With global temperatures rising, the need for refrigeration will be 3.5 times as big in 2050 as it is now. The way we handle cooling – as well as heating – is becoming increasingly important. For years, synthetic refrigerants seemed like a good solution. But it is common knowledge now that they are playing their part in polluting the planet. To help significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions, these damaging refrigerants need to be replaced. There is only one good solution: natural refrigerants.

GEA is at the forefront of technology solutions designed around natural refrigerants, such as ammonia, CO2 and hydrocarbons, to help meet environmental targets for phasing out the use of fluorinated gases (F-gases) – and to help reduce the emissions being pumped into our atmosphere. With this article, we want to explain why ammonia should be your first choice of refrigerant for a greener and more economical heating and refrigeration solution.

The legislation framework

We now know about the harmful effects of CFCs, HFCs, HCFCs and PFCs. Many of these synthetic refrigerants have been banned for a long time, while others have been phased out. This is reflected in various legal instruments, such as the EU F-Gas Regulation, in bans on refilling certain types of refrigerants (such as R22), in the national and international CO2 reduction targets (Kyoto Protocol and Paris Agreement) or in specifications for the protection of the ozone layer (Montreal Protocol).

Our Heating & Refrigeration Technologies division is helping companies switch to natural refrigerants to meet the stricter cooling gas regulations to cut greenhouse emissions and protect the ozone layer by discontinuing the use of F-Gases. 

150 years of efficient choice – saving the climate and money

Ammonia is the go-to natural refrigerant, easily and quickly replacing those that are being restricted or phased out – and it’s effectively an inexhaustible supply. Ammonia could be described as a ‘back to the future’ solution. It’s nothing new and has been around for 150 years but at the same time is a very modern solution.

Thialf ice stadium in the city of Heerenveen, the Netherlands chilled by GEA ammonia chillers
Thialf ice stadium in the city of Heerenveen, the Netherlands chilled by GEA ammonia chillers

Many ice-skating rinks are equiped with ammonia chillers due to the efficiency and low cost for the large area needed. Likewise, GEA has worked with the marine industry for many years, whose deep sea trawlers – and even cruiseliners – rely on ammonia fuelled chilllers to freeze, preserve and store their catch and other onboard food supplies for days or even weeks at a time. There is no doubt about ammonia’s proven stability and efficiency.

David Blankley, Director of Product for Advanced Refrigeration, explained: “Ammonia is the most efficient and cost-effective natural refrigerant with a GWP of 0 and can generate 1.75 kW out of 1 m3/h mass flow. In other words, it has higher capacity so less of it is needed for the equivalent output of alternative refrigerants.”


GEA has had the know-how to work with ammonia for more than one hundred years. Some potential end users might have concerns about using ammonia-based refrigerants but those fears are completely unfounded as we have expert knowledge to install all necessary safety and ventilation equipment in accordance with local rules. Moreover, fully qualified and trained service teams will ensure that all equipment is maintained to the highest standards.

Double the benefit

Another huge advantage of climate friendly ammonia is that it can be used for both low-cost cooling and heating thanks to its thermodynamic capability. The COP (coefficient of performance) of a heat pump running at typical conditions for a district heating network or for process heating below 100 °C is for example 40% higher, compared to synthetic refrigerants, which means 40% lower emissions, 40% less energy and 40% lower cost.

GEA ammonia heat pump system installed at Aurivo liquid milk factory in Ireland
GEA ammonia heat pump system installed at Aurivo liquid milk factory in Ireland

Our proven refrigeration and heating technology can be tailored to provide innovative solutions using ammonia that are sufficiently robust to fit a wide application from minus 45 degrees to an industry-leading 95 degrees, whether it’s for cooling beer in a brewery or the heating demand for the pasteurization process in a dairy. Ammonia is the most cost effective and efficient option for industrial equipment and is already used as a refrigerant in all fields of industrial refrigeration and heating.

Another significant benefit is ammonia’s long lifespan, making it a great investment compared to other refrigerants that you may have to reinvest in after 10 years, in order to update or change to another one. If you invest in ammonia, your investment is safe for the next 30 to 40 years or even more.

The natural solution

As a natural refrigerant, ammonia is effective and efficient in delivering the right temperatures that are needed for the production processes of the food, beverage and dairy industries as well as the pharmaceutical and air conditioning sectors. Most cooling systems using greenhouse gases can be converted to natural refrigerants that are environmentally-friendly and have no/low impact on global warming (GWP) or ozone depletion (ODP). In contrast, synthetic refrigerants all have global warming potential. Their manufacture is a long and complex process, which has a CO2 equivalent output between three to five times that of natural refrigerants. Ammonia is an inorganic compound of Nitrogen and Hydrogen, lighter than air and easily soluble in water. Ammonia occurs naturally, it can be found in the human body and in nature. It is also widely used for different applications, for instance, fertilizers, cleaning products and textile production.

At GEA, we believe ammonia is the best and most efficient refrigerant. It has been the focus of GEA’s design and manufacture of industrial refrigeration units for many years as a sustainable solution for customers, contributing to the phasing out of F-gases and a more climate-friendly planet.

Sustainability remains key for GEA new products

The newly introduced GEA Grasso X screw compressor packages are technical advances that follow hot on the heels of the new GEA CompaX 350 and 400 semi-hermetic screw compressors. To be fully implemented with the existing GEA BluX semi-hermetic chiller series, the new compressors combine best efficiencies by using ammonia.The CompaX 350 and 400 have a volume flow of 321 and 372 m3/h (at 2,940 rpm). By using a speed of up to 6000 rpm and the possibility of a multi-compressor arrangement these two compressor sizes are suited to small, medium and also larger capacity requirements. The semi-hermetic design simplifies the use of ammonia by increasing the safety, reducing the sound level, making installation and set-up easier and saving space..

GEA BluX semi-hermetic ammonia chiller
GEA BluX semi-hermetic ammonia chiller

The new GEA RedGenium is based on the brand-new, highly-efficient reciprocating compressors GEA Grasso V XHP. The series excels by providing the widest temperature and capacity range at industry-leading efficiency, therefore saving resources. Low charge ammonia refrigeration is ozone-safe and does not harm the environment. In combination with green energy, ultimately this natural gas lowers carbon emissions while offering high-performance, energy efficient and sustainable cooling and heating solutions.

Ron Hoffmann, product manager for screw compressors at GEA, says: “Proven refrigeration and heating technology provide innovative, sustainable solutions using ammonia which is safe and leads to reduced total costs. We are happy to bring over hundred years of expertise in the development and production of compressors to the market with our new products.”

Time for change

Ammonia’s versatility in multiple temperature ranges is unlocking opportunities beyond its traditional markets. David Blankley put in a nutshell why ammonia is the best solution for industrial refrigeration and why businesses should be looking to GEA for supplying sustainable refrigeration technology: 

“GEA has been using ammonia for a very long time – it’s very versatile, super-efficient and sustainable. It performs better than other refrigerants as it provides the same cooling or heating capacity with lower power consumption and system costs. All businesses in industrial refrigeration should seize the bull by the horns and switch to ammonia. Of course, it’s a big step for some but it’s a future-proof refrigerant with a global-warming potential of zero.”

Whatever the industry or size of organization, there is nothing to lose and everything to gain from adopting advanced natural heating and cooling technologies. Ammonia is not only cheap in terms of cost per kg, and safe - it is also the best choice to further reduce running costs and emissions. Ultimately GEA can help any business reach its sustainability targets and make a real green impact on industry as part of our mission “Engineering for a better world.”

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