Ammonia Holds Promise for Supermarkets

Natural refrigerants have the potential to provide supermarkets with methods to address environmental and regulatory changes, take advantage of long-term efficiency savings and reduce energy costs. Educating grocers about the benefits of the technology could contribute to increased demand. There are new opportunities within the industry as stores look for alternative ways to power refrigeration.

“With regulations changing right now and phase outs of HFCs, the end user is confused on what direction to take,” said Randy Fernandez, zone managerWest Region, for Kysor/Warren. “We as a collective can do a better job to promote ammonia as a viable and efficient solution to the industry.”


Supermarkets are investing in natural refrigerant technology, and Fernandez said those could increase as end users’ comfort levels with ammonia rise.

In 2015, Piggly Wiggly installed an ammonia CO2 -cascade system from Kysor/Warren, and everything has been very positive, Fernandez said. “The installation process was extremely comparable to any other rack system that was previously installed by Piggly Wiggly,” he explained.

Keith Milligan, chief information officer of JTM Corp., Piggly Wiggly’s parent company, has said the system is using 30 percent less energy than a comparable store that uses the older technology. He has also said the system is as easy to maintain as others the company has in operation.

Fernandez said a key lesson learned from the installation was that Kysor/ Warren could put together a customizable installation program that could be easily installed and supported. “There tends to be a lot of turnover with installers/field technicians. You can’t just train them once and run for the hills. There has to be someone knowledgeable to take care of the store,” Fernandez said, adding that Kysor/Warren provides on-site training.

For Milligan, the biggest benefits have been the energy savings and the fact that the company doesn’t have to worry about a refrigerant change.

In addition to gaining efficiencies and having future-proof solutions, a move to natural refrigerants can also show consumers supermarkets are committed to the environment. “I only think it is going to continue as more and more consumers are educated on the benefits of natural refrigerants. I think there will be a level of expectation of supermarkets to join this effort and support the environment,” Fernandez said.


Both Keilly Witman, owner of KW Refrigerant Management Strategy, and Fernandez said there are myths surrounding ammonia use in supermarkets.

“The ammonia systems for supermarkets have gotten the reputation that they are going to be about 100 percent more expensive than other types of systems, and that is a myth that started with that first ammonia/CO2 cascade system in Carpinteria, California,” Witman said. She added that the high cost of the Carpinteria store was because Albertsons had to buy an industrial ammonia system and buy a separate commercial CO2 system, then pay an engineering firm to figure out how to make the two systems work together.

Ammonia systems that have been manufactured specifically for a commercial setting are more cost effective, Witman said, “though supermarket end users should still expect a cost premium until the technology is widespread enough for manufacturers to achieve economies of scale.”

Witman said there is also a misperception in the commercial setting that installing an ammonia system in a supermarket will require two sets of contractors — one for the commercial side and one for the ammonia side. “That’s just false. There are plenty of commercial refrigeration contractors that have technicians who are trained to operate and maintain ammonia systems.”

Rebranding commercial ammonia systems could help supermarket end users understand that ammonia use in a commercial setting has very little in common with the big industrial systems.

“There is so much that is different about the two, including how much ammonia is in the refrigeration systems. Commercial ammonia systems can be designed to use less than 100 pounds of ammonia for the entire store, and all of the ammonia is on the roof, so there is no reason for anyone to come in contact with the ammonia refrigerant other than the trained service technician,” Witman said. “Yet when you say, ‘ammonia system,’ people assume you are talking about the same thing you find in industrial applications. One of the greatest things we could do for commercial ammonia systems is to come up with a different name for them.”

Fernandez said rebranding ammonia for commercial use could help the supermarket industry correlate it with safety and efficiency. “In a grocery store, ammonia is staged outdoors. Ammonia from a leak perspective would be easily detectable and no one in the building would be exposed,” he said.

Increased education will help eliminate the myths and increase demand. “There are so many cost benefits that ammonia can offer. I think we’re doing a disservice to the industry by not arming supermarkets with the information they need to make good decisions,” Fernandez said. “Platforms like the North American Sustainable Refrigeration Council [and IIAR] serve as good resources to get the word out.”