Halton Hills’ two sports arenas now use ammonia for both their refrigeration and heating systems. (Source: Halton Hills)
Halton Hills’ two sports arenas now use ammonia for both their refrigeration and heating systems. (Source: Halton Hills)

CIMCO’s Ammonia Heat Pumps in Ice Arenas to Help Canadian Town Meet 2030 Net-Zero Target

The installation of the systems at two sports complexes in Halton Hills, Ontario, will cut costs and emissions.

Toronto-based HVAC&R contractor CIMCO Refrigeration will install low-charge ammonia/NH3 (R717) heat pump units at two ice rink arenas in Halton Hills, Ontario, a suburb of Toronto, in an effort to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and operational costs and achieve the town’s ambitious 2030 net-zero goal.

This was outlined in a recent statement from CIMCO. The heat pumps will be installed around the end of April 2023.

The Mold-Masters SportsPlex Arena and Acton Arena and Community Centre will each have a new 305kW (86.7TR) capacity heat pump that integrates with the sites’ existing ammonia-based refrigeration systems. They will reduce energy consumption by a total of 300,000kWh each year, compared to an HFC alternative, according to CIMCO.

Choosing ammonia over a high-GWP refrigerant like R134a will also save an additional 6 metric tons of CO2e annually. This amounts to around 336 metric tons of CO2e over the lifetime of the system, explained the contractor.

The installation came about following the town’s adoption of a 2030 net-zero strategy in 2019, becoming the first Canadian community to do so. Since then, Halton Hills has “committed to taking concrete actions to achieve its ambitious target,” said CIMCO.

“After considering the existing equipment and goals of the municipality, a low-charge ammonia heat pump package was identified as the perfect solution to maximize emission reductions,” it added.

“After considering the existing equipment and goals of the municipality, a low-charge ammonia heat pump package was identified as the perfect solution to maximize emission reductions.”


Last year, CIMCO committed to manufacturing recreational ice rink refrigeration packages using only natural refrigerants like ammonia and CO2 (R744).

Single source

Prior to CIMCO’s installation, both sports complexes in Halton Hills used two independent ammonia refrigeration systems to maintain each site’s four ice rinks. Natural gas was used for space heating and hot water production.

“By utilizing a heat pump to collect waste heat from the ammonia refrigeration system, the system will provide both refrigeration and heating from a single source,” explained CIMCO. In turn, this will reduce the arenas’ greenhouse gas emissions and utility costs, it added.

Each low-charge ammonia heat pump system will include around 14–23kg (30–50lbs) of ammonia, depending on the final piping lengths, which the contractor believes will be relatively short.

To ensure higher levels of efficiency and capacity control, the heat pumps’ compressors include variable frequency drives.

According to CIMCO’s statement, ammonia was not the first choice for the project; initial plans called for R134a. However, analysis showed that the ammonia system would have double the efficiency of the HFC alternative.

Not only would ammonia reduce energy consumption, but it would also simplify the operation and maintenance of each site’s HVAC&R systems, increasing savings further.

“Ammonia really was the perfect fit for this project because both arenas already had the required B-Class operators on site to look after the ammonia refrigeration systems, plus the required Class C engine room,” said CIMCO. “Thus, there was no need for hiring additional operators for the heat pumps or incurring extra costs to upgrade the machine room to be compliant with ammonia requirements.”

The contractor estimates that the new systems have a payback period of 1.5 years, based on 2,000–3,000 run hours at each facility. This represents at 68% return on investment (ROI). If the heat pumps were to run for 4,000 hours, the system would pay for itself after just 10.5 months, with a 109% ROI.

“The ammonia solution really has high alignment with what the goals are for the municipality,” said Devin Gillis, Project Sales at CIMCO. “This technology is already mature and very well understood. The system uses standard components that are easily available and removes the need for custom engineering thanks to its packaged design.”

Government grants

The Canadian government has committed to achieving a 50% emissions reduction by 2030 and net-zero emissions by 2050.

To support this transition, various grants and funds have been made available to smaller communities. Funds can be used to either upgrade existing facilities or construct new sustainable buildings.

After participating in a feasibility study conducted by the Mayors’ Megawatt Challenge program with support from the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM), Halton Hills was able to access funding to upgrade its two ice arenas.

During this study, individual GHG emission reduction roadmap studies were done for nine municipal ice rinks to guide their building operations to net-zero carbon emissions over time.

After the conclusion of the feasibility studies, FCM published a report entitled “Taking your indoor ice rink to net zero” to share its findings and recommendations.

According to the study, ice rinks could reduce their GHG emissions by up to 85% by upgrading HVAC&R equipment. Heat recovery was identified as the most effective way to achieve significant reductions by eliminating the need for fossil fuel-based heating systems.

“Knowing that most arena refrigeration systems will need to be replaced within the coming years, it only makes sense to invest in proven technology that can lower your [greenhouse gas] emissions and will eventually pay for itself in utility savings,” explained Sarah Hubble, Ontario Account Manager for Business Development at CIMCO.

In September, ATMOsphere, publisher of Ammonia21.com, released its North American Guide to Natural Refrigerants in Ice Arenas. The 92-page guide provides arena owners and managers with information on why refrigeration systems using natural refrigerants are a better long-term choice from a business and environmental perspective than a system using HFCs or HFO blends.

Feasibility studies

To assist more communities in “unlocking funding to achieve their net-zero goals,” CIMCO has created a specialist team that is dedicated to feasibility studies.

“A feasibility study gives your community the how, the why and the when for lowering your carbon foot print,” said Jordan Dermo, National Account Manager at CIMCO. “This is not only beneficial for our environment but will actually save your community money in the long run too.”

These efforts align well with the contractor’s Net Zero Naturally road map, which offers a “360-degree approach to getting to net-zero emissions, reducing energy consumption, and increasing system efficiency with a range of straightforward and actionable strategi

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