Greg Clements, GEA Australia, at the ARBS trade show in Sydney.
Greg Clements, GEA Australia, at the ARBS trade show in Sydney.

Australia’s Industrial HVAC&R Sector Shifting to Low-Charge Ammonia Systems, Says GEA

R717 is the most efficient refrigerant in this sector, the manufacturer told NaturalRefrigerants.com in an exclusive interview at ARBS 2024.

Australia’s industrial HVAC&R sector is shifting to a new generation of ammonia (R717) technologies that have lower charge, higher efficiency and better safety, according to Greg Clements, Head of Sales – Compression, at GEA in Australia.

Clements explained to Jan Dusek, Co-Founder and COO of ATMOsphere, in an exclusive interview at the Air Conditioning Refrigeration and Building Services (ARBS) trade show in Sydney, held May 28–30. ATMOsphere is the publisher of NaturalRefrigerants.com.

In the interview, Clements also shared an update on GEA’s operations in Australia and discussed the country’s growing interest in heat pumps.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Can you give us an update on GEA’s business in Australia over the last few years?

Greg Clements: Like with everybody, the pandemic was difficult. But there have been so many lessons learned, including how to do business differently. In some ways I would say we now do business smarter and more cost effectively than prior to the pandemic.

Industrial refrigeration actually boomed throughout the pandemic, which was interesting. At the end of the day, people have got to eat, and for people to eat, the food has got to be kept refrigerated. I think this trend will continue as Australia’s population grows, particularly in cities. While the Australian market is generally considered mature, there are still growth opportunities in some sectors. More people equals more food.

How would you describe your current business, and which areas are you seeing growth in?

G.C.: Our business in Australia is made up of three core products: screw compressors, reciprocating compressors and chillers – all ammonia, although high-pressure applications may include CO2 [R744]. We see the market is moving from traditional liquid overfeed to new-generation systems with lower charge, higher efficiency and better safety.

Low-charge ammonia systems are becoming more mainstream, and from that our reciprocating compressor technology, which is well suited to low-charge systems, is growing. Specifically, the part-load technology with piston compressors. And then when you couple it with variable-speed technology, you get all the benefits from reduced energy consumption. If you look at what’s happened in the last two to three years, low-charge ammonia is at the forefront, no question.

If you look at what’s happened in the last two to three years, low-charge ammonia is at the forefront, no question.

Greg Clements, GEA Australia

We’ve heard recently that low-charge ammonia is gaining steam in Australia. Is that the extent of things on the ammonia front, or is there more going on?

G.C.: Our critically-charged chillers are also making ground. These plug-and-play units include a compressor, drive motor, oil separators, switchboard, evaporator and condenser. You just drop it onsite – be that indoor or outdoor – connect up the hydraulics and power, and away it goes. Depending on the application, you have ammonia refrigerant in the unit and then you pump chilled glycol or water out around the rest of the site’s system.

With this approach, you’re not pumping tons of refrigerant around the site, the system’s refrigerant charge might be as low as 50kg [110lbs], all of which is contained in the machine room. There is no excess refrigerant in the system. It’s always being used. All those issues with liquid overfeed systems are gone.

GEA is also expanding its product portfolio in Australia with the introduction of heat pumps. How do you see this market changing?

G.C.: Compared to Europe, the heat pump market in Australia is less advanced for a variety of reasons. That said, data I’ve gathered over the last six years shows that interest in heat pumps here has increased extensively. The groups of stakeholders showing interest have also changed significantly since 2018. Before it was basically just contractors, but now it’s also consultants and end users.

We’ve already got a number of heat pump projects in the market, including a soft drink manufacturer, an abattoir and a chocolate manufacturer, demonstrating the versatility of our technology.

GEA has a massive development program for its heat pumps to offer more variety in terms of temperature and application. For example, the RedGenium heat pump has limitations on how low it can go on the cooling side and how high it can go on the heating side. There’s a lot of work going on to open up the temperature-pressure difference so that it can be applied to a wider variety of applications.

In terms of temperature capabilities, with a RedGenium and its 63bar [913psi] Grasso V XHP compressor, we can go up to 95°C [203°F] on the heat side.

In Australia, we’re currently offering the same lineup as in Europe. Moving forward, the focus is on refinement rather than expansion.

Are HFCs still competing in larger HVAC&R projects in Australia?

G.C.: I think HFCs are unfortunately still relatively present in the commercial sector, with a lot of work still to be done there. In the industrial sector, however, there is not as much work to be done.

Across the board, everything GEA does is natural refrigerants, with the natural refrigerant depending on the application.

For example, for lower-capacity projects, transcritical CO2 is definitely competitive. However, once you get up over a particular capacity threshold, there is no competitor to ammonia. If you look at its heat transfer capabilities per kilogram of refrigerant, there is no competition to ammonia.

Across the board, everything GEA does is natural refrigerants, with the natural refrigerant depending on the application.

Greg Clements, GEA Australia

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