Interest in components for propane refrigeration systems was much in evidence at the AHR Expo last week.
“Oh my gosh, yes,” said Brian Porter, corporate director of sales for Blissfield Manufacturing, when asked at his AHR Expo booth whether he was getting more requests from beverage cooler OEMs for Blissfield’s 5mm propane evaporator/condenser coils made of copper-aluminum alloy.
This year he expects a 50% jump in requests, though Blissfield looks for orders that are large enough to justify full-container load shipments from its Chinese suppliers.
Blissfield makes evaporator/condenser coils for CO2 systems as well as propane systems, though the latter is by far the majority choice in the beverage cooler and vending machine business, Porter said.
Most of the requests for natural refrigerant systems are from larger companies, Porter added. “The smaller companies are lagging behind.”
Moving into US propane market
Companies from outside the US are sensing the opportunity to sell propane wares in the United States. For example, Kulthorn, a Thai manufacturer of compressors, has been marketing R290 (propane) compressors for a number of years in Europe, and is now bringing them to the United States via its exclusive US distributor, San Diego-based Elco.
In the near future, Elco will also be distributing the Thermocraft R290 condensing unit, which includes a Kulthorn compressor.
“There is a demand for R290 compressors in the US,” said Dean Rafiee, director of market development for Thermocraft, at Elco’s AHR Expo booth. “Many OEMs are testing R290 compressors in the 1/5 to 1.5 HP range.”
A chart displayed at the Elco booth demonstrated the superior efficiency of R290 compressors vs. R134a compressors in beverage coolers. For example, in a beverage cooler with between 950 and 1,100 watts of cooling, the COP (coefficient of performance) of the R290 compressor is listed as 2.0 to 2.2, while the COP of the R134a compressor is listed as 1.65 to 1.70.
Meanwhile, Italian compressor maker Frascold is working with US OEMs on projects that would include propane compressors. One OEM in California is interested in making a prototype refrigerated case similar to one used by the UK grocery chain Waitrose that employs propene condensing units on top of the cases; the units are cooled by a water loop connected to a propane chiller.
The OEM is “speaking with local authorities to show this is a viable solution and can be used safely,” said Vincenzo Isgro, business development manager for Frascold.