Craft Group, a San Diego, California (U.S.)-based contract manufacturer, has designed its first complete propane (R290) refrigeration system that includes a condenser, compressor and evaporator for a U.S. display case OEM.

It is the latest move by Craft in the R290 commercial refrigeration space, where it has stepped up its investment in the past year.

The OEM, which had approached Craft about making the R290 system, will begin marketing the cabinet “in the next few months,” said Dean Rafiee, partner and managing director at Craft. “We will go into mass production by July.” He declined to name the OEM without their permission. 

Craft, which focuses primarily on the North American market, will also manufacture its own version of the R290 refrigeration system over the next few months, Rafiee said. 

Since 2016, Craft has manufactured Thermocraft R290 condensing units for retail cabinets and other applications, first under the SF line and then the more efficient EH line. R290 condensing units comprise about 10% of the condensing units manufactured by Craft, which also makes units for HFO blends R448A, R449A and R513, and for R404AA.

However, Rafiee sees a “big trend” to R290 refrigeration among Craft’s OEM customers. “The number of clients contacting us for R290 is amazing,” he said. “They see that’s where the future is headed, and they want to be there with the right products.”

Major R290 investment

Over the past year, Craft is has been preparing for that future by making a “significant investment” in its manufacturing capability for R290 products, along with testing chambers and charging functionality. 

“We see [HFO blends] as a transitional fluid, which is why we have invested so much in R290 over the past year,” he said. “We are always directing our clients to R290, to make an early investment so later on they can compete in the marketplace.”

He noted that R290 compressor manufacturers, especially Embraco, “have taken the efficiency of R290 compressors to the next level.” Craft employs Embraco and Cubigel (Huayi) compressors in its EH line of R290 condensing units.

Craft’s EH Series R290 single-speed, air-cooled condensing units range from 1/5 to 3/4HP and are available for medium/high and low temperatures. They feature EC motors and condensers with 7mm tubes that “optimize the charge of refrigerant gas required,” says the Craft website.  

Rafiee said he looks forward to the charge limit for R290 in commercial cabinets increasing from the current 150g cap to 300g or 500g in North America. “That would provide new opportunities for us,” he said, with condensing units ranging from 1.5-2HP.

“The number of clients contacting us for R290 is amazing.”

Dean Rafiee, Craft Group