With President Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping agreeing, during their first-ever summit, to work together to phase down hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) under the Montreal Protocol, refrigerants remain very much in the environmental spotlight. HFCs, widely used as refrigerants, do not damage stratospheric ozone but, like CFCs and HCFCs, they are powerful greenhouse gases.
Our second series on the Refrigerant Revolution continues with a look at innovative solutions aimed at refrigerant management, examining organizations and industries taking important first steps. Our last post highlighted the success of the EPA’s RAD program and sustainable refrigerator de-manufacturing, in a Tale of Two Fridges.
The big chill
Switching to commercial chilling, we examine innovative steps being taken by early adopters to upgrade commercial equipment, benefiting the environment, energy savings and the sustainability goals of large organizations. There’s some extra “green” too.
Situated on 600 acres of rolling green campus, the University of Rochester’s Central Utilities plant is recognizable by the billows of steam often seen emanating from its vents. The plant is a powerhouse tasked with providing steam, chilled water, hot water and electricity to 158 buildings over 600 acres, including the university’s River Campus and extensive Medical Center, and serving nearly 10,000 undergraduate and graduate students. The facility is home to several large-scale operations, including a chilled water plant with a capacity of 21,000 tons, and large steam turbines, which can generate electricity up to 25 megawatts—enough to power the needs of 25,000 average households.
In an innovative chiller modernization project, the university, Carrier Corporation and EOS Climate teamed up on a plan to bring advanced technology, environmental stewardship and cost savings to the combined medical center and educational campus. The genesis of the project was the university’s desire to deliver the most advanced, environmentally-friendly cooling system to its students, faculty and staff. Consulting with Carrier, the university moved forward with a system upgrade for one of its primary chillers, Chiller #3. The system upgrade enhanced performance of the chiller system by installing new, advanced, energy efficient components, controls and non-ozone depleting refrigerant.
Inspired by a record of reducing an average of 95 metric tons of CO2 emissions annually, Central Utilities, led by Steve Mischissin, sought a better way to dispose of the CFC-12 (R-12) previously used in Chiller #3. This led to the collaboration between the University of Rochester, EOS Climate, and Carrier.
Innovation and value in refrigerant management
The added step — to ensure responsible end-of-life management of the used refrigerants — represents a real game changer. A powerful greenhouse gas, CFC-12 is no longer produced but is in great demand to service older, leaky refrigeration and air conditioning equipment. Typically, CFC-12 refrigerant from the university’s system (and others like it) would have been extracted, reclaimed, resold, and used to recharge other equipment, eventually ending up in the atmosphere. Instead, EOS Climate managed collection, processing, and destruction of the CFC refrigerants. Destruction was handled by Clean Harbors – one of North America’s largest environmental services companies and an early proponent of refrigerant end-of-life solutions for climate protection. The project conformed with recognized standards established by the Climate Action Reserve and adopted by the California Air Resources Board.
By capturing and destroying the used refrigerants, the project facilitated the transition to advanced, efficient chiller technology and brought an innovative solution to managing refrigerants at end-of-life, representing multiple wins — for the students, the school, Carrier Corporation and most of all, for the environment. With California’s climate laws recognizing CFC destruction as a verifiable way to reduce GHG emissions, EOS was able to generate revenue from delivering an environmental benefit and share a significant portion of the proceeds—in excess of $200,000—with the university. Best of all, by accelerating the transition to modern chiller technology, the project will result in safer, more reliable delivery of electricity, steam, hot water, and cooling to students and staff at the university’s River Campus and Medical Center. Cool customers, indeed.
The university calls the Chiller Modernization Project a “great representation of the university’s commitment to Go Green, demonstrating how small choices, such as the replacement of a single water chiller, can have ripple effects in the ongoing effort to promote environmental sustainability. With the successful overhaul of Chiller #3, Mr. Mischissin and Central Utilities are eagerly anticipating future modernization projects at the facility.”
Environmental benefits beyond cooling
The CFCs contained in the chiller, if released to the atmosphere, would have the climate impact of approximately 56,000 metric tons of CO2, comparable to the annual carbon footprint of 2,800 Americans. The upgraded chiller and its steam turbine drive is more energy efficient than the old one, and also uses a more modern refrigerant called R-134A which causes zero ozone depletion, and nearly seven times less global warming potential than R-12. Continuing environmental benefits will accrue over the life span of the enhanced system. In addition to revenue from destruction of used refrigerants, the university earned over $77,000 for recycling approximately 38,000 pounds of old copper tubing from their chiller during the second phase of the project, adding to the already impressive programs the university has for managing solid waste recyclables.
Since this first project was completed, the university has begun plans with the same partners to replace another CFC-based chiller. In addition, EOS and Carrier have expanded their engagement to provide similar incentives for clients nationwide, which they anticipate will accelerate deployment of more efficient, climate-friendly, more advanced cooling technologies in universities, hospitals, commercial office buildings, supermarkets, industrial plants, and many other facilities around the United States.
The University of Rochester project demonstrates how new technologies and carbon finance can converge to benefit the environment and operational performance, driving innovation and change. Following Rochester’s model, other universities and top tier organizations committed to sustainability have an immediate opportunity to demonstrate leadership around refrigerants, as well as accountability throughout their supply chain.
Photo and content credits thanks to the University of Rochester’s Green Dandelion which reported on the project May 21, 2012.