PRO Refrigeration's CO2 chiller, installed at South Creek Dairy; source: PRO Refrigeration
PRO Refrigeration's CO2 chiller, installed at South Creek Dairy; source: PRO Refrigeration

Heat Recovery from CO2 Chillers Slashes Water Heating Bills for California Dairy Farmers

One farmer’s hot water heating bill for sanitizing equipment dropped by 75%, and another shut his water heater completely off.

Heat recovery from CO2 (R744) chillers has enabled the William & John Jongsma Dairy and South Creek Dairy in California’s Tulare County to slash their hot water heating bills, with the former reducing the bill from its propane-powered water heater by 75% and the latter shutting off its natural gas-powered water heater completely.

Bill Jongsma owns the William & John Jongsma Dairy, which has 3,000 cows. His nephew Chris Jongsma owns the South Creek Dairy, which has 4,000 cows. Their CO2 chillers are equipped with two-stage heat exchangers and can supply domestic hot water at temperatures of up to 180°F (82.2°C), which is used to clean and sanitize milking equipment and piping. The chillers themselves are used to cool milk.

“All the hot water [I need] comes off the CO2 tank,” said Chris Jongsma. “I have filled up an 8,000 gallon [30,283l] tank in two hours without even slowing that CO2 system down.”

The chillers were manufactured by Washington-based Pro Refrigeration and installed by Californian contractor San Joaquin Valley Dairy Equipment.

The dairymen shared the benefits of adding CO2 chillers to their operations in a Pro Refrigeration panel discussion held during the World Ag Expo in Tulare, California, from February 13‒15. Pro Refrigeration has more than 33 years of experience providing chillers for dairy farms, craft beer breweries and wineries.

Jim VanderGiessen, CEO and Co-Founder of Pro Refrigeration, moderated the discussion. In addition to the Jongsmas, panelists included:

  • Rick Mayo, Co-Founder and Vice President of San Joaquin Valley Dairy Equipment.
  • Steve Pretz, President of milking systems company BouMatic.
  • John Tinsley, Co-Founder and Vice President of Therm, which helps end users finance natural refrigerant systems via carbon credit programs.

The William & John Jongsma Dairy installed its CO2 chiller in 2021, which was deemed the “first of its kind” in the U.S. dairy industry by Wynand Groenewald, Director at Future Green Now, the consultancy that helped Pro Refrigeration develop the system. Chris Jongsma followed his uncle’s lead in 2022, installing a similar system at South Creek Dairy.

Pro Refrigeration and San Joaquin Valley have installed CO2 chillers at four California dairies, with a fifth in the works.

“There is an investment in learning to work with the higher pressures, but it’s a great opportunity to provide a good product,” said Mayo. “I think the system speaks for itself because we have already requested another unit.”

Another new commission received by San Joaquin Valley Dairy Equipment requires pumping milk 1,800ft (548.6m) from the stall to the milk house using a robot. Mayo said the thought of washing all that piping seemed daunting at first, but then he remembered that with CO2 there is plenty of heat. “We are going to use that [CO2] system to maintain a clean loop in a big robot facility,” he said.

Heat recovery from synthetic chillers, like those using R404A, preheats water to 125‒130°F (51.7‒54.4°C), well below temperatures required for sanitizing equipment, said VanderGiessen.

“I see limitless possibilities for heat recovery from CO2 systems in dairies,” said Pretz.

“All the hot water [I need] comes off the CO2 tank.”

Chris Jongsma, Owner and Operator of South Creek Dairy

Cost and compliance benefits

The panel discussed additional benefits of using CO2 chillers in the dairy industry, including cost savings and meeting state mandates.

The Coleman grade CO2 required by the system costs roughly $2.00 (€1.85) per pound, while freon retails for around $50.00 (€46.15).

“When there is a freon leak, and the bill shows up, no [farmer] is happy,” said Mayo. “That is not the case with CO2. It’s much cheaper.”

On the regulatory side, California’s Refrigerant Management Program requires facilities with refrigeration systems containing more than 50lbs (22.7kg) of a refrigerant with a 150 GWP or higher to conduct and report periodic leak inspections, promptly repair leaks and keep service records. The state also has HFC refrigerant phasedown laws, providing a path to eliminate HFCs by no later than 2035.

The idea to develop a CO2 chiller for the dairy industry started with a meeting between Pro Refrigeration and BouMatic to discuss the next “big generational change” in refrigerants to stay in compliance with changing laws. With a GWP of 1, CO2 systems do not require extra paperwork to meet the state’s mandates, which Bill Jongsma said helps him avoid dealing with “violations and fines.”

“I’m so proud to see what has happened with the [CO2 chiller],” Pretz said. “That is the end game. It’s all going to be natural refrigerants in the future.”

Cooling and cost challenges

Bill said the biggest drawback of his dairy’s CO2 chiller comes in the summer when ambient temperatures can climb above 110°F (43.3°C). According to Mayo, hot summer days raise operating pressures, causing the system to trip when it hits 1,562psi (107.7bar).

“Last summer, we had over 113 days with high ambient temperatures causing operating problems,” Mayo said. To deal with it, the contractor added a swamp cooler to William & John Jongsma Dairy’s system to “create” some cooler air.

“After seeing what they are doing in other industries, we plan to add adiabatic cooling to improve high ambient temperature operation,” Mayo said.

Chris Jongsma’s main complaint centered around Pro Refrigeration’s CO2 chiller only being available with 100HP, which he said meant using his old HFC system for backup.

“We’ve gotten pressure from day one, with people asking why can’t they get it in 150 horsepower,” said VanderGiessen. With the design challenges, the company wanted to perfect and replicate one version before adding other sizes, said VanderGiessen. “We will be growing and expanding the line,” he noted.

According to Mayo, a CO2 chiller costs roughly a third more than an R448A equivalent. That is down from double the cost at the time the William & John Jongsma Dairy installed its CO2 chiller in 2021.

“It’s easier to try new technology if you don’t have a financial risk or it’s cheaper,” Tinsley remarked. “We see the future coming to this market, and we hope to incentivize projects like this.”

“We are figuring out ways to close the cost gap and make [choosing CO2] as easy of a decision as possible,” Mayo added. “We are excited about this technology.”

“I see limitless possibilities for heat recovery from CO2 systems in dairies.”

Steve Pretz, President BouMatic

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