Next Generation Chillers and Refrigerants


24 August 2015
Jeff Moe, Trane - ACR Journal
Jeff Moe, Trane
Will Hawkins interviews Trane’s Jeff Moe about their new chillers and the impact of new refrigerants.

Tell us about the next generation low GWP high efficiency refrigerant solutions for chillers, which is obviously the backbone of the products you have released in the past year.

We find that sustainability is driven through legislation, especially in Europe; it is also a specific request of our customers. As a result, last year Ingersoll Rand introduced its unique climate commitment, which consists of three different elements:

  1. To reduce the climate-change impact of our product portfolio by 50% by 2020 via the introduction of new products containing next generation low GWP refrigerants and ones that are raising the bar on energy efficiency.
  2. To invest $500m USD in this area by 2020 and to take a lead in the policy environment, as our belief is that the policy environment should incentivise and accelerate the use of these more sustainable technologies.
  3. To reduce by 35% the greenhouse gas produced by our own internal facilities and our own automotive fleet by 2020.
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People often perceive Low GWP refrigerants as less efficient than the refrigerants they are replacing. Is that the case with the refrigerants in your new chillers?

That perception is true in some cases, but not true in others. One of the other actions we took as art of our climate commitment was the creation of an EcoWise portfolio. It endorses those products of ours that are delivering both lower environmental impact and higher energy-efficiency.

The first two Trane products that came out under the EcoWise portfolio are examples of this.

The first product we introduced last year - the ECTV product - is an example of where we were able to move to a near-zero GWP - the latest studies give it a GWP of 1.

It is also non-flammable and non-toxic, and maintains the same industry-leading proprietary efficiency levels that we had in our prior products. The second new EcoWise product – the R513a refrigerant - is an HFO/HFC blend, which will deliver 60% reduction in GWP.

It also includes some new advanced heat exchanger technology that can give up to 40% reduction in refrigerant charge versus prior traditional designs. Couple those two, and they give nearly a 75% reduction in the direct GWP-related impact by achieving similar efficiencies to 134a.

There is a lot of discussion about CO2. In low temperature refrigeration CO2 is not a bad refrigerant. But, when you are using CO2 in air conditioning applications, working within and past the critical temperature of CO2 the efficiency drops off significantly as the refrigerant temperature goes up. We would see significant loss of efficiency in use of CO2 in that way.

When will you launch the new air-cooled chillers using low-GWP refrigerants?

Trane Sintesis Chiller
Trane Sintesis Chiller
The ECTV centrifugal chiller is shipping now – the first shipment in Europe was at the end of last year. The Sintesis EcoWise product - our air-cooled screw chiller – the first phase of that was the third quarter of last year. The new refrigerant has just recently become available and is ready for shipment now. The second phase - the larger size units - will be ready for shipment in a month or two.

You’ve mentioned working with Honeywell and Dupont - Solstice D refrigerant in the centre of that chiller, it has a very low GWP – is that in the range of products you mentioned of low environmental impact but maintaining energy efficiency?

Very much so, yes. The significant elements of the fluid need to be:

  • low GWP
  • non-ozone depleting (in Europe)
  • able to maintain or enhance energy efficiency
  • able to maintain or enhance safety in use of the product
  • minimal emissions during the use of the product

For the first two of these new products the 1233ZD in the centrifugal chiller and the R513a in our screw chiller both of those are non-flammable and non-toxic, so we are able to cover all of the above factors.

How does the capacity of the chiller affect the refrigerant you can use in it?

Firstly, specifiers select the refrigerant based on the compressor technology more than on the capacity of the chiller.

There is a correlation there too, as the scroll compressors would start at smaller capacities. Then they would go up and there would be some overlap when moving into the screw chillers. After that, it is into largest size capacities. A centrifugal chiller allows for low-pressure fluids; screw and scroll compressors are going to go to the higher pressures.

Within compressor technology the capacity of the chiller can be impacted by the pressure, e.g. when we introduced the new ECTV product, the 1233ZD fluid we used was not quite as low pressure as the prior fluid we used outside of Europe (123).

Therefore, the little bit higher pressure means that we can deliver slightly larger sized units than before, up to 14 MW.

You’ve also announced recently a range of new small capacity chillers – where do you see them being applied, what can people expect in terms of performance and environmental impact.

Those units are approx. from 17 up to 45 KW capacity in size. Today those units are only available with R410a. We are exploring alternative options over the next few years. Some new next generation fluids will be available earlier than others will - 1233ZD and R513a are available now.

When we look at the R410a alternatives, there is no perfect HFO replacement for 410a. We have one that we think may have the best opportunity but we cannot say yet what that is at this stage.

In what type of applications and processes can you use them?

The smaller chillers can fit quite well in smaller retail applications, e.g. within the wine industry.

Do you see the issue of flammability as a problem with Trane’s new chillers?

The answer is: that depends. For the first two new refrigerant launches, flammability is not an issue because they are non-flammable and non-toxic.

In the portfolio for the 5-year outlook period – yes, some choices include the use of mildly flammable refrigerants. Is that a concern for us? Absolutely.

Is it a concern that we believe we can get past and maintain safety? We certainly believe we can and will do that. Within the flammability categories, you have the new “2L” which is a subset of flammability category 2. In the past, it was just 1, 2 and 3 and today it is 1, 2L, 2 and 3 - with 2L being mildly flammable.

That is the category we are looking in. Within that category, we see a diversity. On the lower level end we see 1234 ZE or a 1234yf (the latter being what is looking to be the primary replacement for 134a in automotive air conditioning), for both of those we can much more readily see ways to use them safely in application.

It is the higher end of the mildly flammable area that raises a different level of concern and increases the challenges of maintaining safety in application in larger charge systems.

I imagine you would need a new whole range of infrastructure.

Absolutely. That is why certain refrigerants have come out earlier than others. Our replacement for R123 (which is still very appropriate outside Europe), is 1233ZD.

That product can be introduced with minimal changes in the install, as the industry knows how to deal with low-pressure fluids. Similarly, the 134a alternative in our Sintesis EcoWise product is 513a, whose pressures are very similar to 134a.

The glide on that blend is almost zero, it acts more like a 410a; if you have some leak in the product, you can fill it up with 513a without the need to worry about the separation of components or glide.

When you take mildly flammable fluids with minimal flame propagation, then the lift is not so large. If you are switching to something that is extremely different in pressures for a small servicer this is a capital investment they have to make. It is a change they have to implement. The training element is also significant part of the transition – training the staff so they know how to deal with the new gauges and troubleshoot.

You have seen growth in Europe – how has the actual interest in your new product been for you,specifically in the UK?

We are pleased with how our customers are reacting. We have certainly seen growth well beyond the market growth. Moreover, we have been pleased with what we have seen in that respect in the middle of last year and in the first quarter of this year.

In conclusion, in the past few decades our focus on alternative refrigerants was on delivering the right refrigerant product at the right time. That was when we had transitions where, for each refrigerant in different product types, there was a single solution. This current transition is different, as there is no singular identified solution. We are now moving to expand on our portfolio of alternative choices to offer our customers.