Columbus Ice Rink Moving to Ammonia

With the phase out of R-22 looming only a few months away many businesses have either begun looking for alternatives or have already set a plan in motion. One such example can be found at the Taft Coliseum in Columbus, Ohio. This coliseum seats up to seven-thousand people and is used for basketball and hockey during the winter season. It was built all the way back in 1918 and has been a staple within the Columbus community for decades. I lived in Columbus back in the early nineties and may have even visited this arena. May have…

Because of this arena’s age, and also the phase out of R-22, a four million dollar renovation has been approved. While not all of this money will be going towards converting the refrigerant system a large portion assuredly will. I could not find the exact age of their current R-22 system but with these approved funds the city has agreed to convert the arena over to an ammonia (R-717) system. It is unknown rather it will be an absorption or a vapor compression system. My assumption would be the latter.

This project is still in the preliminary stages at this point as the city has not yet chosen a contractor. They are accepting bids up until October 4th so if you are in the area you should throw your hat in the ring!

Why choose Ammonia to replace R-22

I am curious why they ended up choosing ammonia. Don’t get me wrong, ammonia has been used in ice rinks for decades across the world. It is however a rather rare to see it in the United States. In most cases the United States and our Environmental Protection Agency has stayed clear of potentially ‘unsafe’ refrigerants such as ones with flammability and toxicity potential. But, now, with the push to phase out of not only HCFCs but also HFCs there are very few alternative refrigerants left out there to choose from.

In terms of longevity, business owners have two choices. The first is that they can go with the newer HFO refrigerants. These refrigerants are being developed by Honeywell and Chemours. In most cases they are relatively safe, but they do have a somewhat high global warming potential. Nowhere near as high as a standard HFC but still a rather high number when compared to natural refrigerants. Four of these new HFO refrigerants were approved for use in ice rinks by the EPA almost exactly a year ago in October of 2018. These included Opteon’s XP-10 (R-513A) and Opteon’s XP-40 (R-449A). As well as the Solstice N-13 (R-450A) and the Solstice N-40 (R-448A). I have seen quite a few stories across the US and even globally where arenas have begun adopting these new refrigerants in either retrofits or in entirely new systems.

That leads us to the second choice: natural refrigerants. Natural refrigerants include some of the oldest refrigerants on the market such as hydrocarbons, carbon dioxide, and ammonia. In this example in Ohio they chose to go with Ammonia. (R-717 has been approved for ice rink use though by the EPA’s SNAP program since 2010.) Ammonia is a good choice for ice rinks due to it’s extremely high efficiency but I am still hesitant about the safety concerns. If the system is not properly maintained or an accident occurs it is not just the technician that could be in danger.

If it was me I would have most likely chosen the carbon dioxide (R-744) option. CO2 has been approved for ice rink use since May of 2016 and can provide arena owners a safe, relatively efficient, and a refrigerant that will never be phased out. There is no global warming potential concern with CO2 as it is literally the zero on the GWP scale. This refrigerant, just like ammonia, has been around for over a century and won’t be going anywhere.

Just remember folks, that there are no ‘wrong’ choices when it comes to selecting a new refrigerant for your arena. Just ensure that the refrigerant that you have chosen is in the SNAP approved listing and will also stand the test of time.