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Freon prices rising explosively due to phasing out of coolants

Due to European regulations curbing the use of synthetic coolants more and more, the market for these coolants has changed into a market with sharply increasing prices. Natural coolants offer an alternative, but these aren’t new. Frank Boeijen of Van Kempen Koudetechniek says the company was already building cooling installations with ammonia in the 1950s and 60. The company from Tiel, the Netherlands, celebrates its 70th anniversary this year. 

Located in the heart of the Dutch fruit production region, it wasn’t long before the first growers knocked on Van Kempen’s door in Tiel for a cold store. In 1947, Van Kempen Machine en Apparatenfabriek was founded, which later became Van Kempen Koudetechniek. Three years later, the company supplied its first cooling installation to a fruit grower. “In the early years we mostly had fruit growers as our customers,” Frank says. “Many of those growers are still our customers.” From that basis among fruit growers, the company also started getting demand for the cooling installations from auctions. 

Phasing out ever more
“Van Kempen was soon applying new techniques, and started building large installations,” Frank continues. In the 1950s and 60s, all cooling installations were built with ammonia. “That has become very current again, because the phasing out of freons is just continuing.” It started with European regulations to phase out R12, followed by R22, and now R404 and R507 are also being phased out. After 2020, new cooling installations that use these synthetic coolants can no longer be built. Between 2020 and 2030, existing systems can only be topped up with recycled coolants.

“The phasing out of freons is continuing, and we are now seeing prices for freons already rising sharply,” Frank says. “They’ve almost become like day prices.” He says there’s no general advice for all companies. “If it’s a fairly recent installation, you shouldn’t switch, that would be destruction of capital. When expanding or adjusting and your installation is already a bit older, it’s definitely worth considering to switch to natural coolants and no longer choose freon.”

Ammonia or carbon dioxide offer a guarantee for the future
Investing in an installation with natural coolants costs more, but companies can use EIA subsidies. “You’d then have an installation that won’t be affected by outside influences for years, because natural coolants won’t be phased out. That is the case for synthetic coolants, it started with R12 and R22, who knows what’ll happen in ten years.” The production of these coolants is also curbed, which is reflected in the rising prices of these coolants. “We’re convinced freon prices will rise considerably in coming years.”

“We sent all our customers a letter about the changes in regulations, and we explained what this means for the customer. There’s quite a bit of unrest about this issue,” Frank explains. “In the letter we explained that we expect freon prices to rise, and we’ll enter into talks with our customers to look at each customer’s situation separately, so that we can give them tailor-made advice.” A relatively new installation on freon can continue to function for years if properly preventively maintained. Frank sees that an ammonia and carbon dioxide solution is often chosen in cases of newer installations. This solution is mostly appealing to larger installations and in rooms in which many people work. This investment is mostly interesting for usage of 250 to 300 kW or more. For companies using less, a trans-critical carbon dioxide installation is a good solution.

Breakdowns announce themselves
Much has also changed in the field of automation in recent years. At first, Van Kempen grew along with the auctions. In the 1980s, the company expanded its portfolio by also starting in the flower, meat and fish sectors. In those same years, the first computer-driven cooling installations were built. In the early 2000s, the assortment expanded even further with climate control. “From private individuals to five star hotels in Amsterdam,” Frank exemplifies the target audience.

In 2012, the control room, or VK live centre, was opened. “With that, we could completely manage the installation for our customers,” Frank says. “We built many large distribution centres for a large shop chain, both nationally and internationally, and they want to manage the installations from a distance. So we do that 24 hours per day.” That is a trend seen more often. Many companies hand over the management of the installation. Through the VK Dynamics software, an installation can be controlled from a distance. Frank explains: “We have a dashboard in the software that allows us to see de performances of individual cooling cells at a glance. We always say: each breakdown announces itself, so by monitoring the performances, we can make adjustments before a breakdown occurs.”

Less energy use
The software also contributes to lowering energy costs. “We’re always striving to switch using as little energy as possible,” Frank continues. For example, an update of outdated software can lead to energy saving of 20 to 30 per cent, without an actual adjustment being made in the cooling installation. “We already have various reference projects that show investing in new controls by means of VK Dynamics will pay for itself within a few years.”

Energy use is the topic of the future. “We’ll continue to pioneer to limit energy use even more, without the products suffering from it.” Residual heat from the installation, for example, can be used to heat the offices, or to heat water. “Many companies don’t use these options. We try to draw attention to the possibilities of recovering heat when customers want a new installation built.”

Ripening chambers
In recent years, there was a significant increase in the building of ripening chambers for exotic fruit. In part due to innovative and large customers, Van Kempen Koudetechniek has gained a progressive position on this market. “We’re constantly striving to prevent breakdowns for our customers in production or storage processes. That’s why we confidently look towards the future and continue to prove our slogan: Van Kempen Koudetechniek, ‘Cold today. Cold tomorrow.’”

“VK Dynamics is equipped with a kind of library, which stores all of the settings for ripening chambers at product level.” Although Van Kempen built its first ripening chamber in 2004, the market took flight in recent years. “Bananas are packed in the same boxes, but for exotics you have to work with all types of different packaging from various countries. There isn’t a standard,” Frank concludes. “That is of influence on the ripening process.”

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