Supermarkets Sold on Ammonia as a Refrigerant

Richard Heath, a senior manager for the Supervalu/Albertsons line of grocery stores, says his company’s ammonia-based refrigeration system is “operating like a champ.”

The ammonia refrigeration system was one of the first to be installed in the United States. The grocery chain has implemented the technology in one of its stores in Caprinteria, California, Heaths says in an article in Supermarket News. “For anyone who’s concerned about ammonia, many of the hurdles we were afraid of turned out not to be hurdles at all,” he adds.

Ammonia, like other natural refrigerants (propane, carbon dioxide, and other gases), have little or no effect on global warming or the ozone, according to the Supermarket News article. Because of their “gentle touch” on the environment, they are being looked at as replacements for R-22 and HFCs – each known to have a negative impact on the ozone layer and global warming – for use in chiller tubesair conditioner coils and cooling towers.

As we mention in our Ammonia As a Refrigerant: Pros and Cons – Follow Up post, ammonia is on the rise as a refrigeration choice not only because it’s safer for the environment, but it’s more energy efficient than other traditional refrigerants. Because it absorbs large amounts of heat during evaporation, it can pass through smaller pipes, but maintain the same amount of refrigeration capability as other refrigerants.

It’s thermal capacity enables it to use less energy than other refrigerants, particularly when used in industrial applications, like grocer refrigeration systems. This is a good thing since supermarkets are high energy users. In fact, more than half of their energy usage is attributed to refrigeration, according to Supermarket News.

Ammonia and other natural refrigerant-based systems are plausible for supermarkets from a cost and implementation analysis, but some challenges still remain, according to another Supermarket News article. In this article, Heath says, “For new stores, there’s no reason not to be all natural.” However, he adds that affordability may be an issue for stores that are being remodeled.

“Supermarket owners that look to apply ammonia should be confident in the fact that a properly implemented system can be extremely safe and efficient. Beyond this, there are no deterring code restrictions preventing its use in the majority of the United States,” says Caleb Nelson of CTA Architects. “Designers should also be reassured by the fact that utilizing ammonia commercially doesn’t require the reinvention of the wheel. Ammonia systems have been used around the world for many years in various types of industries and applications – and more recently – in supermarkets.”

With the success of ammonia-based systems thus far, it makes sense for supermarkets to take a further look at the new technology. Because grocers are being encouraged to make the switch to more natural refrigerants, they are going to have to choose to switch to a natural gas-based system at some point.

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