As more retail stores in the U.S. move toward installing propane (R290) display cases, Italian manufacturer Rivacold has begun selling its R290 ceiling-mounted packaged system for walk-in coolers and freezers in the U.S. market.

Rivacold has sold the R290 packaged units to more than 100 stores in Europe, and so far to two new stores operated by a single retailer in the U.S., said Doug Schmidt, president of Rivacold’s U.S. division, based near Atlanta, Ga. (He could not name the retailer without their permission.)

“We expect to manufacture them in the U.S. later this year,” he said, adding, “Almost everything we quote in the U.S. now is R290.”

The sealed packaged system encompasses three parallel circuits, each consisting of a small hermetic compressor using under 150 g of propane, that work with one condenser and one evaporator. It is typically cooled via a glycol-loop system fed by an outside chiller, and is installed on the top of a walk-in cooler or freezer. The system uses thermostatic expansion valves and hot-gas defrost.

One Rivacold unit can cool a room that is 10-ft by 10-ft by 8-ft, and multiple units are used in series for larger rooms. “It’s very scalable,” said Schmidt. In rooms with multiple units, one serves as a “master” and the rest as “slaves” linked to the master unit. “They all communicate to maintain a uniform cooling effect in a large room,” he explained.

The two U.S. stores where the Rivacold units have been installed also use R290 for all of their display cases, most of which share a glycol-cooling loop with the Rivacold equipment (some are unitary coolers at the point-of-sale), Schmidt noted. One of the stores has six Rivacold units in the walk-in cooler, and four in the freezer; the ratio in the other store is eight/four.

The walk-in units are designed for supermarkets, convenience stores and fast-food outlets. The two U.S. stores are smaller, urban stores, but the unit is not limited to smaller stores, said Schmidt.

“Almost everything we quote in the U.S. now is R290.”

Doug Schmidt, Rivacold

The Rivacold unit is generally used instead of a split HFC system with a condensing unit on the roof and an evaporator in the room.

In a presentation last year at the ATMOsphere America conference in Long Beach, Calif., Schmidt presented an energy comparison between the Rivacold R290 unit and an air-cooled split HFC system. The Rivacold unit was shown to use 26.1% less energy.

On a capital cost basis, the Rivacold system is about the same as an HFC split system, but the former has a lower installation cost, said Schmidt. “In a new construction or retrofit, you only need a hookup for power and the glycol loop.”

Maintenance costs are about the same, though the Rivacold unit can be removed from a store for servicing.

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