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Low-charge ammonia to hit US market

By Jenni Spinner+

01-May-2014

Azane's chilling and freezer systems, which use low-charge ammonia, are coming to the US.
Azane's chilling and freezer systems, which use low-charge ammonia, are coming to the US.

Azane is bringing low-charge ammonia refrigeration technology to American food processing, storage, and logistics companies.

The industrial refrigeration company, a division of Star Refrigeration, engineered the Azane line (including Azanechiller and Azanefreezer) for food-focused firms to meet the challenges presented by the phasing out of the refrigerant R22, blacklisted due to its ozone-depleting characteristics. The US is facing a similar situation, with the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) phasing out R22, and a complete US ban hitting in 2020.

Derek Hamilton, US business development manager for UK-based Star Refrigeration, explained the Azane refrigeration line to FoodProductionDaily and how the technology could allow US food firms to easily transition to an R22-free world.

Could you please explain the Azane low-charge ammonia technology? What differentiates it from other systems?

The Azanechiller is used to cool a secondary fluid circuit, such as water or glycol, and can be used in temperature-controlled storage, dairy, breweries, wineries and other food processing applications; the Azanefreezer is essentially an ammonia condensing unit and is designed for use in freezer warehouses.

Both packages can be used in newly built facilities, or in factory upgrades when an existing refrigeration system is being upgraded or replaced.

We use technology which has been developed, tested, and proven in Europe; we are therefore are bringing proven technology to the US for the first time. The main features which set us apart from conventional systems include use of ammonia refrigerant in small, packaged systems. Until now, ammonia has traditionally been restricted to use in large, distributed refrigeration systems; examples would be large temperature-controlled facilities, or large food processing plants.

The use of ammonia in packaged systems opens up a whole range of applications, which may have traditionally been the realm of more commercial systems using freon refrigerants.

Ammonia is an excellent refrigerant because it is a natural refrigerant with zero global warming potential and zero ozone depletion potential; this means it will not be subject to future regulations and restrictions on usage. Man-made alternatives (freons) are gradually being phased out by the EPA under the Montreal Protocol.

Also, it is highly efficient. Packaged ammonia systems typically use 15% to 20% less electricity than equivalent freon systems. It also has an excellent safety record when used in systems such as ours, which use high-quality components and advanced PLC control systems.

Our systems use a ‘critical charge’ design, meaning our systems contain a much lower quantity of ammonia than traditional systems. This can help operators avoid entering the realms of PSM compliance, which can be costly and time-consuming. Breaking with tradition, we have opted to use air cooled condensers rather than the evaporative condensers typically used on industrial ammonia systems. The result is a system which does not rely on water to provide cooling; this leads to savings in water usage, sewerage and water treatment, and a system which is cheaper to run than a traditional system in most applications.

The packaged system design results in a number of benefits to the end user, such as there is no machinery room required. This results in a simple installation and of course costs savings because a machinery room does not need to be build

Also, quick and easy installation results in lower overall installation costs. The packages can be located close to the cooling requirement, which can be very useful when food production facilities are expanding and require additional cooling.

The system also offers unattended operation. Our systems are designed with advanced PLC control systems to allow them to run with minimal operator input; only very basic maintenance checks are required, and these can be performed as part of a wider site maintenance program. This means operators are free to concentrate on keeping their process running rather than worrying about the refrigeration system—we can also set up remote fault reporting and even have predictive maintenance alerts to ensure that the system runs reliably all of the time.

Why did the company decide to bring Azane to the US—and why San Francisco?

We are entering the US market at a time of change in the refrigeration industry; this will of course directly affect the food industry. The phase-out of R22 is going to have a significant impact on the industry in the coming years and our packages offer facilities a ‘like-for-like’ replacement for their R22 system.

We also offer an excellent option for facilities who are extending, or wishing to avoid the regulatory burden of a large ammonia inventory.

We have chosen to base our sales office in SF to allow us to serve the West Coast, and specifically Californian market, where there is a high demand for our products. The combination of strict environmental regulations, restricted water supplies, and high energy prices will combine to make traditional technologies more and more expensive to run and maintain.

We are actually building our packages in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania. From there we will distribute around the country, so we are by no means restricted to the West Coast in terms of coverage.

What might some of the obstacles to switching from existing refrigeration systems to the Azane system be?

The main obstacles for companies in this industry is having a clear understanding of the regulatory landscape of the refrigeration industry and how this might affect their business. Our experience in Europe allows us to show real-life examples of how companies have coped with refrigerant phaseout and demonstrate which approaches work for different businesses.

In terms of the practicalities of installing a new refrigeration system, our packaged design makes the process very simple. It is even possible to install our packages while an existing system is still running; this is especially important for food producers or distributors who do not want any interruption to their business while the refrigeration system is upgraded.

Our packages use proven industrial refrigeration components so service and maintenance is simple and spare parts are readily available.