Refrigeration feature: Cold play

We’ve come a long way since using snow and ice to keep our food fresh. Thanks to the development of technology, we’re able to keep our food refrigerated year round without having to rely on the unpredictable nature of the seasons.

However, though they are essential in the running of any business within the industry, refrigerants often receive a negative reputation for the global warming potential they emit. Many refrigeration systems contain hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), which are a type of fluorinated greenhouse gas (F-gas).

According to the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA), HFCs have a high global warming potential at 100-3,000 times that of carbon dioxide. To combat the damaging effect that HFC has on the environment, the European Union set out new F-gas regulations which came into effect on 1 January 2015. Targets set out included in the new rules include limiting the total amount of F-gases sold the EU as of 2015 onwards. It is hoped that by 2030, there will be one-fifth of the sales experienced in 2014. It is also an objective to halt the use of F-gases in several types of equipment where less harmful alternatives are available. By requiring checks in existing equipment, ensuring proper servicing is practised and making sure the recovery of the gases at the end of a piece of equipment’s life is fulfilled, the emission of F-gases will be prevented.

According to Chris Sturman, chief executive of the Food Storage and Distribution Federation (FSDF), the requirements enforce the reduction of HFC gases over the course of 15 years by 79%. “Our colleagues in the refrigeration industry are working incredibly hard to develop more efficient equipment,” says Sturman. “I suppose, in a lot of ways, the new F-gas regulations – which are effectively there to reduce the amount of high global warming potential refrigerants leaking into the atmosphere and therefore affecting the climate – in itself provides a good canvas from which to start even further cost-effective and energy-efficient refrigerants and refrigeration.”

He highlights how the regulations could not demand HFCs to be phased down overnight because it would simply kill the supply chain. As a result, the industry has 15 years to change the amount of HFCs in use. “It gives us time to for existing equipment to fully be depreciated and new equipment to be planned for in terms of capital investment.”

Sturman notes that more people are going back to ammonia refrigeration systems, which he recognises as being an “incredibly efficient refrigerant”.

“Our colleagues in the refrigeration area are keen to supply new refrigeration equipment that is compliant and will meet or exceed the requirements of industry in terms of energy reduction anyway and the requirements that were set down in regulation.” Installing LED lights and variable speed drives are methods underlined by Sturman as reducing energy.

Judith Evans, director of Refrigeration Developments and Testing (RD&T) and professor at London South Bank University (LSBU) echoes Sturman’s sentiments that there are opportunities for refrigeration systems to become more energy-efficient. “A lot of things we found when we were doing work was that there is a lot of energy that can be saved, often 20% to 30%, but they don’t necessarily have the same answers in different facilities,” she says.

“With cold stores, the only common theme that ran across all the stores was maintenance issues, but they were all different and you get different results in different stores for saving energy. In some stores, you could save up to 60% of energy, while in others it was down to 5% to 10%, but on average it was about 30%.”

Evans recognises that, a lot of the time, it is the simple things that waste energy – for example, compressors not operating outside their design envelope, ensuring the correct evaporating temperature, and operators having the right superheat on their evaporators. Superheat is known as the difference between the temperature of the refrigerant vapour, and the saturation temperature of the system at that same point.

Evans also encourages companies to make sure their plant is set up properly to maximise its potential, and to ensure its upkeep as advancements are made. “Often, on a lot of the plants, what tends to happen is you start off with a really good plant with a cracking design, but over the years things slightly change because people add on more rooms or do something different, and you end up with what was really quite a good plant at the beginning having quite poor performance 10 or 20 years down the line, because people have altered it.”

Evans points to how many companies are becoming more conscious of the environmental impact their systems have. “Definitely the bigger companies have an emphasis on saving carbon because it’s part of their sustainability commitment,” she notes.

However, some smaller businesses are still operating on HFC refrigerants. Evans says there are a lot of things for companies to take on board when looking to upgrade their cooling facilities. Probably the most pressing is refrigerant choice. “They need to be aware about future use of high global warming potential refrigerants and be thinking ahead in what refrigerants they’re going to be using.”

Further to people becoming more environmentally conscious when looking at refrigeration, there have also been developments in technology, especially among the independent sector – something Acoura’s strategic advisor, Professor Lisa Ackerley points out. “Many butchers are considering having some form of electronic temperature management system, which would help them to ensure that they’re keeping the cold chain secure.” Acoura, a risk service provider to the food and drink industry, helps people to identify new technology that will assist with moving the industry forward.

“Butchers are concerned – particularly at this time of year when they have a lot of stock of huge value – if anything goes wrong with the fridge overnight then they could lose everything,” continues Ackerley.
This advancement in technology allows the industry the freedom of knowing their refrigeration systems are operating correctly without being monitored in person. “Some of this equipment is wireless so it will just hook into an existing wi-fi system. In the past, it was all hard-wired and extremely expensive and labour-intensive to install and maintain. These days you can just buy wireless devices that go on your existing wi-fi and you place it in the fridge and they send the information to a website. Things have changed so much,” concludes Ackerley.

Dry-aging trend

“The importance of having a decent serveover counter is in many ways not to show off, but to build confidence with the public,” explains Chris Neal, account manager for Creative Retail Solutions (CRS). “It’s all about preserving their products for as long as possible, giving them an opportunity to gain an extra day’s sale out of them.”

Centred in Bournemouth, CRS provides Italian-based Criocabin refrigeration systems, one of the most successful installers in the world, into the UK.  

CRS has been installing cooling cabinets for over a decade, and although the industry has remained fairly similar since its infancy, Neal explains that he has noticed a shift in clientele. “If there is any particular challenge, then it’s probably where the sectors are changing. The less independent butchers are having shop refits and it’s increasingly bigger sites, like food halls, farm shops, and service stations.”

One of CRS’ most recent clients includes the famed Gloucester Services, along the M5, for example. “Jobs like that are becoming more familiar and the independent trade, well they’re not as current. There’s probably not as many of those jobs as the bigger ones right now. If anything, the industry is slightly changing in what people are doing.”

Aside from the change in clients, there’s been an additional rise in popularity for a different kind of cabinet. “A lot popularity these days is all about dry-aging and customers wanting a lot of dry-aging glass displays, or bespoke fridges, to hang their products,” Neal says. He believes this trend has found its way over from Europe. CRS began working with dry-aging cabinets about two years ago and has installed eight or nine since, according to Neal.

Dan Cornelius, sales operations coordinator at Angel Refrigeration, says the dry-aging trend can be attributed to customers seeking a higher-quality piece of meat. “People are going back to their butcher to get the better cuts of meat that has been cut professionally to a higher standard, and they’re willing to pay for it,” he says.

Angel Refrigeration “focuses on the theatre side of things”, continues Cornelius. He says that a butcher that is blessed with a lot of space in the back of his store has the opportunity to have a whole dry-aging room. However, those who don’t can benefit from having a cabinet that does the same job but in the front of the store for the customers to see for themselves. This allows for a more interactive experience, as the consumer can see what they’re buying before the point of sale. It gives the butcher an added feature to attract shoppers. “These cabinets are perfect for somebody who doesn’t have a lot of room out back, but who want to show the customers that they can do it front of house,” adds Cornelius.

Right side of the law

With customer demands shifting, and technology constantly advancing, it is important for the meat industry to stay on top of these trends in order to exploit the potential of cooling cabinets to the best of their abilities, subsequently helping their business succeed.

“A best, an unreliable refrigeration system will damage the quality reputation of a meat business and, at worst, lead to serious legislative action from enforcement officers with the subsequent fines hitting the bottom line and the associated negative publicity damaging the goodwill of the business,” warns Martin Forsyth, technical manager at the British Frozen Food Federation (BFFF).

He highlights that consistent lower temperatures improve meat quality, as well as the shelf-life of selected products. “To meet the legal temperature requirements at all stages of the meat supply chain, it is essential that a reliable refrigeration system is used.”

Case study: Cranswick  

Just because a refrigeration system is constantly running, doesn’t necessarily mean it has to be bad for the environment. Cranswick, one of Britain’s largest food producers, discovered just that.
After acquiring its Norfolk site six years ago, the company found that the refrigeration system was not operating efficiently. To overcome this, Cranswick invested £5 million to replace the system with a more sustainable one. 

“We replaced a rather old and ailing refrigeration system that was not fit-for-purpose at our Norfolk plant which we inherited when the business was acquired in 2009,” says Mark Goddard, group environment manager. “Since then, there has been a considerable amount of investment at the site – refurbishing, remodelling and, latterly, replacing the refrigeration system.”

An environmentally conscious ethos is at the heart of Cranswick. Its ‘Green Thinking’ initiative is dedicated to reducing the company’s carbon footprint. Since 2008, Cranswick has been monitoring its energy consumption and setting targets that will further reduce its energy usage. “Not only is the new system more energy-efficient, but heat recovery has also been included into the build; waste heat is recovered from the refrigeration and used to supply the site’s 60°C hot water,” adds Goddard.
He is confident the new system will benefit the company for years to come. “The new refrigeration plant enables the site to cope with production demands for the foreseeable future,” he concludes.

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