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Reducing Refrigerant Leaks


Price Chopper is always on the lookout for new ways to expand its sustainability commitment. Most recently, the supermarket chain went live with an eco-friendly, secondary-coolant refrigeration technology that eliminates the potential for refrigerant leaks that typically occur over time in a traditional direct-expansion system. The medium-temperature system was installed during the remodel and expansion of Price Chopper’s store in Malta, N.Y.

The technology, Second Nature Medium Temperature systems, is from Hill PHOENIX. It replaces R404-A (a halogenated fluorocarbon and greenhouse-gas producer) with a 35% aqueous propylene glycol fluid as a primary refrigerant. The fluid is eco-friendly, with no impact on the ozone layer.

The technology allowed Price Chopper to reduce the initial R404-A charge by approximately 60%. Plus, the low-pressure chilled-water loop eliminates the circulation of high-pressure refrigerant throughout the sales floor. The ongoing savings expected to result from the elimination of refrigerant outside the machine room, as well as the subsequent leaks that typically occur over time, will be significant, according to Hill PHOENIX.

“Because the amount of refrigeration that goes through the store is also greatly reduced, the possibility of having refrigerant leaks in the store is greatly reduced,” said Brad Roche, VP of marketing, Hill PHOENIX, Conyers, Ga. “Also, the reduction in the amount of refrigerant helps a retailer meet the new EPA requirement for reduction of refrigeration leaks in supermarkets.”

By using the technology, Price Chopper will avoid the release of 2,750 lbs. of 404-A into the atmosphere during the next 10 years through reduction of annual leak rates. The amount is equivalent to avoiding the release of 5,160 tons of CO2.

“This store represents another step toward greener supermarkets, and we hope it will set sustainability standards in retail that will be emulated across the country,” said Benny Smith, director of maintenance, Price Chopper, Schenectady, N.Y., which operates some 115 grocery stores in the Northeast and is owned by The Golub Corp.

By reducing leaks, the technology is expected to help Price Chopper save money from a maintenance standpoint, including the cost of labor to fix leaks and the cost of refrigerant replacement.

In another feature, smart compressor technology (from Copeland) was applied to the design of the primary refrigeration system. It allows for quick diagnosis of compressor issues and minimizes the use of capillary tubing, further reducing the chance of refrigerant leaks.

According to Smith, another benefit of the technology is the efficiency of the defrost system.

“The cases running on the new Second Nature system maintain better product temperature as a result of the technology,” Smith said.

According to Hill PHOENIX, temperature control with Second Nature is more stable because the defrost time is equal to or less than other defrost methods, and defrost temperatures are significantly lower. This allows for improved product, particularly with regard to medium-temperature applications such as meat, seafood and produce.

“The defrost is very quick,” added Hill PHOENIX’s Roche. “It’s so fast that the product never even feels it, which translates into a significant product benefit in terms of improved appearance and longer shelf life.”

Because the Second Nature medium-temperature secondary refrigerant is not under high pressure like primary refrigerant, ABS plastic piping (manufactured by Georg Fischer) was used in the Malta Price Chopper application. Compared to the copper that is used in direct-expansion systems, the engineered pipe has a significantly lower environmental impact.

It also has a lower thermal conductivity rate compared to copper, and a larger wall thickness, both of which are expected to lead to lower energy loss. In another eco benefit, the ABS pipe is recyclable.

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