Can NH3 compete with HFCs in small to medium capacities?

By Janet Thompson, Mar 19, 2013, 15:28 3 minute reading

A technical paper presented at the 2013 Industrial Refrigeration Conference & Exhibition taking place from 17-20 March in Colorado Springs, made a “practical and real life” comparison between four existing ammonia plants with capacities between 20 and 40kW/TR and its four HFCs equivalents. The presentation showed that ammonia in these small to medium size applications can outperform the HFC plants by saving energy, with the ammonia plants generating a payback period between 3.7 a

With more than 1,200 attendees and 130 exhibitors, the IIAR annual conference and exhibition has proven once again to be the biggest event for industrial refrigeration in the US. Besides 8 workshops, 2 panels and 8 technomercials, the conference participants also had the opportunity to choose from 8 technical paper presentations during the event.

One of the first of these presentations asked whether ammonia can compete with HFC systems in small and medium size capacities. Stefan Jensen, Managing Director of Australian-based engineering company Scantec presented a “real life” comparison focusing on the energy performance and implied costs by comparing four ammonia systems running in Australia to four comparable HFC404A plants.

“Ammonia in traditional HFC territory: How does it compete?”

The real life comparisons Jensen presented in “Ammonia in traditional HFC territory: How does it compete?” are based on four dual stage ammonia refrigeration systems with capacities between 20 and 40kW/TR in different geographical locations in Australia ranging from temperate to subtropical environments.

Jensen initially pointed out that Australia faces a special situation as the Australian government introduced a carbon equivalent price that is imposed on imports of HFCs, therefore increasing their cost by more than 300%.

However, in the course of his presentation he demonstrated that for the four plants used in his comparison, it is not the levy that makes a decisive difference when comparing the ammonia to the HFC plants. Rather, the superior performance of the ammonia plants can be attributed to the significant energy cost savings.

Main results

The overarching trends that can be extracted from Jensen’s detailed paper, are the following:

  • Differential capital costs between the NH3 and the HFC system vary between +499 and 264 [AUS$/1000] showing that the initial cost for an ammonia plant exceeds the cost of an HFC plant.*
  • The approximate value of the measured energy consumption cost reductions associated with NH3 are between -50 and -92, [AUS$/1000], showing that energy savings associated with NH3 per year are significant compared to the HFCs plants.
  • The pay-back period for the differential capital cost of the NH3 system based on energy consumption cost reductions is calculated to range from only between 3.7 and 6.5 years for the 4 different systems.

*The unit electricity cost used is AUS$150/MWh

Challenges for greater implementation of ammonia systems

Concluding that NH3 does compare in HFC territory “quite well” due to great energy savings, Jensen also gave his insights with regards to why NH3 systems are not more common in this capacity range:

  • Lack of focus on energy costs
  • Prominence of HFCs in this market segment
  • Proliferation of “standard” HFC solutions
  • Natural refrigerant skills shortage
  • Lack of unbiased information for end-users
  • Government red tape
  • Inconsistent government regulations
  • Psychological barriers including fear and resistance to change

Advantages of ammonia

He also gave an idea of what the increased use of NH3 in market segments previously reserved for HFCs can do for legislators, plant end-users and society in general:

  • Reduce emissions of HFCs from refrigerant leaks
  • Reduce indirect emissions caused by electricity generation
  • Ensure immunity against environmental levies
  • Deliver superior cycle efficiencies
  • Deliver low cost, low risk measures to address global warming problems
  • Conserve resources such as fluorspar and bromine

Background Australian “HFC tax”

Starting 1 July 2012, a carbon equivalent price on imports of HFCs came into effect in Australia, increasing the price of refrigerants with high GWP by more than three times. Whilst the price shock will require the industry to adapt to the new pricing it is predicted to accelerate the shift to alternatives and lead to growth in the HVACR.

For 2012 – 2013, the levy translates to AUS$ 29,90 for 1kg of R134a and AUS$ 74,99 for 1kg of R404A.


By Janet Thompson

Mar 19, 2013, 15:28

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