Natural refrigerants like CO2 (R744) and ammonia (R717) now make up at least 65% of California-based HVAC&R contractor CoolSys’s installations, according to Scott Ercole, the company’s Vice President of Technical Sales.
CoolSys, which owns 23 other HVAC&R contractor companies across the U.S., has seen interest in natural refrigerants grow significantly over the 15 years the company has been working with them. The company is also noticing the HVAC&R sector is changing as a result.
“With the adoption of natural refrigerants [increasing], one of the items that we’re seeing is that gap between commercial and industrial [get smaller],” Ercole explained. “We’re seeing the commercial side getting into some industrial spaces, and we’re seeing some industrial [players] transitioning to CO2 offerings.”
Ercole delivered these remarks during his presentation for 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 R744.com.
“With the adoption of natural refrigerants [increasing], one of the items that we’re seeing is that gap between commercial and industrial [get smaller].”Scott Ercole, CoolSys
A shift in the market
While the U.S. HVAC&R market is “drastically” behind Europe in terms of the transition to natural refrigerants, there will soon be an “uptick” in the number of natural refrigerant-based systems, said Ercole.
This prediction is based on the fact that 80% of the projects that the CoolSys design and engineering team are currently working on use natural refrigerants, up from less than 5% five years ago.
“The engineers are typically 1.5–2 years ahead of what we’ll see from an install standpoint, so those indicators are showing that we’re going to see more and more [natural refrigerants],” he explained.
The majority of the projects currently being designed by the company’s 100-person engineering team are transcritical CO2 systems, he added.
Ercole also noted that CoolSys wants to help drive the transition to natural refrigerants in the U.S.
“It’s our goal to make sure we’re at the forefront and not being just reactive to what’s going on,” he said.
CO2 for industrial applications
During his presentation, Ercole shared the details of two CO2-based industrial refrigeration projects recently installed by CoolSys.
At a 330,000ft2 (30,660m2) cold storage facility on the East Coast of the U.S., five transcritical CO2 “mechanical centers” from Zero Zone provide 1,320TR (4.6MW) in cooling capacity at various suction temperatures.
The system comprises 57 compressors – including two split-temperature semi-hermetic Bitzer compressors – 64 Colmac industrial evaporators, five Güntner adiabatic gas coolers and Danfoss controls for a centralized monitoring system.
To boost efficiency, the system also uses reclaimed heat from the CO2 rack for underfloor heating and includes parallel compression for “high ambient peaking.”
“In seven years or so we’ve really come a long way in terms of adopting and evolving the technology,” Ercole said.
On the other side of the country, at a 300,000ft2 (27,870m2) cold storage facility on the West Coast, a total of six transcritical CO2 racks – two of which are dedicated to the facility’s spiral chiller – provide 1,120TR (3.9MW) in cooling capacity at various suction temperatures.
The system, which was designed and built by CoolSys, includes semi-hermetic Bitzer compressors, 76 industrial evaporators and Evapco adiabatic gas coolers. At the time of the presentation, the installation was due to be completed in the coming weeks.
“[This is] another fairly large project that we’re working through,” he explained. “It’s been interesting to see customers looking at CO2 in areas that would have traditionally been either ammonia or an HFC.”
“It’s been interesting to see customers looking at CO2 in areas that would have traditionally been either ammonia or an HFC.”Scott Ercole, CoolSys