G&D Chillers R290 Chiller
G&D Chillers' R290 Chiller. Photo Credit: G&D Chillers.

Within The Next Five Years, American Manufacturer G&D Chillers Sees Itself Producing Only R290 Units

The U.S. roll out of commercial and industrial propane chillers depends on regulators, according to company President Justin Thomas.

Oregon-based G&D Chillers foresees its production shifting within the next five years to only manufacturing propane (R290) units, according to company President Justin Thomas.

Earlier this year, G&D Chillers launched its Elite R290 chiller, which it calls “a first in the U.S. market” for commercial and industrial applications

“There is no reason we could not completely turn our production over to propane,” Thomas told NaturalRefrigerants.com in an exclusive interview. “However, for that to happen in the next five years, U.S. regulators need to step up with nationwide regulations for installing outdoor propane units, which will eliminate the current case-by-case determination by local jurisdictions.”

According to Paul Johnson, Director of Technology and R&D at G&D Chillers, the refrigeration capacities of the Elite R290 line range from 0.5‒165TR (1.8‒580kW), with a propane charge from a few ounces to around 6lbs (2.7kg), with outlet temperatures from 28 to 65°F (−2.2 to 18.3°C).

Nationwide U.S. safety standards for large-scale closed-circuit hydrocarbon refrigeration systems are currently in development, with an expected 2025 completion date, according to Tony Lundell, Senior Director of Standards and Safety at the U.S.-based International Institute of All-Natural Refrigeration (IIAR). When approved, the new standard will allow hydrocarbon charges up to 1,100lbs per site for industrial and commercial occupancies.

Lundell shared this information in a policy presentation at the ATMOsphere (ATMO) America Summit 2024. The event, organized by ATMOsphere, was held June 10‒11 in Washington, D.C. ATMOsphere is the publisher of NaturalRefrigerants.com.

During the interview with NaturalRefrigerants.com, Thomas ‒ joined by COO Scott Timms ‒ outlined the development of the Elite R290 chiller, its U.S. reception, potential applications for it and the training G&D provides to end users to ensure safety.

The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Why did you invest in an R290 chiller, and how did you develop it?

Justin Thomas: The internal discussion to develop an R290 chiller started five years ago. We saw [HFO blend] alternative refrigerants as short-term bridges to meet the developing regulations. With the writing on the wall, we thought why not just go straight to a final solution? As a natural refrigerant with an almost zero GWP, R290 offers greater efficiencies than some of the [synthetic] refrigerants hitting the market.

Scott Timms: Another reason we wanted to develop it comes from Europe seeing issues with HFO blends and PFAS [per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances] with the forever chemicals showing up in streams. Since not everyone can have a propane chiller in the U.S., we manufacture A2L options, but we plan for that to be short-lived. We want to move past HFO blends straight to natural refrigerants that do not have such side effects.

JT: We decided to push forward with a propane unit over other natural refrigerant options because of manufacturing costs. Unlike CO2 [R744], we use the same technologies and components on the market as synthetics, making the installation and serviceability of an R290 chiller much more cost effective. The first few units we roll out will cost slightly more, but there will not be much difference between them and HFO units in the future.

For the design, we leaned on our partner Frascold, an Italian compressor manufacturer, and its years of experience with R290. However, we did lots of internal engineering for our final product.

We were excited to partner with New Belgium to develop, build and install our first R290 chiller in the U.S.

What reception has the chiller received in the U.S., especially with current regulations limiting propane charges?

ST: Since showcasing it at the Craft Brewers Conference [held in Las Vegas April 21‒24] we have had lots of interest in the R290 unit. With the operating envelope of R290 broader than most medium-temperature refrigerants on the market, we see applications in process chilling, including in breweries, wineries, dairies and even the biogas industry.

People talk about the 300g [10.6oz] propane charge limit applicable to indoor installations. Without a great UL or ASHRAE standard for outdoor installations, we find ourselves in a hand-holding situation helping individual customers talk to their local municipalities.

As part of the case-by-case approval process, we rely heavily on decades of European experience, which show that the technology is safe and proven. Getting the approval for the New Belgium Brewery was a straightforward process.

JT: We already have another R290 chiller, similar in size to our first one, under construction, with other customers in different industries talking to us about going down the same case-by-case approval road.

What training does the refrigeration workforce need to safely work with R290?

JT: The attractiveness of R290 centers around its similarities to synthetics, making the refrigeration cycle familiar to the current workforce. However, they need safety protocols to deal with the flammability, especially to detect and mitigate leaks. With no regulations in the U.S., we work with our established network of partner technicians at each installation to provide on-site and in-house training, giving protocols to evacuate a system and check for leaks.

What else would you like the U.S. refrigeration industry to know?

ST: As a small company in a large U.S. refrigeration market, we want to lead and drive this space in the right direction for the planet and its occupants.

JT: We are nimbler than larger companies who can’t or won’t move into the natural refrigeration space for whatever reason, be it corporate stagnation or political negotiations within the industry. Chemical companies and big corporate entities are pushing back for reasons other than doing what is best for refrigeration moving forward. I’m excited to push the technology envelope and provide a natural refrigeration product with better efficiencies than HFO solutions.

In a company video called “The Future of Chill,” G&D Chillers outlines the benefits and addresses the concerns of R290 refrigerant, noting that propane is a tomorrow-proof refrigerant.

“I’m excited to push the technology envelope and provide a natural refrigeration product with better efficiencies than HFO solutions.”

Justin Thomas, President G&D Chillers

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