A changing industry is causing a contractor in the Pacific Northwest region of the U.S. to “rethink” its approach to refrigerants, with more emphasis on natural refrigerants.
“The industry is changing,” said Jeff Buxton, Refrigeration Sales Engineer at JH Kelly, an engineering contractor based in Longview, Washington. “Refrigerant phase outs, energy codes and electrification [are] forcing us to rethink.”
Buxton delivered these remarks during his presentation in the Contractors Panel 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.
“The industry is changing. Refrigerant phase outs, energy codes and electrification [are] forcing us to rethink.”Jeff Buxton, JH Kelly
While some believe that there are gaps in what natural refrigerants can do, effective solutions are available, he added.
“In the future there are going to be more and more CO2 [R744] and ammonia [R717] heat pumps being installed, which will lead to less resistance to having [natural refrigerants] in HVAC&R systems,” he explained.
Following a recent industrial refrigeration project, JH Kelly developed a new outlook, explained Buxton. JH Kelly’s customer, the operator of a food processing facility, was looking for a new cooler and was deciding what refrigerant to use for its new system – ammonia, CO2 or a synthetic alternative.
Following a cost and energy analysis conducted by JH Kelly, the customer opted for ammonia.
“Even though it was considerably more expensive to go with the ammonia option, the customer chose it over the synthetic options because it was a natural refrigerant, it was future-proof and it had an established reliability within the industry,” he said.
“This was the project that kind of started a new line of thinking for JH Kelly,” he added.
Large ammonia barge project
Founded in 1923, JH Kelly has extensive experience working in the HVAC sector, he explained, adding that the company is also working on a growing number of refrigeration projects.
Although relatively new to CO2, with some experience with CO2-based refrigeration systems for supermarkets, the family-owned business has been working with ammonia for many years. JH Kelly’s ammonia-based refrigeration projects include several cold storage and food processing facilities, as well as ATB Harvest, which is the largest chemical transfer barge built in the U.S. in the last 40 years, Buxton said. The ship contains 61 pre-fabricated refrigeration modules with 17,000ft (5,181m) of piping.
He sees more opportunities for natural refrigerants.
“In the HVAC world, people are screaming for propane, and I think there’s a lot of opportunity there once we get past the initial hurdle of getting new equipment past UL,” he said. “There’s also a lot interest in CO2, which is probably going to be the predominant [refrigerant] moving forward, and ammonia will continue to be used in industrial sectors.”
While typically associated with industrial HVAC&R applications, ammonia is likely to become “more commercialized” in the future, Buxton said. He also believes that CO2 will become more common in the industrial HVAC&R sector as more end users transition to natural refrigerants.
“In the HVAC world, people are screaming for propane. There’s also a lot interest in CO2, which is probably going to be the predominant [refrigerant] moving forward, and ammonia will continue to be used in industrial sectors.”Jeff Buxton, JH Kelly