Thomas Watson has been presented with the Institute of Refrigeration's J & E Hall Gold Medal in recognition of his work to improve the efficiency of chillers and industrial heat pumps.
This included the introduction of large capacity oil-free magnetic bearing compressors, the first centrifugal chiller with zero-ozone depleting potential and the safe application of low GWP flammable refrigerants.
“For anything you do, you depend on your co-workers, your family, supervisors and people that help you. This is not just for me. To be singled out is a tremendous honour and sometimes I don't feel worthy because of all the things people have done before that I have built on."
The 72-year-old started his career in the heating, ventilating, air-conditioning and refrigeration industry 45 years ago. He was a key contributor in the development of dual compressor centrifugal chillers. The benefits of this technology are energy saving and low installation costs. United States patent number 4,248,054 was issued to Mr Watson for the multiple compressor load balancing control used with dual compressor centrifugal chillers.
A major contribution by Mr Watson was the development of the Templifier® industrial heat pump. He was the lead engineer working with the Westinghouse Electric Research and Development Centre on this innovative technology. This product is used to provide high-temperature hot water recovered from numerous sources such as heat normally rejected by cooling towers and condensers for process cooling.
A typical application for the heat pump is in food processing plants which use waste heat from the refrigeration condensers to produce high temperature water for other processes. The high heating COP (Coefficient of Performance) is an economical means to reduce the use of energy from fossil fuels.
Mr Watson was a member of the Project Monitoring Sub-Committee for ASHRAE Research Project 1308-TRP, Identification and Evaluation of Working Fluids for High Temperature Heat Applications (Including Replacements for R-114). He co-authored the paper Technical Problems in the Development of High Temperature Heat Pumps.
He is deeply involved with developing heat pump technology using zero ozone depleting refrigerants that have low direct global warming potential. The working fluids being studied include HFO technology as it applies to larger compression and heat exchangers. Mr Watson was the team leader for the development of the first production non-ozone depleting HFC-134a centrifugal chiller.
A major contribution to R-134a chiller technology was the test and development of pentaerythritol ester lubricants that have excellent oil return characteristics. Mr Watson was the principal author of a 1993 paper Refrigerant-134a Compatibility with Centrifugal Chillers. This documented the major technical issues involved with centrifugal chiller design and application when a refrigerant of a different fundamental chemical structure is used.
He was the leader of the engineering development team for the first R-410A screw compressor chiller in the industry. By using HFC-410A as an alternative to HCFC-22, a non-ozone depleting refrigerant solution was produced 15 years ahead of the Montreal Protocol phase out. This development provided enabling technology to accelerate the introduction of R-410A.
A key feature of this product was high-energy efficiency and a low TEWI (Total Environmental Warming Impact). The chiller development was documented in a 1996 paper A Comparison of R-22 and R-410A in Screw Water Chillers that was presented at the International Symposium on HCFC Alternative Refrigerants in Japan.
Other significant contributions by Mr Watson include being the engineering development team leader for the introduction of water chillers with active magnetic bearing direct-drive variable-speed centrifugal compressor technology. The chiller requires no lubricant which eliminates oil management issues and enables improved heat transfer.
Using the technical knowledge and practical experience gained during the transition away from high ODP CFC and HCFC refrigerants to HFCs, Mr Watson is now heavily involved with the application of the new low GWP HFO and HCFO (hydrochlorofluoroolefin) refrigerants in water chiller and industrial heat pumps.
He is semi-retired and a consultant for Daikin Applied in Virginia. He recently chaired the ASHRAE standards project committee that published the first American National Standard on Legionellosis: Risk Management for Building Water Systems.
He is also chair of the Air-conditioning, Heating and Refrigerating Technology Institute Research and Technology Flammable Refrigerants Sub-Committee. This is conducting research into the safe application of flammable low global warming refrigerants. This international research programme also involves ASHRAE and the US Department of Energy.
Mr Watson’s love of technology stems from being taken to a railway station to see the steam trains every Sunday by his father from the age of two. He says: "Thermodynamics is my favourite subject. It is a job made in heaven for me and it has always been that way.”