This article was updated 23 July, 2015.

It’s been a remarkable rise for Commercial Refrigeration Services Head of Engineering Wynand Groenewald, who cast his mind back even further than the company’s first foray into the research and development of natural refrigerant technology in 2009. 

The first African student to complete a Masters in the field, “A techno economical analysis of a CO2 heat pump”, Groenewald then set about investigating the global CO2 market through visits to Bitzer’s CO2 training base in Brazil as well as Coolconcerns’ in the UK in 2008-09.

Initially unable to find a company in South Africa, Groenewald, turned his attentions to CRS after hearing of the completion of the company’s first R134a/CO2 cascade installation. “I went to see them and got a job!” At that stage CRS was led by the late Mr. Mike Holt and the pair set about developing a DX CO2/CO2 transcritical cascade system followed by the company’s first booster system. 

Fast forward to early September 2015 and the company had a remarkable 52 CO2 transcritical installations in Africa to its name, increasing from five to 12-20 per year. Groenewald stated with confidence that the company will complete a further 25 in 2015. 

First African CO2 transcritical system using parallel compression and ejector technology

Of the company’s transcritical installations, one for major client Woolworths in Crowthorne, Johannesburg stands out in particular. In September, the store was commissioned with Africa’s first CO2 transcritical system using parallel compression and ejector technology.“We’re hitting two birds with one stone,” Groenewald says. “It is the first of its kind in Africa, there hasn’t been one in a test facility or any installation of that sort in Africa. It will be the first parallel compression system and also the first ejector system in Africa.”
The revamped store was retrofitted with the 140kW MT and 25kW LT CO2 system, doing away with an old HFC (R404a) set-up. Groenewald noted his close relationship with Kenneth B Madsen from Danfoss, who supplied the ejector for the installation. “These relationships have also helped a lot in improving us as a company and keeping up with the latest technology.”

Heat pumps achieving huge efficiency gains The company has already received an order for its first chiller installation and expects its CO2 heat pumps to soon follow, after launching the new range of products in June. After starting development of its CO2 heat pumps in early 2015, Groenewald said the company already had eight heat pumps on tender and had received plenty of interest. I see heat pumps taking off real quick – our prediction is to have 30-50 of these operational in the next year,” he said. “Thus far it is looking very lucrative and favourable towards the expansion of CO2 in the industry.” CRS built its first CO2 heat pump for testing purposes at the Frigair conference in June 2015 before publically launching the following range of heat pumps (20kW-1000kW), chillers (20kW-1000kW) and condensing units (15-50kW).  The heat pumps are manufactured entirely in South Africa with a handful of imported components. CRS is marketing the products to the rest of Africa, while the interest for its products from Australia and New Zealand, Groenewald puts down to the regions’ ‘comparable climate conditions and logistics’.  From preliminary testing and external opinion from European manufacturers, Groenewald concluded that the heat pumps stand up favourably, and in some cases, exceed those of leading global manufacturers. “It shows that new technology does not have to be imported and can be produced locally.” The CO2 heat pumps save energy by a rate of 65% to 75% and can heat water up to 80°C compared with conventional electric heat pumps (60°C).  
Training the next frontier for CRS Central to CRS’s distribution and Africa’s acceptance of natural refrigerant technology is its new CO2 training facility, which will be fully operational by January 2016. The new 4700m2 facility is over five times the size of CRS’s current premises, with the training space mirroring the layout of a small supermarket and consisting of a cold room, freezer room, glass door freezer and chilled cabinets.  The transcritical CO2 system installed will be identical to that of a typical installation with the added capability to operate as a booster system – with parallel compression as well as parallel compression in unison with an ejector. The system’s versatile functionality will enable CRS to compare the energy efficiencies of each set up. Groenewald said Africa’s first CO2 training facility would give refrigeration trainees, as well as contractors and end users, the opportunity to gain invaluable theoretical and practical knowledge about CO2 systems.
 “We believe that one of the most crucial role players with expanding CO2 is education, we want to use the facility to have a more reachable destination for African citizens, where they can learn and do practical work on an operating CO2 system.”
R22 ban in South Africa having a ‘huge” impact

As of 2015 it is illegal to use hydrochlorofluorocarbons, including R22, in refrigeration, heat-pump and air-conditioning systems in South Africa.  Although CRS is already well developed as a natural refrigerant technology provider, Groenewald said the regulations were playing a significant role in accelerating the adoption of natural refrigerant technology and educating end users as to responsible business choices.  It [the HCFC ban] definitely has had a huge impact,” he said. “The industry is talking a lot more about taking up natural refrigerants.”  “Africa is still a difficult market in which to produce cost-effective solutions; therefore it is the contractors’ responsibility to design cleverly and make CO2 technology as cost effective as possible.” “In the end it is more about convincing, or rather educating, the end user about phase out regulations and where the future of refrigeration is heading. Often, end users do not know what is going on in the refrigeration industry and focus only on cost.” Groenewald said the company was devising ways to clear up miscommunication by informing end users, including education on Freon systems compared to CO2 systems and making its technology more energy efficient


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Author Elke Milner