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A good time to reassess your refrigeration system

02 March 2020

Robert Unsworth believes that new refrigeration legislation offers an opportunity to energise the food and beverage processing sector. 

Many in the food industry are in the middle of replacing refrigerants that have Global Warming Potential (GWP) of above 2500, which were banned in certain static refrigeration applications under the European Union’s F-Gas legislation that came into force on January 1st 2020.

Reclaimed and re-processed refrigerant can continue to be used for servicing of existing equipment until 2030 but is likely to become very costly and in short supply (as seen already and previously experienced with the phase out of r22). 

Complying with the EU legislation also offers a good opportunity for food manufacturers, processors and cold storage facilities – in fact, any food business – to look at not only replacing their refrigeration systems, but to reassess their entire processes and look for other ways to help reduce emissions, improve energy efficiency and meet sustainability targets.

Investing in heat pumps – which can also feed a district heating system – and combined heat and power (CHP) are two effective and efficient low carbon technologies that are used for heating buildings in order to reduce the operational costs and CO2 emissions. 

The UK Government is pushing heat pumps for industry’s energy needs as they can also benefit district heating, particularly in dense urban areas. It is all about taking energy released as heat from a varied range of sources – including refrigeration – and connecting to energy consumers through a system of highly-insulated pipes underground – such schemes also tick the renewables box. 

Properly planned and equipped refrigeration plants and cold stores can offer potential for not just reducing emissions but making a positive contribution to sustainability in surrounding areas that have district heating – with the incentive of a potential share of the £390million fund made available by the government to help businesses decarbonise.

A profitable solution
A heat pump is a far more eco-friendly and profitable solution than traditional heating alternatives. Industry, local authorities and homeowners have been using them for heating applications for many years – and food factories are now starting to see the significant financial and environmental benefits of using heat pumps in production processes, especially those that require the application of heat during preparation and subsequent chilling.

Food factories generally use steam to cook food products before cooling them down, so it makes perfect sense to extract and repurpose that heat via a heat pump, rather than relying on a boiler. CHP is a highly efficient process that captures and utilises the heat that is a by-product of the electricity generation process. By generating heat and power simultaneously, CHP can reduce carbon emissions by up to 30% compared to the separate means of conventional generation via a boiler and power station. As well as improving environmental performance, existing users of CHP typically save around 20% of their energy costs.

But what about those banned refrigerants? Most cooling systems using greenhouse gases have to be replaced with those that can handle natural refrigerants, such as ammonia – an environmentally-friendly refrigerant that has no impact on global warming or ozone depletion – to comply with the legislation, which will continue to apply in the UK after Brexit. 

GEA has already installed a large ammonia-based refrigeration system for a major food manufacturer and retailer incorporating mechanical and absorption cooling, helping to deliver one of the most energy-efficient frozen food distribution centres in Europe. 

Usually in a food storage environment up to 90% of energy use is for refrigeration; while this operation has a cooling capacity equivalent to 12,000 domestic chest freezers, the facility only consumes less than a third of the power used by the two cold stores it is replacing when comparing size. What’s more, water and chemical consumption has been reduced by 86% with the annual water saving equivalent to 11 Olympic sized swimming pools.  

Food processors have nothing to lose and everything to gain from adopting advanced refrigeration technologies to further reduce running costs and CO2 emissions – and ultimately to help reach their sustainability targets.

Robert Unsworth is technical sales director at GEA.


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