Innovative Energy Solutions: Ammonia as a Refrigerant, Cogeneration, Concentrating Solar Power

Every building needs an HVAC system. Whether you’re heating, cooling, or ventilating, you need a system that will work efficiently and also save you money.

But different facilities require different systems. As technology develops, and green buildings become the norm rather than the exception, there are some innovative energy technologies you might want to consider to meet your HVAC needs.

Ammonia as a Refrigerant

Ammonia as a refrigerant is growing in popularity in large industrial applications, according to A. Bruce Badger, president of the International Institute of Ammonia Refrigeration (IIAR).

Ammonia is a natural refrigerant that doesn’t deplete the ozone nor does it contribute to global warming, Badger says. Applications for ammonia as a refrigeration include large food and beverage processing companies, cold storage warehouses, district cooling, the pharmaceutical industry, as well as ice rinks.

Ammonia used without water (anhydrous) is used in industrial applications because of its environmental advantages; it’s also very energy efficient and offers a fast return on investment, according to IIAR. Most of the food consumed in North America, including meat, dairy, fish, frozen food, fresh fruits and vegetables, as well as beverages are stored or processed in facilities that use ammonia as a refrigerant, Badger says.

“The risks associated with using ammonia as a refrigerant are no greater than the risks associated with other common refrigerants,” Badger says in the article. “The primary difference is that ammonia has a pungent odor that serves as a very effective safety alarm.”

However, only qualified technicians should handle ammonia refrigerants, because working on an ammonia refrigeration system is different than working on other refrigeration systems, he says. For example, while copper tubing is commonly used in smaller HVAC systems, it should never be used in an ammonia refrigeration system. (Editors Note: Check out our popular post on this topic: “Ammonia As a Refrigerant: Pros and Cons“).


Large facilities can also become more energy efficient using cogeneration, which is a process that allows a system to produce both heat and power.

Cogeneration, also known as combined heat and power (CHP), is one of the most effective approaches to energy conservation because it produces two types of energy at once – electric power and thermal energy.

The heat that would otherwise be vented into the atmosphere is recovered and then used wherever it’s needed. A facility can generate electricity onsite and then use the heat that would be lost from that process to create steam. So, rather than pay twice for electricity and heat, you just pay to generate the electricity.

Separate heat and power systems are often only 33% efficient because up to 67% of the fuel energy is wasted in unused heat. Even the most efficient power plants are only about 60% energy efficient. But CHP systems can achieve efficiencies of 80% or higher, while they also save on electricity line losses – the electricity that’s lost being delivered to a distant location.

The perfect time to consider installing a cogen system is during a major plant renovation.

Concentrating Solar Power

Some experts say that concentrating solar power (CSP) technology is the only renewable resource that can harness the sun to produce “reliable, cost-effective, and dispatchable electricity.”

CSP uses mirrors to focus concentrated beams of sunlight onto an area where the heat converts a liquid to steam that can be used to power a turbine that generates electricity. Additionally, some of that energy produced by the heat can be stored in tanks of oil or molten salt and used later to generate power after the sun sets.

Today, the US has more than 500 megawatts (MW) of CSP power generation, with another 1,300-plus MW in the development pipeline. And worldwide, CSP plants produce more than 1 gigawatt of energy. With sufficient investment and the right government policies, more than 10% of the world’s electricity demand could be met by CSP by 2050, according to a study by the International Energy Agency.

So if you’re thinking of replacing your old HVAC system, check out these innovative alternatives — they’ll help you save energy and money.

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