Forbes Pearson
Forbes Pearson

Forbes Pearson, Innovative Co-Founder of Star Refrigeration, Dies at 92

Pearson designed new systems for ammonia and CO2, among many other contributions.

Scottish OEM Star Refrigeration has announced the death of Stephen Forbes Pearson, a co-founder of the company and a highly regarded refrigeration expert and pioneer, at the age of 92.

Known to all as “Forbes,” Pearson early in his career worked at L Sterne and Co in Scotland as Chief Engineer responsible for design of industrial compressors, heat exchangers and systems. Along with Bert Campbell and Anthony Brown, he launched Star in 1970 to focus on industrial refrigeration. They operated initially at the Pearson family home in Maryhill, moving a few months later to Thornliebank Industrial Estate on the south side of Glasgow. Star Refrigeration quickly gained a reputation for innovative but robust and reliable engineering, mainly founded on the technical developments led by Pearson in his role as Technical Director.

Among his contributions were a low pressure receiver, new control methods and new components including ball valves, tube ice makers, evaporative condensers, electronic logic controllers, high efficiency water chillers and novel freezing techniques.  In the late 1980s the phaseout of CFCs under the Montreal Protocol prompted him to combine his knowledge of organic chemistry with his understanding of how compressors worked to create a range of refrigerant fluids suited to extreme temperature operation.  This pioneering work led to the award by the International Institute of Refrigeration of its Gustav Lorentzen medal in 2003, only the second time that this international accolade, “the Nobel prize for Refrigeration,” was presented.

Pearson also designed new systems for the natural refrigerants ammonia (R717) and CO2 (R744).  He was instrumental in the adoption of the latter as a viable refrigerant for commercial and industrial refrigeration applications around the world including the freeze-drying of coffee at -50°C (-58°F) the freezing of petfood, the refrigeration of distribution warehouses and the cooling of mainframe computers.  During his career with Star he obtained over 100 patents for a variety of refrigeration innovations.

Pearson was a regular contributor of technical papers on a wide range of topics to the Institute of Refrigeration, receiving its Lightfoot medal for the best paper of the year on six occasions.  He also chaired the Institute’s Technical Committee for many years, served as President from 1987 to 1988 and was awarded the Institute’s Hall-Thermotank Gold medal in 1991.  He helped to set up the Institute’s Scottish Branch in the mid-1970s and was awarded its Kooltech medal in 1987.

His service to the wider refrigeration community included many years on the British Standards Institute (BSI)’s committee on refrigeration safety; as chairman of both the BSI national committee and the European working group he helped to introduce the first version of the European refrigeration safety standard, EN378.  He was also elected as an honorary life member of the International Institute of Ammonia (now All-Natural) Refrigeration in 2001.

On the occasion of Star’s 50th anniversary in 2020, Star’s Group Managing Director Dr. Andy Pearson, one of Pearson’s three sons, wrote “Per Ardua’” – The Story of Star Refrigeration 1970–2020. The book profiles the company’s key innovations, including the four-way valve, a refrigeration system that allowed “free cooling” (the Thermosyphon), the use of carbon dioxide in a freeze drying application and a zero-carbon 90°C ammonia district heat pump

Last year, Star produced a short online guide for refrigeration system owners that highlights the challenges and opportunities associated with ammonia and CO2-based technologies. The company also announced the opening of its 2023 Nationwide Industrial Refrigeration Engineering Apprenticeship Program with opportunities in the U.K cities of Aberdeen, Bristol, Derby, Glasgow, Leeds, London, Manchester, Newcastle and Oxford.

Pearson is survived by his wife, Jean, daughters Muriel and Libby, and sons Stephen, Andy and Dave, as well as grandchildren and great grandchildren.

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