The Standard for Tomorrow


In 1974, the International Institute of Ammonia Refrigeration issued IIAR-2, a standard that would uniquely address the design and installation of ammonia refrigeration systems for the first time and establish IIAR as the standards writing body dedicated exclusively to ammonia refrigeration.

Now, 40 years after it defined the scope of the ammonia refrigeration industry, IIAR-2 is poised to take on an equally revolutionary role, to shape the future of ammonia refrigeration.

The role of ammonia and other natural refrigerants will continue to expand in the coming decade. As the threat of global warming propels natural refrigerants to the front of the line in the search for environmentally stable technologies and the rapid evolution of equipment expands the reach of ammonia and carbon dioxide, the forces that will shape the future are already in motion.

IIAR-2 will play an important role in translating possibility into reality by establishing the bounds for ammonia to grow or be limited.

The standard is currently undergoing a comprehensive update to reflect the industry’s technological change and evolve into a single source document for the safety and design of ammonia refrigeration systems.

“We’re writing this standard for tomorrow, not today,” said IIAR President Dave Rule. “By looking at where we’re going to be as the industry changes, we can create a standard that meets our needs now and in the future.”

Creating such a standard will require IIAR-2 to provide much more information than its previous versions, while at the same time becoming more focused.

“We’re trying to incorporate all the aspects of safety we can, to capture as much information as we can, so that we will be able to consider this one document the comprehensive guide to safety and design criteria across the industry,” said Tom Leighty, Chair of the IIAR-2 Standard Subcommittee.

“While the current version of IIAR2 relates to safety through appropriate design, the topic of safety was not the original focus of the standard,” said IIAR Technical Director Eric Smith. “Prior to this update, IIAR-2 was more closely focused on design standards for systems and equipment. It has not previously covered all the aspects of safety that need to be considered, such as the applications of systems – where ammonia equipment can be used and how safety standards should be applied to different applications.” While the concept may seem simple, the road ahead will be challenging, as the IIAR Standards Committee methodically works to incorporate public input and identify all the detail the updated standard should address.

The committee is currently working to meet the next 2014 publication deadline for updating the standard, which is an aggressive schedule considering the complexities of the American National Standards Institute guidelines that IIAR follows for development of IIAR standards.

“The decision to develop and administer our own regulations comes with tremendous responsibility to ensure fairness, openness and technical validity in achieving decisions that balance safety, equipment options, installation concerns, operational concerns and cost,” said Jeff Shapiro, IIAR’s codes and standards specialist.

“Fortunately, we have a long history with developing IIAR-2 and other authoritative documents, and I have confidence that IIAR understands the level of commitment that’s required and that we’re up to the task,” he said.

The primary objective of the next edition of IIAR-2 is to become a consolidated source of safety information for ammonia refrigeration systems.

“Our driving force is to simplify access to good, quality information in our industry standards,” said Leighty. “There’s no good single source for system design and safety information right now, and that is confusing for everyone. So, we want to provide a common place to obtain that material.”

“Currently, information that describes safety for ammonia systems is made up of a collection of sources, from IIAR-2 itself to other industry standards, that sometimes conflict with each other,” said Leighty. “In some cases, ammonia safety requirements are presented as exceptions to general safety requirements rather than addressing ammonia as a primary refrigerant.”

“That approach understates the role and importance of ammonia as a leading industrial refrigerant,” said Leighty.

“With the proposed changes to IIAR-2, we’re going to eliminate any question about how we, as an industry, view the importance of high quality design and safety standards,” he said. “We’re aiming to provide a singular approach that minimizes the need to interpret varied or competing regulations.”

“Although the current system, including previous versions of IIAR-2, has served the industry reasonably well up to this point,” said Bob Czarnecki, Chairman of IIAR’s Standards Committee, “The time has come to take things to the next level. There are good engineering practices out there, but where are they all spelled out in one place? The answer is that there isn’t any one place to go to find this information right now,” he said. “We’re in a situation where our industry is being described by default because we don’t have one cohesive body of information that is supplied by our industry and is the recognized authority.”

And that situation presents frustration and introduces unnecessary challenges for anyone trying to interpret safety guidelines for ammonia. “People have to go somewhere to get rules and regulations, and if they can’t find it in one place, they have to go somewhere else,” he said. “Our goal is to make IIAR-2 a singular reference standard for our industry so people don’t have to go anywhere else when designing systems.”

One example of the complexity of using the current system involves the relationship between IIAR-2 and ASHRAE 15, both of which are adopted as reference standards in model codes that govern building construction. ASHRAE 15 is primarily a safety standard that includes design guidance; whereas, IIAR-2 is primarily a design document that addresses some safety concerns. There are a number of places where ASHRAE 15 has to defer to IIAR-2 for ammonia systems, and there are a number of places where IIAR-2 has to defer to ASHRAE 15 for general safety requirements, Shapiro said.

“It’s a challenge to figure out which document includes any particular requirement, and to design a building with ammonia refrigeration, you really need to have both documents open side-by-side to make sure that all pertinent regulations are identified and addressed,” he added.

The current situation is no particular fault of IIAR-2 or ASHRAE 15, but rather a consequence of ASHRAE 15 having such a broad scope, applying to all refrigeration systems and all refrigerants in all applications, rather than ammonia specifically, said Shapiro.

The need to address ammonia specifically in all its applications has been driven in part by the advent of technology that is not yet addressed by any standard, according to IIAR’s Smith.

One such technology is used by low charge, small package systems. “We’re looking at how and where those systems can be used,” said Smith. Addressing safety for such a system might mean providing unique provisions for ventilation systems, alarms and alarm levels, or specifying when and where detectors should be applied. “These are the kinds of things no one in our industry has addressed in detail yet,” he said.

IIAR will also address a wide variety of other issues, some of which have prompted discussion within the industry over the years. Smith said IIAR-2 may revisit the question of “shunt-tripping,” or the de-energizing of electrical equipment in the presence of large concentrations of ammonia, and it will likely address clarifying requirements for hydrostatic relief valves and pressure vessels. IIAR-2 will also touch on automatic controls and components, said Czarnecki.

Another major change that will be part of the IIAR-2 update will mean that IIAR removes content that is not design focused, particularly information surrounding maintenance, installation and testing procedures. “The goal for the 2014 edition is focusing IIAR-2 on safe system design and providing references to other IIAR standards that have recently been developed to address other topics that were historically covered by IIAR-2,” said Smith. “For example, we’re taking out specific provisions for start-up and commissioning testing procedures and will reference the newly published IIAR-5, ‘Start-up and Commissioning of Ammonia Refrigeration Systems.’”

“We’re very interested in expanding beyond our traditional focus on industrial ammonia systems,” said Czarnecki. “Our scope, when it comes to standards has always been specifically industrial refrigeration. But now, there are many other applications for ammonia systems, and we need to incorporate those. The potential for growth of the industry is huge.” Another area where IIAR-2 may have wider reaching implications has to do with location of equipment.

Currently, codes and standards require most ammonia refrigeration equipment to be located in dedicated machinery rooms with special safety features, but interestingly, no application of ammonia other than refrigeration systems has a similar restriction.

This raises the questions of what would make ammonia in a refrigeration application uniquely hazardous versus ammonia used for other industrial processes and, if there is no identifiable unique hazard, whether it should be permissible to allow equipment, such as pumps, in process or storage areas.

“The traditional approach for ammonia systems has focused on confining all major equipment, other than evaporators and condensers, to a machinery room because of a belief that the machine room was the only safe place to put that equipment,” said Shapiro. “However, improvements in equipment and safety systems have led some experts in our industry to start thinking outside of that box.”

Czarnecki agreed with Shapiro, saying that it is certainly reasonable for the IIAR Standards Committee to explore new options that might provide specific rules and regulations that vary based on where equipment is located.

An IIAR-2 update may also change the way the industry interacts with OSHA and EPA.

“OSHA and EPA are looking for recognized and generally accepted good engineering practices,” said Smith. “That means, for example, when OSHA comes out to inspect a facility, they can do a better job of ensuring safety if they have guidelines that are unique to our industry. We’re attempting to provide them with better guidelines with the new version of IIAR-2.”

In the big picture, having a clearly established basis of regulation for ammonia refrigeration systems will significantly benefit the industry and its regulators, according to Shapiro. “If everyone is provided with a clear understanding of what’s expected, it won’t come as a surprise when non-compliant designs are rejected for failing to meet those expectations,” he said. “Having IIAR-2 as a single, comprehensive rule book for safe system design may also reduce the level of tension that is often associated with facility inspections.”

As the IIAR-2 rewrite moves forward, it will undergo a comprehensive standards development process led by IIAR and governed by ANSI rules.

“This effort is at the heart of what we do as an industry standards body,” said IIAR’s Rule. “Our goal is to lay the groundwork for the future of this industry, and we’re accomplishing that as we begin to expand the scope of IIAR-2 and the other standards that are being developed.”

It’s exciting to update IIAR-2,” said Leighty. “It was the first standard that IIAR produced, and it was produced with the sole intention of creating design parameters so that people would utilize ammonia refrigeration safely. Now, we’re going to the next level. Our standards are the foundation of our industry, and they will continue to evolve as we do.”