Ammonia As a Refrigerant: Pros and Cons – Follow Up

(Editor’s note: The Just Venting blogging team identified the top three Just Venting blog posts since launching in 2008. The next three posts will be a follow up to each.)

It’s no surprise one of the blog’s most popular posts is Ammonia As a Refrigerant: Pros and Cons.

In a 2010 newsletter published by Alfa Laval, a heat transfer, separation and fluid handling technology company, Dr. Risto Ciconkov claims ammonia is on the rise as an energy efficient refrigeration choice.

Ciconkov is an expert on ammonia refrigeration technology from the University of Skopje in Macedonia. He explains that the ongoing challenge is to create environmentally safer products without affecting quality or operation efficiency.

Ammonia as a refrigerant isn’t a new concept. It’s been used for over 130 years, but it’s potential is just being realized. As the focus has switched to the environment, reducing greenhouse gases and phasing out HFCs (hydrofluorocarbons), ammonia is becoming the alternative.

In our blog post, Innovative Energy Solutions: Ammonia as a Refrigerant, Cogeneration, Concentrating Solar Power, we discuss ammonia’s growing popularity, particularly in large industrial applications. Most industrial food and beverage facilities use ammonia as a refrigerant, but it’s also starting to appear in refrigeration systems in hospitals, universities and other commercial buildings, Ciconkov says.

According to Professor William F. Stoecker, an expert on industrial refrigeration, the benefits of ammonia over freon are that it’s cheaper and more energy efficient, it tolerates water contamination better than other refrigerants and it absorbs large amounts of heat during evaporation. Absorbing larger amounts of heat per volume allows it to pass through smaller pipes and components, but it still offers the same amount of refrigeration.

The International Institute of Ammonia Refrigeration (IIAR) explains “ammonia is among the most abundant gases in the environment.” Ammonia used in refrigeration is 99.98% pure and it doesn’t contain water or other impurities. The institute claims ammonia has an “ozone depletion potential (ODP) of zero and a global warming potential (GWP) of zero.” Ammonia’s thermal properties mean it uses less energy than other refrigerant options in large industrial applications.

Ammonia’s one disadvantage is its toxicity, but the IIAR reports the refrigerant has a well-established safety record. And it’s easily detected by its odor. Compliance with industry standards and properly training industry professionals minimizes its risk. The concern of toxicity is lessened by developing new technology. Reducing the refrigerant charge via heat exchangers and compressors reduces leakages and improves system operation. Next week, we will share with you another top post in the “Top Three Just Venting Blog Posts” series.

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