Combining refrigeration, space cooling, heating and hot-water production into one district-wide integrated system is the future of the HVAC&R sector, according to Benoit Rodier, Director of Business Development at CIMCO Refrigeration, a Toronto-based contractor.
“HVAC&R mechanical systems are traditionally done in four different silos: air-conditioning, refrigeration, heating and district heating and cooling,” explained Rodier, with people tending to strictly think about one silo at a time.
“We need to start thinking about it as combined thermal management,” he added.
To make the most of this approach, Rodier believes that it needs to be done on a community-wide scale, with facilities like ice rinks playing a central role as a cold source.
“HVAC&R mechanical systems are traditionally done in four different siloes: air-conditioning, refrigeration, heating and district heating and cooling. We need to start thinking about it as combined thermal management.”Benoit Rodier, CIMCO Refrigeration
Rodier delivered these remarks during his presentation in the heat pumps session at the ATMOsphere (ATMO) America Summit 2023 on natural refrigerants. The conference took place June 12–13 in Washington, D.C., and was organized by ATMOsphere, publisher of Ammonia21.com.
Earlier this year, and in support of the idea of combined thermal management, CIMCO announced a new all-in-one low-charge ammonia (R717) system – Thermal Force One (TF1) – that can meet all of the refrigeration, cooling and heating needs of an ice rink – or similar facility – while also providing heating and cooling for the wider community.
Canada’s net-zero ice rinks
During his presentation, Rodier also discussed current efforts being taken in Canada to reduce the carbon footprint of the country’s ice rinks in support of wider national climate targets.
According to Rodier, an ice rink can be one of the largest consumers of both electricity and natural gas in some communities in Canada.
In Ontario, the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM) conducted a feasibility study – “Taking your indoor ice rink to net zero” – of nine ice rinks to see what measures could be implemented to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions.
The study found that by implementing a range of low-carbon measures, an ice rink could reduce its carbon footprint by up to 88% and its annual utility costs by 35%. Around 29% of potential emissions savings can be achieved by improving the facility’s refrigeration plant. Heating-related measures, such as replacing a natural gas boiler, can help reduce emissions by up to 21%.
One specific action that can have a significant impact on an ice rink’s greenhouse gas emissions is adding heat recovery to its refrigeration system. According to the guide, this can result in a 34% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions on average.
These findings align with guidance published by the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF), which highlights optimizing heat recovery from a facility’s refrigeration system as a top energy priority.
In addition to heat recovery, key steps to achieving net zero in ice rinks include eliminating refrigerant emissions, general improvements to energy efficiency and harnessing renewable energy sources.
Halton Hills’ Acton Arena
One of the ice rinks participating in the FCM study was the Acton Arena and Community Center in Halton Hills, Ontario.
The 92,000ft2 (8,547m2) facility consists of two full-sized ice sheets, one smaller leisure ice sheet, two community halls and other meeting facilities. In 2019, the arena’s emissions were 312 metric tons of CO2e, but with the addition of heat recovery and other low-carbon measures, Acton Arena aims to reduce its annual emissions by 85% to 48 metric tons CO2e.
To complement the ice rink’s existing ammonia refrigeration plant, CIMCO is currently constructing a 305kW (86.7TR) capacity ammonia heat pump that will provide space heating and hot-water for the arena using reclaimed heat from the arena’s refrigeration system. The new heat pump will be operational in the coming months, explained Rodier during his presentation.
Acton Arena originally planned to use an R134a heat pump to replace its existing natural gas boiler, but with guidance and analysis from CIMCO, the facility opted for an ammonia heat pump, which has a payback period of less than a year thanks to efficiency savings.
Choosing ammonia over R134a will also result in reduced greenhouse gas emissions.
Other low-carbon measures being implemented at Acton Arena include replacing its natural gas-based ice-resurfacing machine with an electric alternative and expanding the building’s automation system.