IIAR Remembers: George Briley

His nickname was “Mr. Refrigeration,” which speaks powerfully about his influence on the ammonia refrigeration industry. George Briley’s colleagues often said that he “developed the bible” for the industry. Within the International Institute of Ammonia Refrigeration, of which he was a co-founder, he was considered a true pioneer.

Briley died on June 17 at 90, leaving behind a legacy that included being one of the original founders of IIAR. “

George was an ammonia advocate,” said Paul Selz, who worked with Briley for more than 20 years at Lewis Refrigeration and Refrigeration Engineering Corporation. “He really knew ammonia, he had one of the best engineering minds I’ve ever been around and he was a great teacher. He started the practical school for the operating guy when he was at RECO.”

Briley was instrumental in founding IIAR, and he played a major role in IIAR-2 becoming the design standard for ammonia refrigeration systems as a complement to the ASHRAE-15 safety standard. Along with Chuck Hansen, Bill Richards and Don Niederer, Briley stepped forward in 1971 when there was an attempt to classify ammonia as a flammable gas under the National Electric Code. He pushed for the formation of a group that would advocate against the NEC proposal on behalf of the ammonia refrigeration industry.

With Briley providing his technical expertise, the newly formed IIAR was able to insert provisions into the ASHRAE-15 safety standard that stipulated that ammonia machinery rooms should have emergency ventilation. That led to the adoption of a footnote in the NEC that provided an exception for the use of ammonia in refrigeration systems that met ASHRAE-15. In other words, if ASHRAE-15 standards for emergency ventilation were followed when ammonia was used, it did not need to be treated as a classified electrical issue.

“That saved the industry from a lot of onerous regulations. George was one of the men who made that happen,” Anderson said. “He was critical to the foundation and the original structure of IIAR.”

Briley served IIAR in a number of capacities during his career, including as the organization’s first chairman in 1971-73. He also hosted the first annual IIAR Conference in San Antonio. He presented many technical papers at IIAR conventions, covering such topics as a new concept for freezing carton products; ammonia absorption refrigeration; defrosting evaporators with water; energy cost comparisons between cryogenics and mechanical freezing systems; hot-gas defrost systems for large evaporators in ammonia liquid overfeed systems; and lubricant (oil) separation. He also served on numerous safety and standards committees.

Daniel Dettmers, now a research engineer at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, was in his 20s when he first met Briley at an industry meeting. “When I spoke, many of the older men were dismissive or tolerant at best,” Dettmers recalled. “George, on the other hand, took the time to listen. In his deep, gruff voice he would either explain to me why I was wrong, tell me a story of how he tried something similar decades earlier or make the rest of the group listen. Very few argued with George or even less dared to interrupt him. He had the respect of the entire industry.”

Briley was an expert in virtually every area of the industry. His contributions ranged from revolutionary developments with screw compressor packages to standard packaged equipment that simplified ammonia system installations. Automatic production food-freezing systems, process fluid chillers and skidded Petro Chemical compression packages were all designed under his engineering direction. He was also versed in compressors, centrifugals, ammonia absorption and all types of refrigerants and operating systems.

“He could sit down and design the system while I was still trying to find the data,” Selz said. “He really understood refrigeration and he could talk about almost any system in great detail with anybody. He knew it back-and-forth, and he had a photographic memory.”

Alex Gooseff worked under Briley for 15 years at Lewis Refrigeration and RECO. “George was probably the most well-rounded refrigeration person in our industry,” he said. “A lot of us specialize in certain segments, but George worked in them all. Many a young engineer was trained by George Briley.”

Raised on a small farm in Louisiana, Briley enlisted in the military after graduating from high school, serving as a combat engineer across Europe and during the Battle of the Bulge. One of his jobs was to head out in front of troops to clear mines and set up communication lines prior to battle. Discharged in 1946, he earned his degree in electrical engineering from Louisiana Polytechnic University in 1949.

After graduating summa cum laude, he joined the engineering training program at York Corporation in Pennsylvania. In 1961, he left York to become vice president at Lewis Refrigeration, remaining in that position for 14 years. He moved to San Antonio to work for RECO in 1975, and then launched his own business, Technicold Service, Inc., in 1990.

“He took RECO from a small company to becoming a major player in our industry,” Gooseff said.

During his distinguished career, Briley, along with colleagues, held at least four U.S. patents for inventions such as a fluidized freezing method, slush ice maker and others. He was honored with ASRAE’S Distinguished Service Award in 1992 and the George B. Hightower Tech Achievement Award in 2006.

He chaired ASHRAE’s TC10.1 committee and was a member of numerous other committees. He also authored more than 30 articles for the ASHRAE Journal. “He wrote them in a user-friendly, simple-to-understand fashion,” Gooseff said. “He was a great ambassador for industrial ammonia refrigeration. He went to Europe and to Asia to promote the safe uses of ammonia. He had a real passion for it.”

In 2009, ASHRAE established the George C. Briley ASHRAE Journal Article Award, which annually recognizes authors for refrigeration-related contributions to the ASHRAE Journal.

Briley worked until he was 79, only stopping due to health issues. He is survived by his wife of 66 years, Phyllis; son John and daughter-in-law Rebecca; daughter Melissa Mieras and son-in-law Tom; and five grandchildren, Clif and Erin Briley; Ryan, Shawn and Michael Mieras.