Robert Ellison, Vice President of Operations at General Refrigeration, presenting at ATMO America 2024.
Robert Ellison, Vice President of Operations at General Refrigeration, presenting at ATMO America 2024.

ATMO America: General Refrigeration Installs Ammonia-Based HVAC System at Its Office in Delaware

Modeling showed the new ammonia-based system to be 23% more efficient than a system using R404A.

General Refrigeration, a U.S.-based industrial refrigeration contractor, has installed an ammonia (R717)-based HVAC system at its office in Delmar, Delaware.

The installation of the ammonia-based HVAC system in the 16,850ft² (1,565m2) two-story offices was initially planned for October 2020 but encountered delays due to the pandemic and supply chain challenges, explained Robert Ellison, Vice President of Operations at General Refrigeration.

“Given our expertise with ammonia, it was a no-brainer to use it for our cooling needs,” Ellison stated, emphasizing that a “traditional” refrigerant such as R404A would have consumed approximately 23% more power under the same design conditions. The system, modeled using SolidWorks, features components designed for operational and training purposes.

Ellison presented General Refrigeration’s office HVAC system, along with the broader potential for ammonia in HVAC applications, during a presentation at the ATMOsphere (ATMO) America Summit 2024. The conference took place June 10–11 in Washington, D.C., and was organized by ATMOsphere, publisher of Naturalrefrigerants.com.

Components and design

The ammonia HVAC system includes a 140.6kW (40TR) chiller designed to produce 50°F (10°C) chilled water for an air-to-water heat exchanger without glycol. The system features two 100% duty compressors with 40HP VFD motors, two 100% duty plate and frame heat exchangers, and an adiabatic condenser mounted above the chiller room for better heat dissipation and natural airflow.

Ellison explained that the outdoor ground installation of the system isolates the refrigerant outside of the conditioned space, allowing for easier access and maintenance. The system is low-charge and uses approximately 300lbs (136kg) of charge and includes safety relief, detection and ventilation systems in accordance with IIAR standards. Ammonia, being lighter than air, pairs well with a ventilation system to avoid asphyxiation risks, and Ellison highlighted the safety steps General Refrigeration has taken since installing its new HVAC system.

“We have a PSM [process safety management] program in place not just to comply with regulations but to ensure the safety of our staff and effectiveness of our systems,” he said.

Ellison said the system is designed for reliability and long-term operation, featuring low noise levels and robust package construction.

“We designed the system so that it can be easily accessed for maintenance and training, which is crucial for our operations,” Ellison said. The facility’s design also includes a central control system that is accessible remotely and facilitates real-time monitoring and training sessions.

Additional opportunities

During his presentation, Ellison acknowledged that while some may be hesitant about ammonia HVAC systems due to the perceived risks, the company’s successful implementation is a testament to its safety and efficacy. “We believe there is a huge market for ammonia in HVAC applications, and our project proves it can be done safely and effectively,” he said.

At the end of the presentation, the discussion also touched on the potential for ammonia use beyond industrial settings. While applications in residential complexes may be limited, Ellison sees significant opportunities in food manufacturing and other sectors requiring efficient cooling solutions. “We’ve seen great success in using ammonia for comfort cooling in food manufacturing facilities,” he noted.

“We believe there is a huge market for ammonia in HVAC applications, and our project proves it can be done safely and effectively.”

Robert Ellison, Vice President of Operations at General Refrigeration

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