Representatives of Secop, a German manufacturer of hermetic compressor technologies and other commercial refrigeration systems, have outlined a two-step approach to transitioning to high-efficiency propane (R290)-based self-contained commercial refrigeration.

The approach was described by Sam Huffman, General Manager of the Americas at Secop, during his presentation with colleague Thies Möller, Product Owner at Secop, in a refrigeration case studies session at the ATMOsphere (ATMO) America Summit 2022 on natural refrigerants. The conference, which took place June 7–8 in Alexandria, Virginia, was organized by ATMOsphere, publisher of

In their presentation, they sought to dispel any perceived challenges of using hydrocarbons in light commercial refrigeration applications.

Secop believes that hydrocarbons, particularly R290, are “the best green refrigerant” for hermetic compressors, despite any concerns around charge limit, the size of applications and the number of design cycles typically required before implementing new solutions.

“There’s a lot of talk in larger systems around CO2 [R744] and low-charge ammonia [/NH3 (R717)], but in fractional compressors, hydrocarbons are seemingly the best solution for the market,” said Huffman.

“There’s a lot of talk in larger systems around CO2 [R744] and low-charge ammonia [/NH3 (R717)], but in fractional compressors, hydrocarbons are seemingly the best solution for the market.”

Sam Huffman, Secop

Reducing carbon footprint

For retailers looking to reduce their carbon footprint, transitioning from f-gas refrigerants to R290 is the first step, according to Huffman. The second step is to adopt electronic-controlled compressors to further optimize refrigeration systems. While these updates can be made simultaneously, Huffman pointed out that customers tend to make these changes one step at a time.

According to Secop’s presentation, these updates can also help end users improve their return on investment and reduce the total cost of ownership of their equipment.

To demonstrate the benefits of propane-based electronic-controlled compressors, Secop conducted a simulation study and found that the combination of these technologies can result in energy savings of up to 41% compared to HFC-based fixed-speed compressors.

The case study was based on a two-door 1000l (37.5ft3) stand-alone multideck medium-temperature unit that used a R404-based fixed-speed compressor system.

According to Secop’s study, transitioning from R404 to 150g of R290 resulted in a 15% reduction in energy consumption, less noise, a 63% reduction in refrigerant charge and an 80% reduction in refrigerant cost.

During the second phase of updates, in which the fixed-speed R290 compressor was replaced with an electronic-controlled variable-speed R290 compressor, Secop saw a 26% reduction in energy consumption and further noise reduction. However, according to Secop, the real advantage of adopting electronic controls is being able to use a smaller compressor, which is much cheaper and can help end users see a return on their investment in less than six months.

“R290 plus electronic-control compressors is the best path forward and the long-term solution within the industry,” said Huffman.

Huffman also expects to see even better efficiency savings once the new R290 charge limits are introduced globally.

“As charge limits increase, I think you’ll see [the market] moving towards larger displacements,” explained Huffman. “It will allow us to achieve new capacity levels that historically we haven’t been able to do with single-piston hermetic technology and start to apply our solutions to a wider array of applications.”

Simulation testing

According to Secop, a common problem encountered by OEMs when designing a new cabinet is testing all the different refrigeration equipment. Not only does this require a lot of engineering resources, it can also result in companies making system updates in a multi-staged approach, which costs them time and money.

To help overcome this barrier, Secop’s simulation tools helps its OEM customers introduce new solutions much faster. By running simulations, Secop can identify the right solution before conducting a test to prove the results. Traditionally, this process requires multiple cycles of lab testing.

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