‘The Kitchen of the World’ Grapples with Refrigeration Challenges

Thailand’s robust food sector is trying to keep up with regulatory changes impacting refrigeration, explains the President of the Thai Refrigeration Association.

Rice terrace field in Chiang Mai, Thailand.

Long promoted as “the kitchen of the world,” Thailand produced over 2.4 million tons of chicken and over 200,000 tons of shrimp in 2016, “making it one of the top five countries globally for both chicken and shrimp exports,” according to a 2018 report from the Thailand Board of Investment.

The food industry in Thailand continues to grow today due to the country’s geographical location, its skilled workforce and its year-round growing season.

Yet to keep pace with this growth, Thailand’s refrigeration industry faces daunting challenges in the next few years as it deals with increasing environmental regulatory pressures and the need to transition to low-GWP technology.

To better understand the changes Thailand is experiencing, Accelerate Magazine recently spoke with Komsan Sripavatakul, President of the Thai Refrigeration Association (TRA). Established in 1992, TRA strives to be “the embodiment of professional refrigeration engineering in order to support engineering knowledge, regulation and business opportunities for its members,” said Sripavatakul.

// Accelerate Magazine: In your view, what is the current state of the industrial (food processing, cold storage, etc.) and commercial refrigeration (food retail) sectors in Thailand?

Komsan Sripavatakul: The industrial refrigeration industry in Thailand has seen a steady growth over the past few years. It is mainly driven by frozen food exporters setting up new processing facilities, especially in the poultry industry. The domestic demand for frozen foods, ready meals and ice cream, is also growing.

We don’t think there will be any significant change in this industrial refrigeration segment in the next five years. The only concerns for the owners are electricity costs and new regulations that may come out in the future.

However, there are ice-making plants that use ammonia located in every province that need redevelopment. [The owners of] these plants really don’t know much about new trends for refrigerants, technology or regulations.

The supermarket and convenience store segments are quite saturated. Almost no new stores are being built. They only renovate and are still using the same type of refrigerant (R404A).

// Accelerate Magazine: What is the approximate breakdown of refrigerants used in the cold storage and commercial food retail sectors in Thailand?

Komsan Sripavatakul: Around 80% of the large cold storage facilities are using ammonia pumped systems in Thailand. However, some old cold storage facilities are still running on R22. There are also a small number of new CO2 installations (cascade systems and brine).

Small-sized cold rooms – 12,000m3 (424,000 ft3) or smaller – generally use R404A or R507A direct expansion systems.

In the commercial food retail sector, the approximate breakdown of refrigerants used is 70% HFC,10% HFO and 20% other.

// Accelerate Magazine: In your view, what is the biggest challenge that Thailand’s refrigeration industry faces today?

Komsan Sripavatakul: The biggest challenge for Thailand’s refrigeration industry is the regulation to change refrigerants from HCFCs and HFCs to low-GWP refrigerants. According to the Kigali Amendment, the next refrigerants have to be low-GWP. In this phase, there is a plan of limited and reduced usage of HFCs. Currently, there are no specific regulations regarding this.

However, we do have regulations that control the use of ammonia. New plants designed to use ammonia have to be in zoned areas that are quite far from residential areas, no matter how much ammonia charge is used. Existing ammonia plants can go on with their activity, but they need to implement more safety measures and they have to renew their licenses every few years from the Ministry of Industry.

// Accelerate Magazine: Are there any recent industrial or commercial refrigeration projects using natural refrigerants that you can highlight?

Komsan Sripavatakul: There are many ongoing and recent industrial projects using ammonia in Thailand and a few using CO2 (cascade R404A and CO2). Mostly, they are the cold storage rooms for food processing plants and ice making machines that use ammonia.

Regarding commercial food retail, I know that there is only one hypermarket using natural refrigerants but it is just for their market. There are no plans for others so far.

// Accelerate Magazine: What has been the main focus for the Thai Refrigeration Association? What are the biggest initiatives you are pursuing in 2020?

Komsan Sripavatakul: Over the last four years, we have engaged more with our members in order to understand global refrigerant trends as well as new regulations for the refrigeration industry. We have also supported our members regarding new technologies and how to reduce the consumption of electricity.

Going forward, as Thailand represents the biggest refrigeration industry in Southeast Asia, our goal is related to our vision of “enhancing the Thai Refrigeration Industry to be the leader in ASEAN [Association of Southeast Asia Nations].”

In order to help TRA members exchange technical knowledge and business opportunities, we are planning to participate in all related global associations and organizations. For example, since 2017, TRA has been a member of the Air Conditioning and Refrigeration European Association (AREA) as an international observer. In addition, we have recently started discussions and are seeking cooperation with related associations in ASEAN countries such as the Philippines and Malaysia.

By Devin Yoshimoto

Feb 26, 2020, 10:25

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