CRS: future-proof solutions made locally

By Ilana Koegelenberg

Commercial Refrigeration Services (CRS) has been designing and building energy-efficient HVAC&R systems since 1976, continually pushing the boundaries to raise the bar on a global scale.

CRS00 1Multiple racks in the process of being built in the CRS workshop in Johannesburg.
Image credit: CRS

Founded in 1976 in Johannesburg, CRS initially focused on refrigeration installations using the latest technology. However, with a commitment to continuous development and providing clients with future-proof solutions, they have grown to become a forerunner in energy-efficient cooling and heating across the board.

Currently, the company employs 160 people and boasts a global footprint with over 110 CO2 units in operation to date.

A short history

There is no denying that CRS has pioneered CO2 technology on this continent. In 2009, they built the first CO2-R134a cascade system in Africa and the following year, in 2010, the first trans-critical CO2 system.

In 2012, they designed and installed the first CO2 trans-critical booster system in Africa and in 2015, their Africa firsts included: first CO2 booster system with parallel compression and ejectors; first CO2 heat pump; and first CO2 condensing unit.

We believe in growing the economy of the country in which we operate by manufacturing locally and empowering the people of our country to stay employed and become self-sustainable for themselves and their families.”

In 2016, they were responsible for the continent’s first CO2 chiller and the first CO2 training facility in Africa. In 2017, they designed the first CO2 blast freezer in Africa and in 2018, the largest CO2 trans-critical installation in the Southern Hemisphere: an impressive 2.75MW. This is also the year they went global with their first CO2 trans-critical installation in Melbourne, Australia, and an impressive 4MW trans-critical installation in California, US.

Products and services

CRS provides a ‘green’, technologically advanced, customisable range of solutions for their clients’ cooling and heating needs.

“Harnessing our engineering, technical, and design expertise, we can also design a unique product based on the size of the business, its requirements, and its goals,” explains Stephen Spence, managing director of CRS.

Their product ranges include the following:

CO2 refrigeration systems

  • Design, manufacture, and supply
  • Systems fitted with heat reclaim to replenish any electrical heating
  • State-of-the-art control systems
  • Combined low- and medium-temperature solutions.

Energy-efficient freon refrigeration systems

  • Design, manufacture, and supply freon refrigeration systems
  • Client-driven solutions.

CO2 chillers

  • Direct expansion for small applications
  • Rack type system for large chilled water needs
  • 10–1 000kW units.

CO2 condensing units

  • Single compressor units for small room installations.

CO2 heat pumps


  • Engineering consultation.


One of the biggest challenges CRS faces as a local manufacturer, is getting the imported components timeously to ensure an acceptable turnaround time. “Imported components can take a long time to get here (whether via shipping or airfreight), so it’s important to be realistic about timelines for getting projects out the factory,” says Stephen Spence. To negate this, the company has formed good relationships with local distributors to ensure they hold stock based on predicted forecasts. They are also constantly searching for local alternatives, buying local wherever possible to reduce lead times.

Another challenge is capacity and managing demand vs output. This is where good project management plays a vital role.

There is also a lack of skills development in the natural refrigerant industry, which makes it tricky for CRS whenever they need to expand and hire new people. That is why the company has invested in a training facility for technicians, contractors, and end users at their premises. This allows them an easily accessible training facility to train on the use of CO2 as a natural refrigerant and the benefits of using such a system.

Staying competitive

So how does CRS stay competitive and ahead of the pack? “We believe in a holistic approach to design and problem solving where the goal is to make sure that no waste heat, cooling, or water is disposed of but utilised within a system to ensure energy efficiency and sustainability,” explains Stephen Spence. This gives them the edge and makes their solution attractive to the end user.

Other clever design aspects include:

  • Implementing heat reclaim to capture heat usually rejected to ambient, to be implemented for space heating and/or domestic hot water. This reduces cost for the client as they do not need additional heating equipment and ensures an optimal system with an increased energy efficiency.
  • Designing an installation in such a manner as to reduce the use of electrical elements to defrost refrigeration evaporators.
  • Capturing rainwater and condensate water to be used to condense a system to reduce its energy usage, and excess water can be used at the client’s discretion, either for irrigation or non-potable water. (Water is a commodity and should not be wasted, by using wastewater you can save on the use of potable water.)
  • Providing a single system to supply a customer with refrigeration and heating to reduce the client’s carbon footprint and operating cost.

It helps that they are cost competitive when compared to imported alternatives. Labour costs are also an advantage here as it allows them to manufacture the products cheaper than what they can be imported for, explains Stephen Spence.

Going natural

CRS has been promoting natural refrigerants and CO2 systems in particular, long before legislation started adding the pressure to go natural.

The HVAC&R industry has relied on synthetic refrigerants for a long time and these systems are still being used, which has a detrimental impact on the environment. The latest governance in South Africa is the implementation of a phase-out regulation to reduce the use of the refrigerant R22 because of its high ozone depleting potential and global warming potential, and eventually ban the use of this refrigerant. There is a global movement from the association Montreal Protocol to implement such regulations faster and CRS supports this movement and others like this.

With the lack of knowledge on how to handle natural refrigerants in high ambient temperatures, as well as the mentality of ‘why change something that works’, people have feared these new advances and have been put off the supposed complexity of building new technology in Africa. That’s where CRS comes in.

“CRS has broken that barrier by constant R&D and working together with clients that we have had for over 40 years, keeping them a green step ahead and becoming a forerunner in energy-efficient cooling and heating systems,” says Stephen Spence.

Why go local?

CRS products are developed to suit the client and the client’s needs, explains Stephen Spence. This is the number one benefit of opting for a locally manufactured solution. “Because we live in Africa, it’s important to be aware that the environment comes with its own very unique challenges,” explains Stephen Spence. “Locally manufacturing means that we are aware of the potential problems and challenges that could arise. The drive to create the best CO2 solution in Africa for Africa led to even more improvements.”

CRS trains its staff to have the knowledge to understand its technology so that they can keep up with the maintenance and services of the client’s projects, therefore giving them the assurance of the know-how of their products. You also have the benefit of local support, which is not always possible with imported alternatives.

“We believe in growing the economy of the country in which we operate by manufacturing locally and empowering the people of our country to stay employed and become self-sustainable for themselves and their families,” says Stephen Spence.

The future

CRS is always looking at improving and growing its products into different industries and sectors. “Moving CO2 into the industrial sector has been challenging, but having done a few products for large food processing houses, as well having the heat pumps go into the property development sector, we are definitely looking to expand our reach in future,” says Stephen Spence.  

As mentioned, CRS recently did its first order to Melbourne, Australia, with a couple more orders following the success of the pilot project. They have also exported its first large industrial plant to California. “From the success of these projects, we hope to carry on expanding our global footprint,” concluded Stephen Spence.

Click here to read the September 2018 issue of RACA Journal


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