Expert Interview: Excellent results for NH3 system in South Africa

By Sabine Lobnig, Jan 06, 2010, 17:39 5 minute reading

Two NH3 projects for the South African supermarket chain Pick and Pay have been realised in the last year. talked to the technical and commercial project expert, Michael Bellstedt, about specifications and performance of the large supermarket system, as well as future trends for the ammonia industry. Your Australian-based company eCO2 Technologies is involved in one of the two NH3 projects for the South African retailer. What is your role in this project?

Michael Bellstedt: eCO2 Technologies is both subcontractor and advisor to MGC Industrial, the main contractor on the Randpark Ridge project. My role as Managing Director of eCO2 has been to attend to commercial matters and advise MGC and other parties involved in this project on technical matters relating to the project. During my recent trip to South Africa I assisted with the fine-tuning of the CO2 plant and training of plant operating personnel. What kind of system is it?

Bellstedt: The system is a ammonia/glycol/CO2 refrigeration system for a large supermarket, consisting of an ammonia plant with three Grasso reciprocating compressor to generate chilled propylene glycol/water (-8°C) which is recirculated via pumps to all medium temperature cooling systems in the supermarket (cool-rooms, refrigerated cases) and provides cooling to the CO2 condensers. A CO2 system provides CO2 to all low temperature cooling systems in the supermarket (freezer rooms, freezer cases). The CO2 and ammonia plant is located in a roof-mounted plant room, adjacent to an evaporative condenser for the ammonia plant. Only chilled glycol and CO2 are circulated to the supermarket space whilst the ammonia is restricted to the plant room area on the roof and poses no risk to store staff and customers. What are the advantages, results, and reactions regarding this project?

Bellstedt: The main advantage of the system design is that it eliminates entirely the use of environmentally damaging synthetic refrigerants from the supermarket. At the same time the system provides a “free” supply of hot water generated by recovery of heat from the ammonia systems. Results to date have been excellent, with good performance of all refrigerated fixtures to the full satisfaction of the client, although of course long-term experience is yet to be gained. Reactions from store staff and operators were very pen-minded, although this design concept represents a significant move away from the old R-22 based technology previously used at the store. Local refrigeration technicians involved in the installation and commissioning have been enthusiastic and welcomed the opportunity to experience new and clean technologies. Did you have any difficulties, barriers to overcome or hesitations from a technical and/or a policy point of view?

Bellstedt: We found that far fewer concerns were expressed or barriers raised to this technology than in Australia, where in many cases an unreasonable fear of ammonia systems exists. The open-minded attitude of the South African parties involved in this project has been very encouraging. However, it is important to note that this was not a “normal” commercial project and that the actual project costs were significantly higher than of an equivalent conventional R22 based system implementation. I would expect significant commercial barriers to the implementation of these technologies under normal circumstances and significant cost-reductions and simplifications to the system design would be needed to achieve a viable commercial solution. How is the situation today in South Africa regarding the use of ammonia?

Bellstedt: Ammonia is the refrigerant of choice in the industrial refrigeration industry, and various South African companies and associations in promoting ammonia have done much good work. However, the South African government has progressive environmental policies, which will assist to create a favourable situation for the adoption of all natural refrigerants in that country. Assuming commercial pressures can be addressed, by adapting the technologies to South African conditions, there will be a good market for natural refrigerant technologies in South Africa. In your opinion, how will the South African HVAC market evolve? Are natural refrigerants a trend for the future?

Bellstedt: Yes, I believe they certainly are. A few key factors favour the adoption of natural refrigerants in South Africa:

1. South Africa has not yet adopted HFCs and local technicians would need to undergo training in these gases, and these “new” gases. There is an eagerness to skip the HFC step and move directly to a final solution.

2. Environmental awareness, in particular on government level, is high, and the disadvantages of HFC refrigerants in terms of their environmental impact is well understood. The synthetic refrigerants lobby, unlike in other countries such as USA and Australia, is not as well-funded and focal and has not succeeded in spreading disinformation on the “advantages” of HFCs or the “dangers” of natural refrigerants

3. South Africa is in many respects a first-world country with an advanced industry and manufacturing base, and it is well placed to localize natural refrigerant technologies without the need for expensive import of systems.

4. Natural refrigerants are cheap and locally available in adequate quality, a major benefit in a developing country.

My view is that several key market leaders, such as Pick &Pay and Woolworths will push hard to find solutions that are commercially viable, and will conduct trials on these technologies in the very near future. Wider industry adoption will follow, especially if this is supported and encouraged by government.

I hope that world leaders can progress from the weak outcomes at Copenhagen to achieve substantial binding emissions reduction targets in the very near future. What are the requirements to accelerate the uptake of natural refrigerants in South Africa or other countries across Africa?

Bellstedt: The most important requirement will be to address the training issue, both for design engineers and for servicing/installing technicians. In many respect the step from HCFC/HFC systems to natural refrigerants is a large one. Successful, long term adoption of natural refrigerants will hinge on reliability, energy efficiency, cost effectiveness and safety of the new technologies, and training and information dissemination will be required to achieve this outcome in South Africa and elsewhere in Africa. What are your future plans as regards ammonia and other natural refrigerants?

Bellstedt: eCO2 Technologies sees great potential for natural refrigerants in South Africa, where the use of HCFCs is still common, and HFCs are only beginning to make their appearance. There is a readiness in South Africa to skip the HFC step and adopt natural refrigerants instead. As eCO2 Technologies is based in Australia, with a very similar range of climatic conditions to those found in South Africa, we are in a good position to provide suitable products and designs to best suit the South African market.


By Sabine Lobnig

Jan 06, 2010, 17:39

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