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Adoption of natural refrigerants to gain momentum
Tuesday, 02 April, 2024, 08 : 00 AM [IST]
N Indra
Refrigeration is an essential aspect of modern life, impacting various industries such as food and beverage, pharmaceuticals, and healthcare. The current scenario of refrigeration is dynamic, with advancements in technology, environmental regulations, and global demand shaping the industry. Refrigeration is everywhere, from residential and commercial establishments to medical laboratories and hospitals. Worldwide, it is responsible for preserving beverages and food for longer periods and ensuring the conservation of medicines, vaccines, blood banks and other medical applications. Therefore, refrigeration is essential not only for maintenance, but also for quality of life.Over the years, technological evolution has made it possible to increasingly modernise refrigeration systems.

1. Energy Efficiency
With the increase in the world population and, consequently, in the amount of refrigeration equipment needed to maintain this rate of growth, it is necessary to invest in options that provide greater energy efficiency, in order to exploit the least of the planet’s natural resources possible and reduce the environmental impact. Therefore, options that consume less electricity become a trend, regardless of the refrigeration type. After all, the benefits can be seen everywhere, from homes to commercial refrigeration.Variable capacity compressors, also known as VCCs or inverter technology, can be considered part of this trend. This is due to its speed control capability: when more cooling is needed, the working speed increases, but when the ideal temperature is reached, it decreases. Thus, energy consumption is reduced by 30 and 40% compared to conventional compressors.

2. Natural Refrigerants
With increasing concern about sustainability, both by the end consumer and the industry, the use of a natural refrigerant is a trend that is gaining more and more space, promoting less environmental impact and further increasing the efficiency of the systems. An alternative to using HFCs (hydrofluorocarbons), natural refrigerants do not harm the ozone layer and have almost zero impact on global warming.

3. Digital Transformation
Refrigeration is also part of the digital transformation trend. An example of this is the connection between the variable speed compressor and its application location. Through control software such as Smart Drop-In, it is possible to adjust the compressor speed in most diverse situations, including defrost, frequent opening of the refrigerator door and the need for quick temperature recovery. Among its advantages are the energy optimisation of the equipment, the ease of use and the maximisation of benefits that variable speed offers.

4. Size Reduction
Miniaturisation is a trend that encompasses commercial establishments and homes. With smaller spaces, it is desirable that refrigerators also take up less space, which implies smaller compressors and condensing units. With the advancement of technology, it is possible to meet this demand without losing quality and all the innovation embedded in the product. Proof of this is seen in the Embraco compressors, which have become smaller over the years.

5. Noise Reduction
Another trend related to the smaller size of houses is the search for comfort through reducing the noise of appliances, so it is important that refrigerators are quieter. Furthermore, the same goes for equipment in environments, such as research laboratories and hospitals, which are naturally quieter.For this, variable speed compressors are the ideal options. In addition to high energy efficiency, these models also offer very low noise levels. Compared to the fixed speed compressor, the variable speed compressor operates with 15 to 20% less noise.The overview of the current state of refrigeration, including technological advancements, environmental concerns, and future trends.

Technological Advancements
In recent years, the refrigeration industry has witnessed significant technological advancements aimed at improving energy efficiency, reducing environmental impact, and enhancing performance. One of the key advancements is the development of natural refrigerants such as carbon dioxide (CO2), ammonia, and hydrocarbons. These natural refrigerants have gained traction due to their low environmental impact and high thermodynamic properties. Additionally, the use of variable speed compressors, advanced control systems, and improved insulation materials has contributed to the overall efficiency of refrigeration systems.

Furthermore, the integration of smart technologies and Internet of Things (IoT) in refrigeration equipment has revolutionised the way systems are monitored and controlled. IoT-enabled sensors and devices allow for real-time monitoring of temperature, energy consumption, and system performance, enabling proactive maintenance and optimisation of refrigeration systems. Moreover, advancements in compressor technology, such as the development of oil-free and magnetic bearing compressors, have contributed to improved reliability and reduced maintenance requirements.

Environmental Concerns
While technological advancements have led to improvements in the efficiency and environmental impact of refrigeration systems, environmental concerns continue to shape the current scenario of refrigeration. The phase-out of synthetic refrigerants with high global warming potential (GWP), such as hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs) and hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), has led to a shift towards natural refrigerants and low-GWP synthetic refrigerants. This transition is driven by international agreements such as the Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol, which aims to reduce the production and consumption of HFCs.

In addition to refrigerant phase-outs, energy efficiency regulations and standards have become increasingly stringent, prompting manufacturers to develop more efficient and environmentally friendly refrigeration equipment. Initiatives such as the Energy Star program in the United States and the European Union's Ecodesign Directive have set minimum energy performance standards for refrigeration appliances, driving the adoption of energy-efficient technologies and practices.

Furthermore, the issue of refrigerant leakage and emissions has garnered attention, prompting industry players to focus on leak detection, prevention, and proper refrigerant management. The responsible handling of refrigerants, including proper installation, servicing, and end-of-life disposal, has become a critical aspect of refrigeration practices to mitigate environmental impact.

Future Trends

Looking ahead, several trends are expected to shape the future of refrigeration. The continued development and adoption of natural refrigerants are anticipated to gain momentum, driven by regulatory pressures and environmental considerations. Innovations in refrigeration technology, such as the use of magnetic refrigeration and solid-state cooling, hold promise for achieving higher efficiency and sustainability in refrigeration systems.

Moreover, the concept of integrated and distributed energy systems, including the use of waste heat and renewable energy sources for refrigeration, is gaining traction as a means to reduce energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions. The convergence of refrigeration with renewable energy technologies, energy storage, and smart grid systems presents opportunities for enhancing the overall sustainability of refrigeration processes.

In addition to technological advancements, the growing demand for cold chain logistics, particularly in the food and pharmaceutical industries, is expected to drive the development of more efficient and reliable refrigeration solutions. The need for maintaining product quality and safety during storage and transportation has spurred innovation in refrigeration equipment and cold chain management practices.

Environmental considerations, including refrigerant phase-outs and energy efficiency regulations, are influencing the design and operation of refrigeration equipment. Looking ahead, the future of refrigeration holds promise for further advancements in sustainability, efficiency, and cold chain management, as the industry continues to respond to evolving technological, environmental, and market demands.

(The author is assistant professor, Department of Nutrition and Dietetics, K.S.R. College of Arts and Science for Women, Tiruchengode, Tamil Nadu. She can be reached at indrapoovendran1992@gmail.com)
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