OEM Beverage-Air, a division of Ali Group, introduced its first propane (R290) refrigerators to use variable-speed compressors at the NAFEM Show in Orlando, Fla., last week.

The vertical single-door refrigerators may be the first in the foodservice industry to feature variable-speed compressors, said Nick Schriner, director of engineering for Beverage-Air and Ali’s Victory brand, based in Winston-Salem, N.C.

Beverage-Air and Victory are “100% committed to transferring to R290,” Schriner said. About 80% of what the companies manufacture now use R290, the exception being smaller products that are in the process of being converted, he added.

The variable-speed refrigerators, called the Cross-Temp Series, include a dual-zone model on display at the NAFEM Show with two separate food-storage compartments and two condensing units. Another model uses one condensing unit for one chamber. Temperatures for both can range from -15°F to 40°F.

The variable-speed units employ a “drop-in solution” that includes a smart compressor that can “sense the load by how long it takes to achieve a set point,” said Schriner. “It then decides how much lower rpm it can step down to.”

This technology enables efficiency gains of 30%-35% compared to standard units, said Schriner, adding, “The pull-down is awesome because it has extra capacity it really doesn’t use.” The units meet the latest ENERGY STAR efficiency standards for commercial refrigerators.

The extra capacity means that a refrigerator that formerly used two R134a condensing units would need only one R290 unit, said Mayank Patel, refrigeration engineer for Beverage-Air and Victory.

Schriner said Beverage-Air was seeing a lot of interest in the variable-speed units at the NAFEM Show, and plans to increase its product offering with variable-speed technology.

“If we go with [HFO blends], we’ll be there again in five or six or seven years. That’s not where we want to be.”

Nick Schriner, Beverage-Air

Despite the higher prices on variable-speed condensing units, John Prall, application engineer for compressor manufacturer Embraco, sees the demand for variable-speed R290 units “taking off” in North America.

As for the flammability of R290, Schriner acknowledged that a few school districts had qualms and “had to be properly educated” on the safety and environmental benefits of R290 refrigerant before accepting it. “We said it has gone through extensive UL tests and all components are protected – none can be a flame source.” They also point out the very small charge (150 g or less) of propane used.

But most customers don’t think about the flammability of R290, Schriner noted. “As long as the unit is quiet, it never comes up.”

With its commitment to R290, Beverage-Air will not offer condensing units with HFO blends. “We want to build our units and leave them alone,” said Schriner. “If we go with [HFO blends], we’ll be there again in five or six or seven years. That’s not where we want to be.”

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