By Benjamin Brits

Having built up a competence of the industry under great mentorship, Petrie van der Merwe hasn’t looked back since entering the HVAC&R world.

March 2022 personality profile sponsored by:

Born and raised in Stellenbosch in the Western Cape, van der Merwe attended schooling and university there. He matriculated in the early 2000s, and then completed a B.Eng Mechatronics degree.

Getting into the HVACR sector was by ‘coincidence’. Having an unfortunate circumstance owing to loss of several key clients at a previous employer, van der Merwe recalls getting to the point in the new job-search cycle where he was willing to take on any position that he could get.

Petrie van der Merwe

Petrie van der Merwe

On an introduction to Energy Partners (still his current employer), there were several opportunities available in different divisions. The company decided that his work experience and aptitudes were most suited to a role in the refrigeration design department. Van der Merwe notes that, “I was very fortunate to start my career in HVAC&R under managers that understand the importance of mentorship. Under their guidance I started building a competency in the industry and haven’t looked back since.”

Outside of work, van der Merwe’s hobbies and interests include running, hiking, and reading as much as possible – especially autobiographies and history. He also is an enthusiastic spear fisherman, although he frankly states he doesn’t feel like he is very good at it.

What he enjoys most about work is that while each new project builds on the knowledge base of the previous, each is still unique and therefore holds a variety of new problems that he gets to solve on a daily basis.

Considering some significant achievements, van der Merwe has been very fortunate to work on several unique and prestigious projects over recent years. Two stand-outs for him include a cold chain logistics clients that required a solution to reduce their site water consumption by ~80% during the drought period in the Western Cape – this involved what was believed to be the largest adiabatic condenser installation in South Africa at the time, and the second was involvement in plant design elements for one of the largest macadamia processing facilities in the world – here the curing heating coil had a unique and very stringent design requirement in heat transfer, footprint and pressure drop together with the airflow being directed against buoyancy.

Considering the future of the sector, van der Merwe highlights that he believes energy efficiency, sustainability, and safety will be the main focus areas. The system selections will vary between these three criteria depending on the specific client preferences.

With regard to sustainability, he expects the uptake of natural refrigerants to increase significantly, with specifically R744 replacing many Freon applications for a much larger share of the commercial refrigeration landscape. For industrial refrigeration he expects R717 to still dominate for many years to come. Where it is practical, he expects that adiabatic condensers will replace evaporative condensers – addressing water security.

Van der Merwe feel that a very strong focus on charge reduction technology could be expected in terms of safety, especially for ammonia installations. He believes that direct expansion and low charge process cooling equipment, and secondary refrigerant circuits will become more common.

Efficiency with variable speed drives and EC fans have already become commonplace, and he believes the next big step is real-time smart monitoring of the plant operation (cooling meters), so that the plant control systems can respond more quickly to the system demand and thereby increase system efficiency.