By Tarina Coetzee, with insights from Persistence Market Research
Energy-labelling legislation and eco-design to drive installations.

As the optimum usage of resources governs industrial success, modern industrialists take the highroad by adopting a less-input-more-output approach. This has engendered the ground-breaking evolution of a techno-economic system – absorption chillers, which use cost-effective fuel sources such as waste heat, hot water, steam and natural gas to optimise the energy consumption of industries that have year-round conditioning requisites.

A new hybrid chiller at the Cornubia filling station in Durban. Image credit: Service First/Trane.

Absorption chillers make inroads by surpassing the electrical and mechanical chillers

Though high installation and maintenance costs leading to a long payback period may be a deterrent, substantial sales of absorption chillers are likely to persist, driven by the acute demand for greater efficiency.

The preference that end users have gained for absorption chillers over their conventional counterparts, such as electrical and mechanical chillers, has inspired Persistence Market Research (PMR) to trace the enormous growth potential of this sector. PMR, in its incisive study, identifies the crucial factors that underpin and hinder the otherwise steady ride of the absorption-chillers market.

Absorption-chillers market – what’s on the horizon?

Revenue from the absorption-chillers market was around USD1.2-billion in 2018, and a cohort of drivers are likely to sustain its growth. Stringent regulatory norms requiring manufacturers to rethink their product designs and discard underperforming units are resonating with industrialists as they demand value for price. This has urged manufacturers to develop energy-efficient, noiseless and reliable absorption chillers to differentiate their offerings in the market.

In the efficiency-driven industrial landscape, absorption chillers are the exact innovation sought and manufacturers pacing to match the ascending demand will aid in scaling up the market. All-in-all, the future holds promising growth opportunities, and Persistence Market Research (PMR) estimates that, the revenue of the absorption-chillers market will cross the USD1.3-billion mark in 2019.

Chiller2Chillers at the Stella Place Old Mutual project in Sandton. Image credit: Pat Burke

Analysing the mega trends shaping the future of the absorption-chillers market

Winds of automation are sweeping over industrial processes, and even absorption chillers are not immune to the effects. Programmable Logic Control (PLC) chillers are appealing, and end users can view the performance of these systems on wireless devices such as smartphones, tablets and laptops. The trend of adopting remote-controlled absorption-chiller systems is gradually gaining ground in industries, as profit-seeking industrialists find a window to save on the costs incurred by employing operational supervisors.

As industrialists are increasingly adopting environmental safety measures amid the rising pressure due to stringent government norms, solar-powered absorption chillers are making a significant place for themselves in the industrial sector. With governments cushioning the high installation costs in the guise of subsidies, the adoption of solar-powered absorption chillers will become more attractive tor end-use industries.

Developing countries are increasingly creating a goldmine of opportunities for the manufacturing sector, which is inspiring absorption-chiller manufacturers to expend and expand into these regions. For example, Trane Inc. extended its absorption-chillers rental service network in China, India and the countries of Latin America to serve the small- and large-scale industries concentrated in these regions. Additionally, steady investments in the food and beverage and chemical industries across China and India are likely to create a revenue pocket for the absorption-chillers market in the South Asia and East Asia regions.

Chiller4The chiller hall at PwC in Midrand. Image credit: Pat Burke

Sustainability implications for the absorption-chillers market

In a bid to meet the unmet demand of end users, manufacturers of absorption chillers have geared towards streamlining their growth strategies. Manufacturers are capitalising on opportunities as a result of environmental-sustainability concerns raised by governments, and this is likely to urge end users to adopt compliant absorption chillers. Another manufacturing shift taken towards the development of noiseless and vibration-free absorption chillers with greater life expectancy will continue to remain sought-after in nascent manufacturing facilities.

As operating costs heavily rely upon coefficient of performance (COP), manufacturers are moving past single-stage absorption chillers and focusing on the development of dynamic-stage absorption chillers. The adoption rate of dynamic-stage absorption chillers is likely to surpass that of the former on account of their high COP that significantly reduces overall annual operating costs.

In the immediate future, even double-stage technology is likely to be replaced, as absorption chillers with a COP value as high as 1.8 are available in the market. For example, Thermax Limited recently announced the launch of triple-stage absorption chillers that possess 30% higher COP compared to double-stage absorption chillers.

Absorption-chillers market – unmet demand from the maritime industry to offer many opportunities

Many growth opportunities await absorption-chiller manufacturers as the maritime industry encounters challenges such as increasing operational costs and waste heat, which, when emitted, negatively impact the environment. Waste heat can serve as a fuel source for operating absorption chillers, which can cool the vessel and upgrade its overall operational capability. The same is being leveraged by COOL4SEA – it filed a patent with the underlying aim of gaining a significant share of the absorption-chillers market, with just a handful of players offering cooling solutions for maritime applications.

Going forward, the maritime industry holds sustained growth opportunities for the absorption-chillers market. In 2018, over 65 000 ships were operating in the ocean, and this number is projected to grow at an annual rate of 3.5%.

Gauging the competition intensity of the absorption-chillers market

The absorption-chillers market can be characterised as a fairly consolidated landscape, with tier-one players – Thermax Limited and Shuangling Eco-Energy Systems – accounting for between 20% and 25% of the market share and generating a major amount of revenue. Expansion of manufacturing facilities remains a key strategy for core players. For example, in 2019 Thermax Limited inaugurated a new manufacturing facility in Andhra Pradesh, India, to develop a broad array of vapor absorption chillers, heaters and heat pumps in the initial phase.

Given that developing countries attract heavy investments from the manufacturing sector, market Goliaths are substantially capitalising on opportunities to set up their operational facilities in the region. However, in the race to occupy a major share in the absorption-chillers market, the strategies employed by tier-two players contrast with those adopted by market goliaths.

Tier-two players, such as Trane Inc., Broad Group and Carrier Corporation, occupy between 10% and 12% of the absorption-chillers market share. Product launch remains a strategy for this batch of absorption-chillers market players. For instance, in 2017, Trane Inc. announced that it has expanded its CenTraVac Centrifugal Chiller Portfolio, with the aim of increasing its customer base and broadening its geographical reach.

Chiller5A look inside the chiller at the Kubili Lodge in Hoedspruit. Image credit: Pat Burke

The absorption-chillers market through the lens of analysts

The authors of the report have a positive take on the growth prospects of the absorption-chillers market. Manufacturers who are taking the keywords ‘automation’ and ‘efficiency’ into consideration while developing absorption chillers, will be able to leapfrog their competition, with innovation being their main weapon. European norms on eco-friendly designs and energy labelling are likely to have a marked influence on the adoption rate of compliant absorption chillers. Since the non-industrial sector is approaching surpassing the currently high-growth industrial segment of the absorption-chillers market in terms of application, expansion of demand from the emerging end-user segment can be leveraged as a lucrative growth opportunity.

Legislation on energy labelling and eco-design to foster the installation of absorption chillers in the coming years

Globally, the absorption-chillers market was valued at nearly USD1.2-billion by the end of 2018, and PMR projects that it will expand to around USD2-billion by the end of 2029.

End-user focus on lowering energy costs and enhancing environmental sustainability

Absorption chillers are primarily adopted in regions where the prices of the source fuel, such as waste heat or natural gas, are low in comparison with electricity prices. This results in the reduction of the average annual energy cost, thus, decreasing the payback period of the product. Further, absorption chillers are eco-friendly in comparison with their conventional counterparts, as the former relies on refrigerants such as water and eliminates the need for CFC and HCFC refrigerants, which are responsible for high C02 emissions. Hence, increasing environmental concerns combined with reduction in average annual energy costs are increasing the adoption of absorption chillers, primarily in waste heat recovery applications.

Concentrated solar power (CSP) absorption chillers gaining traction

Electric and other types of absorption chillers consume large amounts of electricity, which, in turn, increases overall energy costs. This makes solar powered absorption chillers a more viable option . Further, using solar energy also offers a solution for power-outage problems in regions that require chiller applications. For instance, in recent years the MTN Group commenced operations at its first cooling plant in the country, featuring an absorption chiller that uses cutting-edge solar technology and uses water as a refrigerant.

Lithium bromide – key segment for absorption chillers

The global absorption-chillers market can be segmented based on absorber type into lithium bromide and ammonia. The lithium-bromide segment is expected to account for a prominent share in the global absorption-chillers market over the forecast period. Lithium-bromide absorption chillers possess various features such as cost-effectiveness, environmental-friendliness, superior corrosion protection, rugged machine construction and low cooling water temperature operations.
Ammonia-based absorption chillers are expected to create nearly 9% of the overall incremental opportunity during the forecast period.

South and East Asia to assist market growth in the near future

The Middle East and Africa are expected to account for a prominent share in the sales of absorption chillers, owing to their usage across the natural gas sector. Continuous growth in the food and beverages and chemicals sectors across countries, mainly India and China, are expected to drive the installation of absorption chillers, and, in turn, escalate the growth of the global absorption-chillers market over the forecast years.

The market in South Asia is anticipated to witness 1.6X growth in terms of value over the coming years within the global absorption-chillers market.

Absorption-chillers market – competitive landscape

Some of the market players included in the global absorption-chillers market report are Robur Corporation, Trane Inc., Carrier Corporation, LG Electronics, Inc., Thermax Limited, Shuangliang Eco-Energy Systems Co. Ltd., Kawasaki Thermal Engineering Co., Ltd., Hyundai Climate Control Co. Ltd., Yazaki Corporation, World Energy, BROAD Group, EAW Energieanlagenbau GmbH, Colibri bv, and Johnson Controls-Hitachi Air Conditioning.

Chiller6 2ISO left front view CDHH 440X440X 1550. Image credit: Service First/Trane

Globally, the absorption-chillers market is fragmented, with the top-three players holding nearly 20% of the global market share. New product launches and expansion of production facilities are expected to be some of the key developments in the global absorption-chillers market across the globe.

In January 2019, Thermax Limited announced the introduction of its new production facility in Andhra Pradesh, India. This plant was set up with an investment of around USD24-million in phase one, with a capacity to produce nearly 400 absorption chillers a year. In the recent past, Thermax Limited introduced triple-effect absorption chillers that have a COP of 1.8, which is nearly 30% higher when compared to double-effect absorption chillers.

What is happening in South Africa?

South Africa has seen its fair share of development and innovation in the chiller environment.

As the industry evolves through its next refrigerant transition – from HCFCs and HFCs to HFOs – refrigerants play a significant role in chiller efficiency. The selection of new, near-zero lobal warming potential (GWP) refrigerants enables us to optimise chillers to best-in-class efficiency levels,” says Alistair Sansom, director of Service First, authorised distributor of Trane. “The Trane Series E CenTraVac was the first chiller to employ an HFO refrigerant; which is now a trend we are seeing across the sector.”

“Secondly, we saw innovation in chiller-compressor design to deliver the highest efficiency in all operating conditions, in full load or part load. Integration of a direct-drive, specific-speed screw compressor, permanent-magnet motors and the Trane Adaptive Frequency Drive have significantly improved chiller efficiency,” he says.
Last but not least, compressor and heat exchanger technologies continue to evolve and improve efficiency significantly.

Sansom lists the biggest advancements in chiller technology as follows:

  • Introduction of drives to improve efficiencies, for Trane it’s the Trane Adaptive Frequency Drive Upgrades for its chiller line.
  • Use of electronic commutation (EC) fan motor technology rather than conventional alternating current (AC) motors.
  • Significant design improvements in compressor technology (for example magnetic bearings) and heat exchangers.
  • Use of energy-efficient and environmentally responsible refrigerants (next generation Low GWP).
  • Advance chiller controls that can pre-empt chiller conditions and are at the same time more user-friendly and interactive.

Air-conditioning manufacturer Daikin has recently launched the next generation in high efficiency chillers. The new water-cooled VZ series and air-cooled TZ series offer the highest European seasonal energy efficiency ratio (ESEER) ratings in its class, minimising running costs and CO2 emissions to make it the most efficient in the market.

The launch is the latest in a range of innovative products developed by Daikin to help specifiers and end users stay one step ahead of EU legislation and rising energy costs.

The compact VZ chiller series incorporates several advanced-technology features that are unique in the market. Presenting a 40% reduction in footprint, the new chiller offers a low noise solution with outstanding flexibility to match any specific application.

The advanced design of the new VZ delivers perfect balance: It achieves high cooling capacity with reduced power inputs and is especially efficient while running at part load, typically 97% of the operating time. The new chiller achieves an EER of 5.7 at full load, with an ESEER of up to 8.3 at part load.

The new VZ chiller series has been developed to achieve maximum efficiency and is future proofed to comply with existing design and regulatory standards as well as longer-term EU energy goals.

“With the EU low carbon roadmap now targeting an 80% reduction overall in CO2 emissions by 2050 and F-Gas legislation driving a reduction in direct emissions, there is more demand than ever for high efficiency HVAC systems that reduce consumption in use. With up to 50% of building energy usage accounted for by HVAC equipment, the new VZ can help boost the environmental credentials of buildings to achieve high BREEAM or LEED scores with lower running costs, making assets more attractive to building owners and tenants,” says Shaun Scannell, national sales manager, applied and refrigeration of Daikin.

The new chiller is the result of applied innovation combined with new technology advances. The new chiller’s unique design uses Daikin single screw compressor together with inverter technology with a high efficiency flooded type heat exchanger that offers a 60% improvement in heat transfer compared to previous chiller series The series offers a wide range of capacity with single compressor models from 450kW to 1 100kW and the larger dual compressor dual circuit models with outputs between 1 200kW to 2 100kW at nominal Eurovent conditions.

Chiller7South Africa has seen its fair share of development and innovation in the chiller environment. Image credit: Pat Burke

The new VZ width has been reduced to a minimum thanks to a unique design with new single pass counter-flow condenser and an oil separator integrated into the condenser shell. The slimline design of the unit is also available with an optional knockdown panel which makes it ideal for installation through existing doorways. It boasts the widest operating conditions in its range, offering not only cooling, but hot water production up to 65°C. Its unique design incorporates Daikin Variable Volume Ratio (VVR) technology, which optimises unit performances by adjusting the discharge pressure of the compressor to the condensing pressure.

No under or over-compression phenomena (common in traditional compressors) are experienced, thus efficiency losses are reduced to a minimum. Suitable for use even in noise-sensitive environments, a high-performance soundproof compressor cabinet option offers noise levels at one metre as low as at 81dBA at full load and 66dBA at part load.

With active harmonic filtration and an automatic transfer switch to a backup generator, the new chiller series offers a comprehensive solution for data centres applications. Enabled for operation via the Daikin On Site platform the VZ can be monitored remotely, allowing the system to be accessed with one click for system optimisation and preventative maintenance. It also delivers outstanding versatility. The new chiller delivers on cost-effectiveness, as well as innovation. If compared to a traditional non-inverter product, the Daikin VZ can achieve a 25% reduction in running costs with return of investment in less than two years.

Daikin Applied has also launched the new generation of inverter driven air-cooled and water-cooled screw chillers with R-1234ze(E) refrigerant. The company has recently launched the TZ air-cooled chiller series and the VZ water-cooled chiller range. The TZ range will be available from 130kW up to 830kW cooling capacity and the VZ range will be available from 340kW to 1 600kW.

The selection of R-1234ze(E) allows minimisation of the global warming impact of screw compressor chillers thanks to the low Global Warming Potential in combination with high energy efficiency. R-1234ze(E) is an HFO refrigerant (Hydro Fluoro Olefins). Its Ozone Depletion Potential (ODP) is equal to zero (0) and the Global Warming Potential (GWP) is 7 (according to the EU F-gas Regulation based on IPCC Fourth Assessment Report). The GWP value is less than 1 according to the IPCC Fifth Assessment Report. The new range of screw compressor chillers will be equipped with Daikin design inverter driven single screw compressors with Variable Volume Ratio (VVR) technology.

An inverter drive modulates chiller capacity at part load in the most efficient way while VVR (Variable Volume Ratio) adjusts compressor operation at any temperature conditions. A sliding valve fine-tunes refrigerant discharge pressure to match the operating condensing pressure. In this way refrigerant is compressed to just the right pressure level thus minimising the energy losses typical of standard compressors designed with fixed volume ratios.

Inverter drive for capacity control and VVR for discharge pressure fine-tuning, are working synergistically in order to optimise unit efficiency at any operating condition.

Thanks to this superior technology, current Daikin R-134a and new R-1234ze(E) series are already compliant with 2021 Ecodesign efficiency requirements. The introduction of the new R-1234ze(E) range will provide a long-term solution that supports the HFC phase-down schedule of the F-gas regulation.

Mfundo Ciko, director, MCS Chilled Water, says advancements in the chiller space include inverter compressor technology in both screw and scroll types, more use of plate-heat exchangers in larger chillers (up to 1400kW) – which results in less refrigerant (smaller carbon footprint), falling film evaporators on inverter centrifugal chillers, micro-channel condensers on air-cooled units and four-pipe chillers that have been refined and offer greater control of the hot water and chilled water with far better reliability.

“Falling Film evaporators carefully regulate the amount of refrigerant used to achieve the correct heat exchange and ensure no wastage of energy. They also have the lowest refrigerant charge volume of all chillers in a similar capacity range. This technology ensures seasonal energy efficiency ratio (SEER) values ranging from 7.7 up to 9,” he says.

Ciko says that chillers have definitely become more energy efficient. “We now offer energy-efficiency ratios (EERs) in excess of 3.1 on most models and we have SEERs of 4.6 or more, using better control of the refrigeration cycle as well as adjustments of the condensing section including the use of micro-channel condensers. Most chiller designs are now focused on the part load capacity and to be the most efficient at these capacities. As chillers tend to work at 60% capacity for 90% of the time (certainly in the commercial application), Clivet has used step-control of scroll compressors to ensure that at the 60% capacity level we do not have too many compressors cycling on and off. Screw-compressor inverter technology has, in general, increased the efficiency and simplified the operation. These units can achieve SEER values in excess of 5 on air-cooled variants and around 7.7 on water-cooled units,” he says.

Ciko says the debate on natural refrigerants has an influence on what MCS Chilled Water does. “As a supplier it definitely does influence the type of product being developed. Our Italian factory certainly is at the forefront of this type of development and all refrigeration regulations are being firmly applied in accordance with the Kigali Amendment. In South Africa we do not see these regulations applied stringently and certain manufacturers take advantage of this. However, it is up to us (product suppliers) to try to lead the way to get the industry to conform to this very important set of regulations. The handling of these new refrigerants certainly needs to be looked at and possibly the time is right to insist on proper training to use the new refrigerants,” he says.

Using advanced heat recovery technology, the Mitsubishi City Multi Hybrid variable refrigerant flow (VRF) saves energy by redirecting the heat captured during the cooling process to areas requiring heating, such as hot water tanks.

HVRF001The new hybrid system offers the same control and network of a VRF combined with the added benefits of a chiller system. Image credit: Mitsubishi

Heat recovery = less refrigerant

The advanced two-pipe heat recovery technology uses refrigerant only between the outdoor units and the patented Hybrid Branch Circuit (HBC) controller, while water replaces refrigerant between the HBC and the indoor units. This reduces exposure risk to harmful refrigerants in occupied spaces by 30% and complies with international legislation and environmental trends. Simply put, the HBC intuitively directs the necessary energy to areas requiring heating or those which require cooling, using water rather than refrigerant.

Less refrigerant = less greenhouse gas = reduced leak detection = increased occupant safety

HVRF is ideal for applications where individual control settings or simultaneous heating and cooling is required, such as hotel rooms, hospitals, offices and schools, or where limitations on refrigerants and occupant safety restrictions are imposed.

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