By Guest Author Herb Woerpel, Senior Editor of The NEWS

From the introduction of scroll technology to the onset of variable speed, HVACR compressors have come a long way. Unequivocally, these aren’t your grandfather’s compressors.

Today’s equipment is pushing the limits of efficiency even further in an effort to meet consumers’ desires and exceed mandatory and voluntary government regulations. To accomplish these goals, manufacturers are doing more with less through the use of modulation, oil-free, vapor-compression, and magnetic-bearing technologies as well as the adoption of natural, low-global warming potential (GWP) refrigerants.

INNOVATIONS IN EFFICIENCY

Air conditioning and refrigeration equipment manufacturers are producing higher efficiency compressors in order to meet ever-evolving government regulations.

One such regulation was finalized approximately one year ago. On March 27, 2017, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) mandated a 30-50 percent reduction (on average) in energy consumption on new stand-alone commercial refrigeration equipment as measured in kWh per day. Efficiency is evaluated on the system as a whole, including the energy utilized by the doors, lighting, insulation, controls, fans, and condensing unit.

To meet this standard, many manufacturers have focused on improving the performance of their compressors.

“Building compressors to meet and exceed the performance and price expectations of equipment manufacturers and their customers requires a robust research and development team,” said Michael Robertson, senior account manager for component solutions at LG Electronics USA. “This trend has pushed LG’s engineers to examine the effectiveness of each step in the development and manufacturing process. To meet the demands of the market, we’re challenging conventional wisdom and, in some instances, creating new compressor variations. The insight gained from our ongoing research has allowed us to improve every product we offer.”

LG’s investment in engineering has led to a more robust suite of compressors that serves a wider variety of applications and delivers value at every price point, said Robertson.

“For instance, LG is building on the success of its variable-speed compressors in 2018 with the launch of a two-stage scroll compressor and a unitary duty rotary compressor,” Robertson said. “LG’s expanding product offering gives manufacturers more flexibility in taking new air conditioning systems to market.”

Looking forward, Robertson said vapor-compression will be the rule in HVACR compressors for the foreseeable future. And when new regulations are announced, LG will be ready with reliable compressors to meet the demands of the marketplace, he said.

Emerson’s Joe Linsenmeyer, marketing director, air conditioning, Emerson Commercial & Residential Solutions, said regulations and increased awareness regarding comfort and energy savings are driving demand for multi-point optimized systems and compressor technologies.

“Increased efficiency of the compressor as well as modulation, such as the technology used in the Copeland Scroll two-stage compressor, have helped original equipment manufacturers [OEMs] to produce more cost-effective and higher-efficiency systems that deliver enhanced comfort benefits,” he said. “The current equipment in existing homes and buildings can be between 10-20 years old and quite inefficient. Higher-efficiency compressors allow users to reduce their energy bills and potentially provide additional comfort benefits if the system is modulating, which allows for better humidity control and zoning.”

Emerson’s third-generation Copeland Scroll two-stage compressor lineup is an example of how equipment manufacturers and end users are benefiting from these energy and comfort improvements.

“Designed for refrigeration systems, the Copeland Scroll ZF*KVE compressor has been specifically engineered with vapor-injection technology to increase capacity and efficiency in low-temperature applications,” Linsenmeyer said. “The ZF*KVE’s compression cycle is similar to a two-stage cycle with inter-stage cooling, except that it takes place within a single compressor. This subcooling in the middle of the compression process enables it to provide significant performance gains.”

Emerson is continually examining new technologies in an effort to understand customers’ needs from both the equipment manufacturers’ and end users’ perspectives.

“We continue to develop higher-efficiency fixed-speed solutions, such as the Copeland Scroll ZPK6, as well as new modulation technologies, such as tandem and multiples and two-stage and variable-speed products,” continued Linsenmeyer. “Our goal is to provide the best product for the application, whether it’s a budget fixed-speed, a cold climate heat pump, or a maximum comfort variable-speed unit.”

LOW-GWP REFRIGERANTS

The use of low-GWP refrigerants, including natural refrigerants, is on the agenda worldwide for use in both household refrigeration and commercial applications. The U.S., and many other countries around the globe, are making strides in the refrigeration industry, specifically in commercial food service and retail, to limit energy consumption and harmful impacts on the environment.

John Prall, technical support engineer, Embraco, said creating sustainable and environmentally friendly solutions means providing a better quality of life.

“Embraco is a global company whose mission is to promote quality of life through innovative cooling solutions,” he said. “Creating energy-efficient products is one of the company’s top priorities. For more than 20 years, Embraco has been using natural refrigerants, like hydrocarbons, which are environmentally friendly. The company believes that using natural refrigerants — especially hydrocarbons — is the ideal solution for the future of refrigeration by sustainably aligning economic and environmental needs.”

Embraco is also concentrating on developing compressors that consume less energy and use fewer raw materials. With this, the company anticipates the market’s needs and helps customers meet new regulations on energy consumption worldwide.

“Embraco is prepared to meet future legislation and best practices demanded by the global market through a complete portfolio and also a very experienced team to support the customers in any specific need they may have,” said Prall. “Sustainability goes beyond developing intelligent solutions and continuous improvement; it’s part of the company’s day-to-day operations and is present throughout the value chain, including employees and suppliers.

“For the company, relationships and processes need to be sustainable as much as products and manufacturing plants,” he added.

Prall said Embraco’s FMFT compressor’s variable-speed technology improves the end user’s temperature control and reduces energy consumption.

“A traditional single-speed compressor always operates at a fixed speed, which can waste energy if only a low-cooling capacity is needed most of the time,” he said. “The FMFT is able to operate at a broader range of speeds, allowing it to reach target temperatures more efficiently.”

NEXT-GEN TECHNOLOGIES

Eddie Rodriguez, strategic marketing manager, Danfoss Turbocor Compressors, said oil-free, magnetic-bearing compressor technologies are in high demand.

“These technologies offer superior performance through high energy efficiency, which results in lower operating costs for end users,” he said. “This is a benefit that will last over the life of the compressor, since there is no oil that can degrade performance. Other benefits include quiet operation, reduced risk of failure, lower maintenance, and reduced complexity, as the entire oil management system is eliminated in the design.”

While oil-free, magnetic-bearing technologies have traditionally been optimized for lower-lift applications, such as water-cooled chillers, Danfoss is widening the range of applications these technologies may be used within.

“We’re expanding the availability of this technology for use in high-lift applications, such as air-cooled chillers, heat recovery, heat pump, ice storage, and low-temp process applications, with the recent launch of the new Danfoss Turbocor® TTH/TGH high-lift compressor,” Rodriguez said.

Danfoss is also utilizing next-generation technology in hopes of simplifying contractors’ jobs.

“We’re developing easy-to-use, convenient mobile apps that allow technicians to identify and resolve service and maintenance needs faster and more efficiently, which saves time, cost, and equipment downtime,” Rodriguez added. “For example, our new TurboTool® app for mobile devices provides easy-to-find resources and expert tips necessary to service Danfoss Turbocor compressors quickly and efficiently. The app also allows technicians to quickly identify spare parts kits by using the mobile device’s camera to scan the compressor QR code.”

Dustin Steward, senior marketing manager, Bristol Compressors LLC, said the drive toward higher system efficiencies is causing OEMs to innovate, which is a net positive for consumers and society as a whole.

“Solutions like Bristol’s VStar variable-speed technology help to lower operating cost; improve cooling, heating, and humidity control; reduce power consumption; lower carbon emissions; and more,” said Steward. “Bristol is investing in new motor technologies and mechanical innovations to become more efficient and cost effective. We have also invested significantly in the research of alternate refrigerants, such as R-32, that increase compressor/system performance. From our analysis, we realize that Bristol products can offer overall system performance advantages as the market moves toward lower GWP and higher efficiency.”

Additionally, contractors must be tech savvy to survive in today’s market.  “With more diagnostic control, programming, and protection features on systems, they will need to be able to leverage technology to stay on top of rapid industry changes,” said Steward.

About the Author

Herb Woerpel is senior editor of The NEWS and is responsible for covering the legislation beat and acting as a brand ambassador. He joined BNP Media in 2011 and most recently served as managing editor of The NEWS.