrigeration system accounts for 40 to 60 percent of total electricity consumption in supermarkets. Advanced asset management solutions enable operators to optimize refrigeration, HVAC and lighting systems for greater facility and enterprise-wide energy efficiency.
  • Reducing food waste — End-to-end cold chain solutions help ensure refrigeration reliability via equipment, systems and monitoring technologies to extend shelf life and prevent waste.
  • Converting waste to energy — Food recycling turns wasted food into an energy-rich slurry that can be used for energy production.
  • Electrifying the supply chain — Replacing diesel-powered refrigerated transport systems with environmentally friendly electric solutions.
  • Renewing energy — Explore technologies to capture biogas from landfills and transform it into renewable energy.

When component manufacturers, original equipment manufacturers (OEMs), contractors and end users collaborate to develop ambitious solutions, everyone — including the planet — benefits.

Lower-GWP refrigerants continue to factor into sustainability plans

Advanced refrigeration technologies and new architecture strategies are providing operators with greater control over TEWI. However, in the quest for greener refrigeration, refrigerants still take center stage. Global policy and state and new federal rulemaking, including the American Innovation and Manufacturing Act of 2020 (AIM Act), reassert our country’s commitment to phase down HFC refrigerants.

Many retailers and restaurants are leading the way in exploring low-GWP refrigerant options. For some, this means retrofitting existing refrigeration architectures to transition to lower-GWP A1 refrigerants, such as R-448A/R-449A. Others are diving in by adopting greener options, such as R-290 integrated cases and CO2 transcritical and/or cascade systems. Meanwhile, our industry is closely evaluating the progression of A2L refrigerant safety standards in the U.S., as these mildly flammable alternatives offer very low-GWP levels and are gaining wider adoption in Europe.

Whether you’re looking to transition to lower-GWP refrigerants or lessen your TEWI, Emerson has the products and resources to support your goals. Our solutions can help you to optimize your facility operations, reduce energy use, minimize equipment failures, improve food quality and safety, and achieve regulatory compliance. Together, we can restore our planet for a better future.

 

 

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