ATMO LATAM: Ammonia Compressors Use 25% Less Energy Than R404a, says Mexican Cold Storage Operator

ATMO LATAM: Ammonia Compressors Use 25% Less Energy Than R404a, says Mexican Cold Storage Operator

Ricardo Garcia presenting at 2023 ATMO LATAM.
Ricardo Garcia presenting at 2023 ATMO LATAM.

Mexico-based Frialsa ‒ a leader in comprehensive logistic solutions for the cold chain ‒ finds ammonia (R717) compressors use roughly 25% less energy than R404a, with 14 of the company’s 28 distribution centers using ammonia and four using freon.

The other ten centers use combined ammonia/CO2 (R744) cascade systems.

The benefits of ammonia systems over freon and details of the company’s newest refrigeration plant in Ciudad Obregón, Sonora, were presented by Ricardo Garcia, Project Director at Frialsa, at 2023 ATMOsphere LATAM held in Mexico City, November 8‒9.

“When we decide to invest in a temperature-controlled facility, we consider the refrigeration system’s safety, energy efficiency, sustainability and versatility,” Garcia noted. “For the return on investment, energy efficiency matters.”

“Ammonia has the energy advantage over freon,” Garcia said, with the company measuring it at approximately 25% less energy use. There are some variables based on customer needs, he indicated. “In our business, we do a lot of flash or blast freezing, but sometimes a client needs to reach 18°C [64.4°F] temperatures; that changes the situation.”

The duration of ammonia equipment is another benefit. With Frialsa providing maintenance, “we have ammonia systems that work perfectly after 30‒35 years,” Garcia noted. “[Our] experience with freon equipment is that sometimes it degrades, and we have to change it.”

The other advantages of ammonia to freon mentioned by Garcia included its sustainability with ammonia’s GWP of 0 compared to R404a’s 3,922, lower cost and leak control. “Ammonia leaks are easily detectable,” he indicated.

Obregón refrigeration center

In March, Frialsa’s newest cold storage facility opened in Obregón with a 9,100m2 (97,952ft2) refrigerated chamber, temperature controlled by a system using roughly 6,000kg (13,228lbs) of ammonia. A microprocessor automatically operates the system to provide areas with three different temperatures, -25/0/3°C (-13/32/37.4°F).

“This facility operates where the temperature is high and relative humidity very low,” Garcia noted. A “simple” ammonia system meets the required temperatures with the upward injection of glycol-cooled oil to the compressors. “The compressors’ oil is cooled by glycol, and the same glycol heats the chamber subfloor.”

When asked why the company chose to use ammonia-only in this application instead of an ammonia/CO2 system, Garcia indicated that it came down to the increased cost of CO2 piping. “The ammonia system has worked well for the designed use of the facility,” he added.

“The area has a great demand for cold storage with high pork and seafood production,” Gracia said, despite the crime in the Cajeme municipality where Obregón is located. “The fighting for territories by crime groups has not stopped the different organizations from generating business.”

The company designed the facility for future expansion, including installing all the vessels and system piping to double the size of the refrigeration unit to cover an additional 9,100m2. “We need to add more containers and equipment, but designing the system with a bigger capacity did not increase the cost as much as we thought,” Garcia said.

Challenges

One of the biggest challenges with using natural refrigeration in the region comes from municipality regulation. “Sometimes the authorities do not understand how these systems work, and they can make things burdensome,” Garcia remarked.

Another issue is having enough water for the system. “In Mexico and throughout the world, we have had a lot of problems with water for the different equipment,” Garcia said. “We need to learn the different options, including condensing air and treating and processing water.” 

Frialsa provides the largest temperature-controlled network in Mexico, operating 26 cold storage facilities in Mexico and two in Peru. According to its website, the company provides operation, storage logistics and distribution of fresh, refrigerated and frozen food and beverages, with the ability to receive and ship products from Canada and the U.S.

“We have ammonia systems that work perfectly after 30‒35 years.”

Ricardo Garcia, Project Director at Frialsa

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