Hydrocarbons: “better sustainability, lower power consumption,” says Embraco

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Embraco, one of the world’s largest manufacturers of small hermetic compressors, presented during an ATMOsphere America 2014 poster session, organised on 17 June in San Francisco. Presenter Doug Schmidt highlighted the energy efficiency of R290 in commercial refrigeration with regards to the Department of Energy’s (DoE) new recommendation for 2017; and underlined the encouraging future for hydrocarbons in the US as compared to two years ago. He also discussed what still needs to be done in order to ease implementation.

In the spring of 2014, the Department of Energy (DoE) released a new recommendation for energy standards for 2017. Embraco saw this as an opportunity to spread the message about hydrocarbon refrigerants and the energy and cost benefits they offer to food retailers.

Embraco’s view is that although we believe in natural refrigerants, and we've explored CO2 technology, we believe that hydrocarbons allow not only for better sustainability, but also for lower power consumption,” said Doug Schmidt, Sales Manager, Commercial Cooling Solutions Division for Embraco.

Retailers with several thousand cooler units spanning the US hold a significant responsibility for energy consumption on the power grid. The use of hydrocarbon cabinets represents impressive annual savings, as demonstrated in three brief case studies presented by Embraco.

Energy efficiency comparisons from R404A to R290

In three case studies, glass door merchandisers of approx. 26 ft³ (0.74 m3) using R290 were compared to R134a or R404A. The results were as follows:
  • In the first example the cabinet realised a 33% reduction in power consumption
  • In the second example, the R290 cabinet together with changes made to the lighting, the evaporator and condenser fan, resulted in a 30% reduction in power consumption, operating costs, and the amount of CO2 emissions released.
  • In the third case study, the comparison was more direct as the only modification was the compressor and its associated refrigerant. From R404A to R290, the direct savings was 17% on power consumption.
By making the change to hydrocarbons, this particular manufacturer moved from an appliance which would not be allowed to be sold in the US two years from now, to one that is below the energy standard,” said Schmidt.

Legislation, OEMS and specifiers working towards a common end goal

Whereas in 2014 Europe has seen almost a 40% adoption of hydrocarbon refrigerants in commercial refrigeration, in North America this figure is only 7%, the vast majority employed in Mexico.

This is a chance for us to shake-up the global scenario and the future. Embraco has been working since the beginning of the use of hydrocarbons in the US, with the first Ben and Jerry’s cooler 10 years ago. Now we have over 44 different models that are available in 60Hz, ranging from .25 to 1.5 HP for low temp, medium temp and also offer a wide range in 50Hz,” explained Schmidt.

According to Embraco, over the last 2-3 years the North American market has started to see the benefit from the cooperation between stakeholders.

The legislative entities are working with OEMs and specifiers who continue to promote it [HCs] from a sustainability standpoint; the retailers are seeing value in it. They are working together towards a common end goal,” he said. “A few years ago we would have said that there were barriers that prevented this technology from even coming into existence. Nowadays there are no longer real barriers but rather things that are just slowing us down toward implementation. There is no firm opposition that we cannot get through. I can see a future where this is very logical.”

According to Embraco, there are still opportunities to speed or ease implementation, such as:
  • Higher charge allowance (from 150g to 300g-500g)
  • Deadlines or promotions to phase-out high GWP refrigerants
  • Better parity between R290 and R600a: today the limitation on R600a is 57g, limited to household appliances. Manufacturers seeking to move in the direction of R600a see this as a hindrance.
  • Support related to OEMs through incentives by power companies or legislation: there is a significant internal cost absorbed in order to safely install and reliably charge the systems.
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