Ammonia, known in the industry as R717, makes up by far the largest portion of natural refrigerants in the Australian bank.
The main applications where ammonia systems are found include cold storage facilities (typically 5,000 to 1,000,000 m3), large chilling, blast freezing and ice making systems in the primary and secondary stages of the cold food chain, and some chemical processes and mining air conditioning applications.
According to Cold Hard Facts 3 there is an estimated 14.8 to 15.1 million m3 of cold storage space operating on ammonia systems. Assuming a benchmark obtained from industry sources of 29 kg per 1,000 m3 of storage space, this equates to around 430 to 450 tonnes of ammonia in cold stores.
Other applications where large charges of ammonia systems can be found in single installations are in high volume blast freezing applications that are extremely energy intensive, requiring snap freezing of large masses of perishable goods such as in meat processing, poultry processing and other primary and secondary processes in the refrigerated cold food chain (i.e. vegetables, dairy, beverages, frozen foods).
Some individual meat processing facilities are known to contain up to 150 tonnes of ammonia, the report said.
The bank is estimated to have only grown by around 100 tonnes per annum.
“Although this is considerably less than the annual volumes reported as sold, market intelligence suggests that a significant proportion of ammonia sold in the past few years is going into new systems installed at existing enterprises, replacing old ammonia systems,” the report said. “What is more, the new systems have smaller refrigerant charges than the systems being replaced, contributing in part to the relatively slow growth of the bank, even while the service providers in this segment are reported to be operating at full capacity.
“The new ‘packaged’ designs are characterised by smaller ammonia charges, reduced piping, ease of maintenance and installation, and safer start-up routines, all of which help make low-charge ammonia packaged units appealing to end users and technicians.”
Compared to the conventional older large charge ammonia designs, the modern, small charge ammonia plants are proving to be readily adaptable to a large range of applications and site layouts, with a high degree of mobility, the report said.
Most importantly from a business perspective, the annual energy consumption of the new ammonia systems can be as little as one third of the older HFC/HCFC based systems.
The capital cost of the new systems is also substantially lower than traditional designs with the smaller ammonia plants now able to compete head-to-head with 100 kWr HFC-based systems, the report said.
Combined with the strong energy saving returns, small charge packaged ammonia systems –whether new plant or retrofitted – are able to pay for themselves within 3 to 6 years based on energy savings alone, the report found.
From a business planning perspective ammonia is also an attractive option because ammonia charged systems are essentially future proofed against the effect of HFC restrictions.
In this particular segment of the industry it is generally acknowledged that the technicians available to handle ammonia refrigerant systems are operating at capacity.
“While the relative simplicity and safety of new ammonia designs does make it easier to train technicians, the trend to more compact, cheaper and safer systems also means that this market could experience rapidly rising demand in capacities below 50 kW, opening up a much wider range of applications along the cold food chain," the CHF3 Report said.
"If this trend meets with a limited supply of qualified technicians, then industry constraints could limit an important opportunity for segments of the cold food chain to move away from the use of HFCs in the decade ahead. The recent opening of a privately funded dedicated ammonia refrigeration training facility in Sydney is an important step towards overcoming the skills bottleneck."