Two big trends to watch: Manufacturers are switching to a more energy-efficient refrigerant, and they’re also developing smaller units for food prep stations as chefs continue to innovate their offerings.
Restaurant refrigerators have entered a season of change.
At least one change is occurring inside refrigerators that will be undetectable to the eye: a reduction in energy use. The other trend is manufacturers adding or expanding lines of compact undercounter refrigerators to keep ingredients at work stations fresh.
The biggest change coming to restaurant refrigerators is the replacement of R-404a (a hydrofluorocarbon blend refrigerant) with alternate refrigerants that do not contribute to global warming to facilitate the heat transfer necessary to create closed environments in the 33- to 38-degree range. The reason for the change is that R- 404a and HFC-134a (used in some restaurant refrigeration applications) add to the greenhouse effect that produces global warming if released into the atmosphere. The replacement refrigerants do not.
Manufacturers are currently going with two choices: R-290 (a hydrocarbon refrigerant that is a highly refined version of propane) and HFO-1234yf (a blended refrigerant). R-290 was chosen by most manufacturers as the replacement refrigerant because studies conducted by engineers found it to have nearly identical thermodynamic properties to R-404a, so it absorbs and transfers heat at nearly the same efficiency. R-290 also is non-toxic and abundant enough to keep replacement costs low.
Unlike R-404a, R-290 is flammable. However, the new restaurant refrigerators use it in such low quantity that the risk of explosion near gas-fired equipment in restaurant kitchens is practically nil, according to a study published in the June 2013 issue of the International Journal of Refrigeration.
Among the first to adopt R-290 refrigerant is Michigan-based Delfield.
Unveiled in May 2016, GreenGenius is “the most energy-efficient, environmentally friendly hydrocarbon-based refrigeration system ever developed,” claims Sarah Sunderman-Kirby, product manager at Delfield. “Specifically engineered to use R-290, GreenGenius systems meet or exceed new U.S. Department of Energy and Energy Star 3.0 standards.”
“Featuring Delfield’s unique adaptive defrost and electronic temperature control, restaurant operators will never again have to worry about when their refrigeration system will go into defrost because the system monitors the environment and automatically adjusts defrost times to ensure clean ice-free evaporators. This reduces compressor cycling and energy usage,” Sunderman-Kirby emphasized.
The first Delfield products to employ GreenGenius technology are its new line of Coolscapes undercount refrigerators and worktables. Offered in 36 models ranging in width from 24- to 72-inches, Coolscapes refrigerators come with stainless steel or glass doors, and with Smart Door hinges that open past 90 degrees and stay open to improve efficiency in busy kitchens.
Other Delfield refrigeration products—with the exception of built-in refrigerators—will convert to GreenGenius technology and R-290 by April. Those products will continue to use R-404a until 2019, when separate federal regulations go into effect.
Company: True Food Service Equipment
True Food Service Equipment in St. Louis began to convert its refrigerators to run on R-290 in mid- 2015. It started with several reachin refrigerators in its STM, T and TS Series (with single or twin cabinets and with solid and half doors); several models of undercounter refrigerator (28- to 48-inches wide with solid or glass doors or drawers); and several models of worktops (28- to 48-inches wide with doors or up to four drawers). Other features are identical to models still using R-404a refrigerant, including self-closing doors, incandescent interior lighting, and digital temperatures reading in either Fahrenheit or Celsius.
But the company’s days of R- 404a are numbered. “True will have converted 90 percent of its line to R-290 by March (2017),” says Ken Gerak, regional sales manager. “The last equipment to be converted will be open-air coolers, which are still awaiting testing by Underwriters Laboratories and the National Sanitary Foundation.
“True’s refrigerators with R-290 refrigerant provide a bonus of delivering 15 percent to 45 percent energy savings, which adds to restaurant bottom lines,” Gerak says.
Master-Bilt is also converting some, but not all, of its refrigeration equipment to use R-290 refrigerant. Refrigerators that employ remote condensers outside of restaurant space do not work well with R-290, so Master-Bilt is instead using HFO-1234yf refrigerant. HFO-1234yf has energy efficiency and performance characteristics similar to HFCs, yet it’s non-volatile, non-flammable and can easily be retrofitted into existing coolers and freezers. Replacement compressors use existing technology and are readily available. And this blended refrigerant provides dramatically reduced global warming potential, says Jack McDonald, vice-president of marketing and business development for Standex Refrigerated Solutions Group.
Master-Bilt’s AIR (Alternate Industrial Refrigerants) Initiative refrigerants will be transitioned into walk-in and remote refrigeration systems coolers, and freezers in 2017 and refrigeration merchandisers, reach-ins, and cabinets in 2018. Freezer merchandisers, reach-ins and cabinets will convert to the new refrigerant in 2019.
Liebherr USA, whose parent company has sold R290 foodservice units in Germany for many years, brought these units to the U.S. market for the first time in 2016. The initial offerings include refrigerators on casters designed for use in restaurants with catering operations.
Another trend in restaurant refrigerators are compact units that hold menu ingredients at safe chilled temperatures under surfaces where staffers will combine them into the various dishes customers will order.
Hoshizaki America recently expanded its Commercial Series Line into Mega Top Tables. Model CRMR72-30MD6 is a 72-inchwide, three-section Mega Top Table with a stainless steel exterior and anodized aluminum interior sides and back with a stainless steel floor. The unit’s rail includes a full complement of 30 1/6-inch size, 4-inch deep pans. This Mega Top comes standard with a full length, 10-inch deep and 1/2- inch thick cutting board and six 175-pound dynamic load rated drawers. Each drawer accommodates one 1/2-size pan and one 1/3-size pan (pans by others). An innovative air distribution system distributes air evenly to maintain product temperature.
Also introduced by Hoshizaki are a line of caster-mounted refrigerated equipment stands with top surfaces utilizing built-in heat shields that reflect ambient heat emanating from cooking equipment placed on top of these stands. Refrigerated compartments can be set from 28 to 45 degrees. Other features include a solid-state digital controller with LED screen and temperature alarm.
Designed for high-volume restaurants, the stands’ drawers hold two 6-inch-deep pans for storing large volumes of ingredients. Pan rails feature a finger cutout for easy lifting.