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Eurotunnel lauds cooling efficiency gains after HFO switch

Channel Tunnel operator says the adoption of technologies developed by Trane to end reliance on R22 has seen a significant annual reduction in its energy needs and costs as F-Gas quotas intensify

A decision by Channel Tunnel management to implement new technology that makes use of HFO products to cool the structure is said to have reduced energy usage by 4.8 GWh over the course of 2017 compared to its previous solution.

New data from site operator Eurotunnel concludes that energy savings realised through the operating of new cooling systems developed by manufacturer Trane and that use refrigerant provided by Honeywell are equivalent to powering 1000 households.  This has also seen cost savings of around €500,000 during 2017 as a result of using the systems, Eurotunnel adds. 

The switch marks a move away by tunnel management from using R22 gas to cool the structure, while helping ensure compliance with the EU F-Gas regulation that was introduced to tackle greenhouse gas emissions.

Laurent Fourtune, chief operating officer for Eurotunnel, says that the latest performance data reflects the company’s ongoing push to reduce the environmental impacts of the structure. The organisation claims to have almost halved its carbon footprint since 2006, amounting to a 47 per cent reduction.

Mr Fourtune says that efficient cooling systems were vital to maintaining the Channel Tunnel in its role as one of Europe’s most heavily trafficked railways. An estimated 400 heavy trains pass through the structure daily.

Mr Fourtune adds that the aim of the systems was to keep temperature at no higher than 25 degrees Celcius for both customer comfort and better maintenance of equipment.

A total of four of Trane’s Series E Centravac large capacity chillers, which have a range of between 2600kW and 14,000kW, are being used to lower the temperature in the tunnel.

Two of these chillers have been in operation since 2016 at Eurotunnel’s site in Sangatte, France. The remaining two devices went live at the Shakespeare Cliff UK site last October.

Mr Fourtune notes that the tunnel structure has been in operation for almost 25 years and, as a major piece of infrastructure, often needs renewal work and refurbishment, as well as ensuring the most state of the art and efficient systems are in use.

Greener innovation

Jose La Loggia, general manager of Trane’s operations in Europe, says that the latest Eurotunnel figures reflect commitments from the manufacturer’s parent company Ingersoll Rand in 2014 to reduce its contribution of greenhouse gases in refrigerant by 80 per cent.

He adds,” To do this, we started investing in developing products that use next generation refrigerant.”

Mr La Loggia says that an additional $500m was now being invested by the group in product development for more energy efficient products that can use HFOs and build on its work for providing larger capacity products to be used in infrastructure and industrial applications such as cooling the tunnel.

Mr La Loggia claims that it was important to show that new technologies also provided value to Trane’s own operations, as well as those of its customers, when trying to offer more efficient solutions.

He says, “So to date, if we compare to a 2013 baseline, we’ve been able to void 11m metric tonnes of CO2. The easiest way to imagine this is really that it is the equivalent of 1.6m houses producing greenhouse gases through their electricity needs.”

Mr La Loggia says that ‘energy avoidance’ concepts were among the types of innovative projects the company would be investing in to ensure improvements in environmental efficiency from its cooling solutions.

He adds, “We’ve done a lot of work in creating options for our equipment such as pre-cooling or total heat recovery, where whenever the cooling can be done in a free way or not requiring energy we can do this.”

The company’s Series E centrifugal chillers were launched in 2014 and became what Trane claims is the first technology of their kind in the world to be using all HFO refrigerant, a move that shows the increasing importance of lower GWP products to its operations.

“Right direction”

Mr La Loggia adds, “Other people have followed us since then [in providing HFO systems] and this shows us we were going in the right direction. But we also have a lot of other products, such as a screw compressor product and magnetic bearings products that will use HFOs as well.”

He says that the introduction of these technologies allowed Trane to become the only manufacturer in Europe to offer a full portfolio of centrifugal chiller, magnetic bearing and screw chiller technologies that are available for use with HFOs.

Electrification was highlighted by the company as another key investment focus. Trane is therefore in the process of looking at how chiller technologies may be able to providing heating functionality with significant reductions in carbon emissions that can be supported by a new range of refrigerant such as HFOs.

Mr La Loggia claims that components of its chillers could be modified in a way that would allow production of much hotter water.

He says, “That could mean that a lot of district heating plants that are today running on gas boilers could be replaced with electric chillers.”

Julien Soulet, vice president and general manager of Honeywell Fluorine Products for Europe, the Middle East and Africa, said Eurotunnel’s decision to shift away from using R22 was a bold move to future proof its operations against a surge in the price of some key, higher GWP refrigerant.

Mr Soulet says his company works closely with Trane, as well as other equipment manufacturers to design systems capable of handling its HFO products that are important to meet cooling needs for sites such as the Channel Tunnel.

He says, “I’m giving a lot of credit to Eurotunnel as they already had chiller installed that used R22 refrigerant. They needed to change their equipment so they had a choice, ‘do we go with the HFC chiller or do we go to a HFO-based chiller?’ To me, they made a bold decision to go with the future proofed solution.”

Transition period

Mr Soulet notes that Eurotunnel has set itself quite aggressive sustainability targets that go beyond current legal requirements. This led to the operator’s decision to review its cooling needs.

He says that although the channel tunnel was a unique project in terms of the size of the structure that need to be cooled. However, Mr Soulet adds that from a technological point of view, the same centrifugal chillers in use at the site could also be found at processing plants and industrial plants where there is need for large capacity of cooling.

He says, “It is a very energy efficient solution for them to deliver the type of cooling they need. Also if you think about a district cooling or heating applications, this could also be a choice there.”

Honeywell is now looking to push its Solstice range of HFO refrigerant as a means to improve energy efficiency performance in both cooling and heating cycles that it claims could get to higher temperatures for heat pumps. The company expects these developments to open up new markets.

Mr Soulet says that the cooling industry is going through a relatively unique period of change where a wider number of options around new cooling solutions were open to end users. He adds that this requires end users to carefully consider the optimum types of refrigerant and compressors to meet the more specific needs of their industry sector.

Mr Soulet adds, “This takes time obviously and this is what is creating confusion and nervousness in the market.”

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