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What does a good Ammonia refrigeration operation look like?

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Often i have to check my content in regards to what type of picture i am painting in respect to Anhydrous Ammonia, in particular its defamation.

More common than not, Ammonia receives a negative stigma from end users due to its hazardous nature, unintentionally I have also played a role in this whilst attempting to educate people on the fundamental & easily rectifiable issues that are concurrent in our industry.
I thought it would be a valuable exercise to come up with a few items or areas in which a prospective client could ensure that a) he knows what he/she is getting into & b) knows what is expected of his installation including the design as well as maintenance & on-going functionality.

"One of the most critical & forgotten documents is the commissioning sheet. Chase it like your Granddad's lost pocket-watch!"Of course capital cost & energy efficiency is at the pinnacle of any board decision. In my professional opinion Anhydrous Ammonia is the one & only sustainable solution to any industrial installation. Not only has it been used since the tinkering stages of refrigeration, across the board it is the most energy efficient. I am willing to bet in years to come we will not only realise this fact that Ammonia's industrial sector, organic competitors will be a dissent memory but also we will come to manage the substance more effectively in smaller units. This aside Ammonia is a hazardous substance, reputably toxic, corrosive, & flammable. Nevertheless these are its best qualities, it possesses obeisance unlike its organic & synthetic counterparts.

That being said there are some certain questions to ask your provider to ensure you dont purchase a lemon;

Support; An Industrial Ammonia system for us in the southern hemisphere is very much like a purchasing a European car. You are buying a highly engineered product however spare parts & technical support is limited. Who will design the system & who will maintain it, are they qualified & more importantly experienced? Ask for references.

Administration; You need a living dossier or Process safety management system, who within your organisation or elsewhere can maintain this?

Location; are you planning on building or developing next to a Kindergarten? If so please dont.
Redundancy; Do you have enough machines or 'swing' to allow for conducting regular & intrusive maintenance? If the worst should occur do you have enough critical parts on hand for rapid recovery.

Access, To properly & efficiently maintain an industrial refrigeration system, there needs to be a level of 'Maintainability' This includes vehicle access to the engineroom, sufficient & safe elevated platforms to access all valves & equipment together with fixed gantries for heavy rigging. Lets not forget being able to walk around a compressor set or not have to crawl through a roof cavity to operate control valves.

Emergency warning systems/fixed gas detection; Ensure you have both explosion level as well as toxicity monitoring in all areas where Ammonia is contained. Furthermore ensure that the alarm output activates an actual visual & audible alarm & where applicable remote shutdown. If you decide to save money by installing a toxicity detector you may shutdown the plant or evacuate the plant unnecessarily & possibly exacerbate the problem. On the flip-side if you run with just a 'LEL' or explosion sensor you will not have accurate monitoring for workplace toxicity measurement.

Ventilation; keep it fresh & clean! Having sufficient air changes to reduce heat are one item on the agenda but ensure the outlet is not dumping above a doorway or into the next building. During even a minor release, Ammonia will cause involuntary contact & panic. Exhaust outlets should be elevated & protected from onsite personnel. Again pressure relief outlets share the same idea. Get the outlet as high as practically possible or dump to a dispersion tank or scrubber.
Irrigation; Emergency showers & eye washes must be readily accessible & not to mention heated so your pores can open in aid of flushing any contaminants, they should also be outside a plant-room so you can also breath whilst you wash!

Controls; Automation is fantastic, what happens when its inoperable? Ensure you have a manual override control system. It is highly cost effective to also include remote 'dial in' functionality on a secure network. Techs can regularly 'dial-in' & you can change temperatures from the holiday home.

Cleanliness, lubrication, painting; While your system is being built it must be assembled in an almost clinical & ritualistic fashion to ensure its reliability & life-cycle. Each part should be magnetically cleaned after welding, well lubricated & torqued correctly. Non-interference equipment should be protected by a suitable Industrial coating which may include the combination of as much as three separate products depending on temperature range. A guarantee from a coating supplier can be gained where coatings are applied to a national standard.

Signage & labeling; Even the most experienced technician or engineer can get caught up tracing pipework. The more process flow identification & instrumentation diagrams in-place the more efficient your plant will be serviced & in an emergency situation, swiftly remedied or consulted remotely.

Commissioning; The tender process is very demanding & costly so therefore once practical completion has been met, Contractors wish to do as little as possible to get something out of the job particularly if the buck has been passed between departments. One of the most critical & forgotten documents is the commissioning sheet. Chase it like your Granddad's lost pocket-watch!

Maintenance/asset management; You must choose, do i play the capitalist game & run this horse into to the ground for the next generation of managers to deal with, or do we keep this operation sustainable & safe. As obvious as it is for most of us, there are certain individuals & organisations that play the short game & to be honest with our throwaway society the way it is, "run to fail" does offer certain financial benefits. The favorable solution is a combination or programmed condition monitoring, preventive & predictive maintenance activities which all allow for a mitigated risk evaluation. It is important to ensure your incumbent is reporting & maintaining both your plant & your dossier, as with the commissioning sheets, these reports often are mysteriously lost & the word 'maintenance' is not always comprehensive. What level do you require?

Training; Educate your staff & contractors. Its not hard & its not a major cost for a little bit of instruction on the what not & what to's. They will feel more comfortable knowing that things are under-control & be more inclined to stick with the business.

Preparedness: Do not expect emergency responders or your service provider to save the day in an emergency. Lets assume it takes on average 5 minutes to realise there is an Ammonia release. Then another 5 minutes to to decide whether or not to raise a site wide alarm. Further 10 minutes for the Fire service to get to site & 30-60 min to get an Ammonia technician. There's 20 minutes before help arrives & at least 40 minutes before there is any possibility of resolve. Now if the problem is serious, its Hazmat time be prepared to wait ... & wait... & wait. This is why it is so important to have planning & prevention in place. Most Ammonia releases are minor however the fire service will dualistically love to use this event for training purposes. As much as it is important to have a good relationship with your local fire station, at the same time you want to avoid there presence on site unless required. Know your limitations & resources & engage both the fire service & your Ammonia Refrigeration service company in the Emergency planning of your business. The fire service are not technical engineering superheros.They rescue & protect.


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