Equipment & Technology

GEA Promotes Ammonia-based Refrigeration Systems as F-Gas Deadline Nears

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The clock is ticking for cold storage operators and food processors using refrigerants in the European Union, as the latest legislation from Brussels comes into force on January 1, 2020.

GEA, a Düsseldorf, Germany-headquartered specialist in food processing, packaging and refrigeration systems, says industrial users in EU member states should be planning to replace refrigerants that have Global Warming Potential (GWP) of above 2500 as they will be banned under the European F-Gas (Fluorinated greenhouse gases including hydrofluorocarbons) legislation in certain static refrigeration applications. Reclaimed and re-processed refrigerant can continue to be used for servicing of existing equipment until 2030, but is likely to become costly and in short supply (as seen already and previously experienced with the phase out of r22).

Most cooling systems using greenhouse gases will have to be replaced with those that can handle natural refrigerants, such as ammonia – an environmentally-friendly refrigerant that has no impact on long-term heating of the Earth’s climate system, or ozone depletion – to comply with the legislation which is set to be applied worldwide, including the United Kingdom after Brexit. GEA is urging food companies to take action sooner rather than later as time is running out to install the new natural refrigerant based systems, needed to reduce their environmental impact, and it is not possible in the vast majority of cases to retrofit an F-gas system with a natural gas, especially ammonia.

GEA has already installed a large ammonia-based system for a major food manufacturer and retailer incorporating mechanical and absorption cooling, helping to deliver what it describes as “one of the most energy-efficient frozen food distribution centers” in Europe.

Usually in a food storage environment up to 90% of energy use is for refrigeration. While this operation has a cooling capacity equivalent to 12,000 domestic chest freezers, the facility consumes less than a third of the power used by the two coldstores it is replacing when comparing size. What’s more, water and chemical consumption has been reduced by 86% with the annual water saving equivalent to 11 Olympic size swimming pools.

The ammonia absorber in the plant rejects its heat into a common condensing system, which enables recovery for both under floor heating and defrost. This considerably reduces other associated waste streams, such as cooling tower water, chemicals, effluent, fan and pump power. Heat is also recovered for under floor heating by sub cooling ammonia, which not only provides free heat but also actually improves the compressor efficiency to boot.

Robert Unsworth, head of refrigeration sales for GEA UK, believes cold storage operators and food manufacturers should not delay switching to cooling systems that can reduce their emissions and power bills, citing an ammonia plant as significantly more efficient than coldstores using greenhouse gases. Or, as he put it, the difference between driving an old car belching out pollutants because it gets you from A to B, when you have been offered a shiny new hybrid model with twice the miles per gallon (km/l).

“Cooling is very much in the spotlight and the deadline for switching to environmentally-friendly refrigerants is drawing nearer,” said Unsworth. “I would estimate less than five percent of cooling systems in the UK can be effectively adapted, so those putting off installing a new system or are ignorant of the legislation could find it comes back to haunt them.

“If coldstores, factories or freezers use one of the gases which is banned from the end of this year, or the final 2030 deadline, depending on the type of system, a leak could prove devastating as they may not be able to replace the gas in time to avoid a full or partial catastrophe. GEA offers an entire solution, and we’re also driving this concept with the heat pump instead of a boiler for generating heat and reducing waste streams.”

A heat pump is a far more eco-friendly and profitable solution than traditional heating alternatives. Industry, local authorities and homeowners have been using them for heating applications for many years – and food processing plants are now starting to see the significant financial and environmental benefits of using heat pumps in production processes – especially those that require the application of heat during preparation and subsequent chilling.