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The land of opportunity

ATMOsphere America 2014 conference provided further proof that the march of natural refrigerants across the pond continues unabated - here are the highlights from the event

For the third consecutive year, ATMOsphere America 2014 gathered HVAC&R industry experts with the aim of supporting the adoption of natural refrigerant (CO2, ammonia, hydrocarbons, air and water) technologies across North America. Held in San Francisco on 18 and 19 June, the conference attracted more participants than ever before and featured more than 60 speakers across 13 different sessions.

ATMOsphere America 2014 provided a unique platform to exchange information and best practices in natural refrigerant-based technologies through a combination of presentations, case studies and ample networking opportunities, with the specialised mix of nearly 250 participants including system and component manufacturers, regulators, energy providers and end-users.

The event made clear that natural refrigerant technologies are rapidly gaining momentum in North America as more and more industry stakeholders realise both the environmental and economic benefit of using natural refrigerants.

Presentations from policymakers, energy providers and academics discussed the national and international legislative measures that could create opportunities for natural refrigerants and stressed the need for the industry to get more involved in the development of these new measures. Presentations from end-users spoke directly to manufacturers and the supply chain as a whole in order to clarify what is needed for end-users to progress with a wider adoption of natural refrigerant technologies.

Case studies demonstrating technical data and energy efficiencies using CO2, ammonia, hydrocarbons and water as refrigerants in commercial, light commercial, industrial and transport refrigeration, air conditioning and heating, highlighted more installation examples in North America than ever before.

Regulations and standards

Moderated by Keilly Witman, shecco America’s VP for business development, the Regulations and Standards Session, which featured speakers from the US EPA GreenChill Partnership, the California Air Resources Board, San Francisco State University, Underwriters Laboratories and shecco, provided an overview of planned and recently adopted legislative changes that have a direct impact on the use of natural refrigerants in various applications across North America and in other regions, especially Europe and Japan.

CARB outlined the possible measures to limit the use of high-GWP refrigerants that are under consideration in the state of California. At a national level, the US EPA is soon to publish a draft SNAP rule allowing the use of hydrocarbons in additional applications, while a second proposed ruling is expected to disallow the use of high-GWP refrigerants in equipment where natural refrigerant solutions have a great potential for wider uptake.

Accelerated market uptake

The very latest information on the increasing use of CO2 refrigeration technology in North American supermarkets was captured in several ATMOsphere America 2014 sessions. These included the State of the Industry Session, and two Food Retail Sessions.

Representatives from leading system suppliers, prominent supermarket chains and contractors – including Hillphoenix, Advansor, Carnot Refrigeration, Heatcraft Worldwide Refrigeration, Systemes LMP, Mayekawa USA Delhaize America, Walgreens, Whole Foods, Target, Sobeys, GI Energy, Source Refrigeration, Neelands Refrigeration and CTA Architects – presented their experiences with and market trend forecasts related to natural refrigeration systems in commercial refrigeration applications.

Overall, the market share of CO2 in supermarkets in the US, Canada and other regions, such as Europe and Japan, will be influenced by the level of collaboration between contractors, end-users, regulators and system suppliers, as well as by training and by raising awareness among end-users of the importance of total cost of ownership.

Red Bull, McDonald’s and The Coca-Cola Company shared their progress in the implementation of natural refrigerants and highlighted what is needed for them to move forward: innovation at cost parity and building a cohesive and sustainable supply chain. Out of the 2.7m pieces of refrigerated equipment used by these three companies, 1.5m have been converted to natural refrigerants, almost 500,000 of which use hydrocarbons.

Case studies

ATMOsphere America 2014 featured several parallel technology case study sessions focusing on commercial refrigeration, HVAC, heat pumps, industrial refrigeration and other applications. CO2 innovations for centralised commercial refrigeration systems were showcased by Hillphoenix, Systemes LMP, Carel, SandenVendo, Danfoss, SCM Frigo, Parker, Emerson Climate Technologies, KAV Consulting, Zero Zone and DC Engineering during the Commercial Refrigeration Technology Case Studies Session.

Presentations touched on topics such as cost, technological improvements, serviceability and best practice, and gave installation examples at major food retail stores, as well as the latest performance results.

Case studies examining the use of CO2 in transport refrigeration and vending machines were presented by Carrier Transicold and SandenVendo America respectively. CO2 has a significant market potential in the transport sector, according to Carrier Transicold – it presented its CO2 refrigerated container, which has already completed 27,500 operating hours.

Increased energy efficiency and reduced charges were a common theme in the Industrial Refrigeration and Other Applications Session. Embraco North America, Azane/Star Refrigeration, Colmac Coil Manufacturing, Alfa Laval and VaCom Technologies showed some of the benefits of ammonia technology compared with fluorinated refrigerants and looked at the advantages of CO2/ammonia cascade solutions, semi-welded plate heat exchangers with U-Turn and direct expansion ammonia systems.

The HVAC Session, moderated by leading biotechnology company Genentech, featured speakers from Conservation Mechanical Systems, Munters des Champs and Genentech, who presented projects focused on using water to provide cooling. The case studies covered a variety of topics including the benefits of evaporative cooling, challenges for the industry and future trends.

Versatile Refrigeration International also discussed the first installation in North America of a secondary refrigeration system using R1270 as the primary refrigerant.

During a lunchtime poster session, Embraco, one of the largest manufacturers of small hermetic compressors, presented the energy efficiency of R290 in commercial refrigeration with regards to the Department of Energy’s new recommendation for 2017. The presentation underlined the encouraging future for hydrocarbons in the US compared with two years ago, and looked at what still needs to be done in order to ease implementation.

Pathways towards expanding the market for CO2 heat pumps in North America and the energy savings achieved thanks to an ammonia heat pump installation were discussed during the Heat Pump Technology Case Studies Session. Direct exchange geothermal design, integrated heating and cooling with water-source CO2 heat pumps, the design of heat exchangers for heat recovery, as well as progress towards introducing a CO2 heat pump water heater tailored to the needs of the North American market were discussed by presenters from Thar Geothermal LLC, Alfa Laval, Sanden International, Washington State University and Emerson Climate Technologies.

R744 and geothermal heat pumps

According to Marc Portnoff, general manager at Thar Geothermal LLC, the use of R744 expands the opportunity for geothermal heat pumps. Thar Geothermal has drilled over 100 boreholes and has spent the last several years learning how to install a direct exchange geo-loop efficiently and effectively.

It has worked towards successfully integrating its technology in the HVAC environment. Portnoff explained that the R744 allows for a direct exchange design, because inserting synthetic refrigerants in and out of the ground poses several problems such as cost – as the size of the charge gets larger, it is ten-fold more expensive than CO2.

Thar’s oil management allows for the separation of the compressor oil from the refrigerant at the compressor skid, eliminating the worry that compressor oil will go into the ground heat exchanger.

R744 also allows for the design of smaller diameter ground loops. The smaller diameter provides greater design flexibility in how the ground heat exchanger is installed.

Portnoff’s presentation showed demonstrations of a commercial scale (15 to 20 tonnes) geothermal system encompassing air-side heat exchangers, as well as radiant floor and panels for both heating and cooling at Thar’s 19,510 sq m) R744 Geothermal Facility in Pittsburgh, which have shown enhanced energy efficiency and reduced environmental footprint.

“By and large, we are 30 per cent more efficient than a standard ground-source geothermal system, which tends to be 40 to 60 per cent more efficient than an air-side heat pump,” Portnoff said. “We are not going to eliminate the market barriers for geothermal. We have a play by improving performance because CO2 is an excellent refrigerant in this environment and by reducing the cost of installation so that the return on investment increases.

“Our goal with our partners is that we will over time increase the market share from 1 to 2 per cent in the HVAC market to 10 per cent.”

Energy Providers Session

A new element to the ATMOsphere America 2014 programme was a session dedicated to energy providers. Representatives from the Energy Power Research Institute, Southern California Edison, Bonneville Power Administration and Pacific Gas & Electric shared their unique perspectives on how natural refrigerant technologies can help utilities ensure that residential, commercial and industrial consumers use electricity as efficiently as possible.

ATMOsphere America Chairman and shecco managing director
Marc Chasserot said: “This was
the biggest and best ATMOsphere conference we have ever organised. Simply put, natural refrigerants
are coming and more US-based companies see the competitive advantage of getting there first.

“The next two to three years will be an exciting time to watch these developments and ATMOsphere America will continue to play its part in driving this change.”

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