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Question Time debates the lower-flammability future of coldrooms - Refrigeration and Air Conditioning

Last updated: 07-12-2020

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Question Time debates the lower-flammability future of coldrooms - Refrigeration and Air Conditioning

The retailer says it remains technology agnostic when it comes to the various cooling solutions it will use across its global cooling estate in order to meet the requirements of F-Gas regulations and the Kigali Amendment over the coming decades.

RAC's Question Time: Extra Time webinar on A2Ls in coldrooms, heard about the retailer’s in-depth testing and  research into using refrigerants that introduces a degree of flammability.

Asda’s Brian Churchyard said the retailer is willing to make its research available to the industry in order to help create standards and training programmes for A2Ls. In this way, the hope is that the industry can build confidence in using the refrigerants and thus not require major additional costs or upskilling.

Chris Chisman, technical director at TEV, which sponsored the event, says the company has developed the A2LsysteMatch split system to engineer coldroom solutions that can minimise the refrigerant charge required to function efficiently and in a scalable way for different properties.

He says, “One of the thought processes behind development of this product was to try and make a cold room system  that would be easy for your one-man band contractor to pick up and use in a way that is environmentally efficient.”

Mr Chisman says the idea of the solution being environmentally friendly must apply to both its energy usage and the GWP of the gas itself – reflecting the increasing importance of energy efficiency to the debate around sustainable cooling.

He says there is benefit for the industry in moving towards A2Ls as a safe, efficient and practical solution for small coldrooms, given the comparative skill and qualification requirements facing contractors seeking a CO solution in smaller plant rooms.

TEV says it is in the process of offering a more holistic cooling solution that can offer a clear alternative to what the company sees as a relatively high cost barrier for contractors wishing to introduce and support COsystems.

Mr Chisman says, “What we have tried to do is to offer a complete system, so we’re not just offering a condensing unit - by pulling it all together into one packaged system, the aim is to take that skill level of your general contractor down so that the technology is available throughout the entire industry.”

TEV says that the belt and braces work undertaken by Asda Walmart, in conjunction with specialists such as Wave Refrigeration, has provided detailed data about the effective use of A2Ls, but acknowledges this comprehensive data collection  will need to be translated into industry-wide best practice.

A proper risk assessment is an important consideration when using A2Ls, on account of the flammability and TEV is addressing this by providing a template with each of its new A2L products.

Mr Chisman says that with measures such as this, the manufacturer is looking to take some of the onus off the small contractor to make them feel comfortable offering A2L solutions to retailers and other operators such as restaurateurs that need smaller coldrooms in the general market.

He says, “At the moment, there just isn’t an option for them, unless they go CO.”

Mr Churchyard says, “What was interesting is that when we first started speaking with TEV about coldrooms, coldrooms for us, were the great unknown at that point. It was quite interesting to see the comparisons of the technical development that blurred into each other and the findings.  I think from a DSEAR assessment perspective, we have probably gone above and beyond the assessments that it is asking for.”

Mr Churchyard, who is building model, engineering and energy senior manager at Asda Walmart, says that the highly cautious approach Asda has taken has been vital in all its early research and exploratory work in order to do the ‘right thing’ from a safety perspective.  This approach is the same taken by the retailer for any new cooling system approaches whether in the case of COor using a water cooled or integral system, he stresses.

He adds, “We want options coming out of our ears in terms of innovation and technology, so we have really gone to the nth degree. There is a compendium of technical documents that, when the time is appropriate, we will share with the industry. We have no benefit in holding on to that information and we hope it will benefit industry, the environment and our customers.”

RAC Editor Andrew Gaved observed that the next challenge is how the company translates that comprehensive research  - which currently stands at 1,000 pages - into a more day-to-day standard for contractors.

Mr Gaved says, “You have acknowledged that you took a very belt and braces approach with your research and you really mitigated the risks to the Nth degree but I guess now you are in the process of seeing what you can ease back on.”

Another question for Mr Churchyard was whether Asda Walmart still saw a future for CO, given that it had committed its current design model to A2Ls  in the UK.

His response was that the retailer was constantly looking at innovation and research around a range of technologies and the best applications.

He says, “At the moment, we have devoted efforts to the HFO Mistral [ducted display case] system, through a lot of number crunching and data, as it's the approach that is adding value - both in financial and sustainability terms. But as and when technology in other areas continues to develop, it is 'arms wide open'. We remain technically agnostic - we are not just in a single technology space and we are open to a toolbox of solutions.”

James Bailey, founder and director of Wave Refrigeration, a company that has worked with Asda and TEV, says that A2L solutions are not a single catch-all solution for all sizes of coldrooms - for instance, a large distribution warehouse with a room duty in hundreds of kilowatts would not be suitable for using an A2L without being connected to a secondary arrangement.

He adds, “So it is no way, shape or form a silver bullet in applications such as that. As a consultant, my initial thoughts will be that for that end of the scale, you either need to look at a COsystem or an ammonia glycol system or a pumped system.”

However, Mr Bailey says that the development of a more flexible approach to A2L use in smaller capacities, as offered by the A2LsysteMatch was an important addition to the industry’s existing offerings.

One of the main themes of the coldroom Question Time was an aim to encourage the cooling industry, even at the level of smaller end-users and their contractors, to embrace change around refrigerant.

Mr Bailey says that it was vital to support small end users such as single store shopkeepers and SME contractors to embrace change by alleviating some of the main barriers facing them.

He says, “The reality is that A2Ls will have a fantastic place in the market specifically for smaller end users. They operate similar to standard HFC systems - when I say 'embrace change' this relates to overcoming apprehension.”

He again stressed the reality that dealing with low-GWP solutions in the future - as required under F-Gas regulation - will all have some form of eitehr toxicity, flammability or high pressure to deal with.

Mr Bailey says, “Every single refrigerant that is out there has got a place and often that place can be determined by an end user’s policy or strategy that will vary massively from one user to the other. There is no one size fits all solution. There is no one solution better than the other.”

The A2Ls for coldrooms Question Time Extra Time will shortly be available as a recording.

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