Ammonia: The Refrigerant of the Future

Advances in ammonia refrigeration technology are increasing efficiency and lowering costs

It may seem odd to call ammonia refrigeration — a process that was first used in 1859 — the refrigerant of the future. However, a drastic evolution in equipment, controls and other technologies in recent years is ensuring that ammonia will be at the center of the new safer, greener and more efficient industrial refrigeration systems to come.

It is true that the basic ammonia refrigeration cycle hasn’t changed much in the last 151 years, but several developments have made ammonia more relevant than ever before — taking it from the mechanical workhorse of the industry to the efficiency-boosting, costsaving powerhouse it is today.

This evolution is evident at every level of engineering, beginning with the dramatic changes to the equipment and controls that make up the nuts and bolts of modern refrigeration systems.

It takes only one picture of a vertical, single-acting compressor produced in the early 1900s to notice the amazing difference between that machine and the modern day compressor. The same is true of evaporators, condensers, valves, and controls. In fact, almost every aspect of today’s refrigeration system is different.

Beyond the basic changes, advances have been made in four important areas. First, variable frequency drives are much more affordable and applicable to motor-driven equipment. Computer-based control systems now permit remote monitoring and control, taking safety to a new level while giving operators the precision that ultimately boosts efficiency.

New water treatment technology has also improved overall system efficiency. Even equipment as basic as hand and control valves have improved so significantly that their operation is far easier and more reliable. So what is it about these advances that are making ammonia refrigeration a game-changing system? All lower operating costs and improve safety, naturally supplying environmental gains and infusing a new level of efficiency into the operations of the refrigerated warehouse.

However, the best place to look for evidence of growing efficiency may not be in the machinery room, but rather on the corporate balance sheet, where ammonia systems are delivering more cost savings than ever before and generating an industry-leading return on investment.

The issue is a relevant one, as the industrial producers in every sector of the American economy struggle to cut costs more than ever before and race to meet their customers’ new demands for a green supply chain.

Cost savings and environmental responsibility are joint goals met best through efficiency gains — gains that industrial refrigeration leaders are finding that ammonia can deliver.

While ammonia refrigeration may not be the same industry that it was 50 years ago, these improvements do not replace the need to properly design, install, and service these systems. This will require knowledgeable engineers, contractors, and equipment manufacturers, such as those partners you already know in the International Institute of Ammonia Refrigeration (IIAR).

These days, the potential for ammonia- based systems to deliver measurable financial and environmental gains is getting the attention of the industry. Ammonia refrigeration continues to expand, answering the demands of the nation’s supply chain with a highly effective and efficient technology. That adds up to lower operating costs and, ultimately, greater profitability for cold storage facility operators.

By Bruce Badger