Industrial refrigeration expert Jin Ma told this website that he sees opportunities for natural refrigerants in China’s cold chain sector ahead of the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics. Ma is one of the leading industry experts on ammonia-based industrial refrigeration technology and design in China.
He currently serves as deputy director of the Cold Storage and Cold Processing Committee at the Chinese Association of Refrigeration (CAR). He also serves as an expert on the Chinese Olympic Organizing Committee for the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics.
In an exclusive interview with this website, Ma outlined the current state of natural refrigerant use in China’s cold chain sector, as well as the prospects for their use in the upcoming Winter Olympics.
China’s growing cold chain industry
As China’s economy has grown rapidly in recent years, so has its cold chain industry, explained Ma.
“In terms of capacity, China’s cold chain industry has grown four to five times in the past ten years,” he said.
With the rise in capacity came a rise in the use of ammonia. However, this later dropped dramatically due to several accidents involving ammonia refrigeration systems that occured in 2013.
“Before 2013, ammonia was used in 90-95% of new installations,” said Ma.
“However, since that time, that number dropped to around 50%, with these ammonia systems being replaced largely by Freon-based systems.”
Though Ma acknowledges that ammonia and CO2-based cascade and secondary system installations have also increased somewhat, he fears that the stigma of ammonia use remains a significant barrier to further uptake, especially in under-developed regions.
Ma nonetheless highlighted signs that this is changing.
He cited as an example a cold storage project where a traditional ammonia-based pumped liquid overfeed system was replaced with a low-charge ammonia installation.
“There was a project three or four years ago that was supported by the Beijing government. It was a cold store project – not far from Beijing’s city centre – that used a low-charge ammonia system, where the ammonia charge was reduced by 40%,” he said.
NatRefs at the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics
In a significant sign of China’s potential return to ammonia acceptance, Ma informed this website that ammonia and CO2-based refrigeration systems are currently being discussed with respect to two major Olympic facility projects.
“For the 2km bobsleigh track, it has already been decided that an ammonia-based refrigeration system will be used,” he said.
Ma serves on the team that is leading the project’s ammonia system design.
The second major facility where natural refrigerant use is being considered is the new speed-skating facility where the ice sheet will span around 10,000 sq. meters.
“Currently, it is an ongoing discussion, however I am pushing for the use of a CO2/brine secondary system instead of a Freon-based system.”
Though any talk of ammonia use during highly public events in China comes with a high level of hesitance and caution, the opportunity to demonstrate how ammonia and CO2 systems could be used safely could contribute greatly to shifting the public’s mindset.
“For the 2 km bobsleigh track, it has already been decided that an ammonia-based refrigeration system will be used.“Jin Ma, Chinese Association of Refrigeration
‘Not a matter of technology, but mindset’
It is this mindset that Ma sees as the biggest barrier to further adoption of ammonia and CO2-based technology in China’s fast-growing cold chain sector.
“I believe that the refrigeration and air conditioning industry will continue to grow in the future,” said Ma.
“So sustainable technology is really important for this industry. However, the main barrier in China, I believe, will not be with the technology but the mindset.”
Ma asserts that this is caused by the sheer size of China as a country, and also its fragmented nature.
“China is huge and the people in charge of making these decisions don’t have time,” he said.
“It’s not such an issue in well-developed cities where officials often have more knowledge. But it is in the not so well-developed areas where local governments have simply resorted to issuing excessive and overbearing regulations on ammonia, resulting in companies just giving up on it completely.”
Ma gave as an example a meat processing company that was forced to use Freon instead of ammonia.
“They wanted to use ammonia but the government forced them to use Freon and as a result, their energy consumption went up more than 10%,” Ma said.
It is for these reasons that Ma believes it is vitally important that end users who use ammonia and CO2 systems speak directly with the government about their experiences.
“If these end users can show the government that, though ammonia use does entail legitimate safety concerns, they can be easily managed with proper standards and training, then progress in China can be made.”
Today, Ma continues to focus on his work, designing cold storage facilities and creating industry standards.
In addition, Ma participates in technical conferences where he speaks about ammonia use in industrial refrigeration in China.
Earlier this year, Ma spoke about ammonia standards at the inaugural ATMOsphere China conference, held 11-12 April this year in Beijing.
ATMOsphere China will continue to serve as the main platform for natural refrigerant discussion in China in 2019.
The second edition is scheduled to be held 11-12 April 2019 in Shanghai.