The recent FMI Energy & Store Development Conference in San Diego saw refrigeration executives dissect the current culture for consumption and how this is affecting stores and their subsequent choice of refrigeration equipment and refrigerants, with the flexibility and efficiency of hydrocarbon plug in units leading the charge.
FMI takes the stage in natural refrigerant haven
In recent years, California has done more than any other state to impact refrigeration, energy and store development trends, so it was no surprise that this year’s FMI conference, with a variety of stakeholders in the food retail industry in tow, landed at the Sheraton Hotel in San Diego from 27-30 September.
Keilly Witman, KW Refrigerant Management Strategy’s owner, spoke almost biblically of the “perfect storm of events, trends and innovations” that is changing the landscape of refrigeration, requiring companies to develop “arks” to weather the storm – in this case the large percentage of systems still utilising moribund fluorinated gases in the United States.
With Paul Anderson, Engineering Chief at Target, the pair went through the potential candidates to fill in these opportunities for a new type of refrigeration that answers the unique requirements of an increasingly present, but not fully emerged market.
In this new world which is demanding increasing flexibility from businesses, Witman and Anderson explained that the ease of rolling small equipment, such as plug 'n play units, into a store as easily as you can roll it out has massive advantages for both the store and technicians. In the case of a fault, a technician would simply take out a ‘refrigerant cartridge’, replacing it on-the-spot, meaning there is no downtime before taking back the faulty component to work on outside the store. Witman took these positives and with confirmation from Anderson asserted that:
“The store of the future will be all self-contained units that will be wheeled into position and plugged in, no installation required, which can be moved around at anytime…And to ensure they meet the energy efficiency and regulatory standards, they’ll also use, in our opinion, a hydrocarbon-based refrigerant.”
The elephant in the room was addressed when Witman noted that “we will need to be able to use higher charge sizes of hydrocarbons than are currently allowed to do whole stores.” But she confirmed that: “those SNAP (Significant New Alternative Policy) applications to the EPA are actually in the works now, to raise the limits on the amount of hydrocarbons that you can use in self-contained equipment.”
Hydrocarbon units, CO2 trancritical and cascade systems making major plays
Anderson made the business case for R290 self-contained units by displaying the results of Target’s testing on the efficiency of different self-contained units. R134a was used as the baseline for comparison with R744 and R290, showing that the energy savings were 25% and 53% respectively. When accumulated for annual chain savings (100 stores with 10 cases), R744 saved $20,150 (€17,890) compared to R134a, while the use of R290 provides double the savings with $42,920 (€38,300).
Witman explained that while there is no ‘silver bullet’ for all supermarkets looking to successfully navigate regulatory requirements, there are several options available for companies looking to make the switch, noting that alongside hydrocarbons for plug ‘n play units, CO2/NH3 cascade systems are a popular option for larger systems. Witman and Anderson looked at the different options available to supermarkets for larger-scale refrigeration, examining the efficiency of various CO2 supermarket systems. These were a CO2 transcritical booster, NH3/CO2 cascade, R134a/CO2 cascade and R407A/CO2 cascade. It was shown in the theoretical testing that the NH3/CO2 cascade had the highest efficiency in all temperatures, strengthening the case for all-natural stores in the States.