To push the development of CO2 technology forward – especially in the food-manufacturing sector – Food Techno Engineering Co., Ltd. (FTE), an engineering and contracting company headquartered in Osaka, Japan, has opened a research laboratory to demonstrate and test cutting-edge transcritical CO2 refrigeration systems.

The CO2 research laboratory, named the ‘FTE Academy’ was launched as a division of Food Techno Engineering’s main business, which is to provide engineering and planning services to food manufacturing and processing facilities.

Kenji Noda, FTE’s representative director, sees significant opportunities for CO2 systems in the future and hopes that the facility will help further spread the use of CO2 technology, not only in Japan, but also globally.

“Though the handling of COrefrigerant is now considered equivalent to HFCs, end user safety concerns have not been immediately eliminated,” said Noda regarding the Japanese government’s decision in July to deregulate CO2 as a high-pressure gas .

“Now more than ever, we need a steady effort from the end user’s perspective in order to prove the safety of CO2 use compared to other natural refrigerants,” he continued.

“Based on the Academy, I hope that we can contribute, even just a little, to the market revitalisation and spread of CO2 refrigeration systems.”

Cutting edge CO2 research

The FTE Academy, designed to simulate an actual food manufacturing facility, is equipped with a CO2 impingement tunnel freezer and a CO2 booster unit.

The booster unit is designed to recover waste heat and is also equipped with an air-cooled gas cooler and a water-cooled gas cooler.

The FTE Academy research facility was designed with two main features in mind. The first is that all CO2 technologies are developed and tested with water-cooling technology, and the second is that there is an emphasis on heat recovery technology.

“Water-cooled systems improve coefficient of performance (COP) as the pressure becomes lower compared to air-cooled systems,” said Noda.

“In addition, since food factories use hot water for washing and other things, there is a lot of potential to recover waste heat. To improve the COP in a food factory as a whole, we must develop energy efficient CO2 equipment that incorporates heat recovery technology.”

In other countries, heat recovery from large-scale supermarkets and other CO2 direct expansion refrigerators is already standard.

However, in Japan it is still a brand new concept due to the fact that CO2 direct expansion systems are not yet mainstream.

Additionally, at the laboratory, it is possible to monitor, extract, and analyse operational data while operating under various environmental and temperature controlled settings.

“You can run the system at winter temperatures during summer, at summer temperatures during winter, as well as switch between water-cooled or air-cooled, because it’s a research facility,” Noda said.

A number of projects are currently underway. “We are currently working with Panasonic Corporation Appliances Company and Shibata Welding Works Co., Ltd. (Japan’s CAREL distribution partner) on the development of a water-cooled refrigerator unit for food factories and low-temperature distribution centres,” Noda said.

“Based on the Academy, I hope that we can contribute, even just a little, to the market revitalisation and spread of CO2 refrigeration systems.”

Kenji Noda, president, Food Techno Engineering Co., Ltd.

Emphasis on education and awareness

Noda strongly believes that CO2-based refrigeration systems will play a key role in protecting the environment in the future.

“When considering the global environment, it is best to be able to use substances abundantly present on the earth as a refrigerant,” said Noda.

That is why the FTE Academy is very focused on education, training and raising public awareness of CO2-based technology as well.

On the second floor of the building, above the research laboratory area, there are large seminar rooms used for lectures, symposiums and discussion forums.

So far, Noda and his team have seen a large amount of interest from industry and the general public.

“Both the Japanese Ministry of the Environment and the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry visited the opening ceremony of this facility, and now there are about three companies visiting each week – many are food-related companies,” said Noda.

“People who are visiting are very interested in what the next refrigerant will be after the Kigali Amendment and the Paris Agreement. Many facilities are still using R22 and are worried about the future.”

Additionally, local students are given free laboratory tours.

“The other day, 22 students came to the internship training and did a study for five days in the lab,” Noda said.

“We have invited local elementary school and junior high school students and are working hard to get them interested in environmental issues.”

Growing opportunities for CO2 in Japan

The facility, which opened in January 2017, comes at a time of other significant developments for CO2 in Japan over the past year.

In July, the Japanese government announced the deregulation of CO2 as a high-pressure gas.

In August, the government announced the largest budgeted amount of natural refrigerant subsidies (¥9.4 billion or €72 million) for the 2018 fiscal year, which now includes the food retail and food manufacturing sectors.

Food Techno Engineering Co., Ltd is a Gold sponsor of the upcoming ATMOsphere Japan 2018 event, which will be held on 13 February 2018, one day before Japan’s largest retail exhibition, the Supermarket Tradeshow.

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