Impacts on Ammonia Refrigeration Systems by Jilin Poultry Plant Fire



According to reports, the Jilin Baoyuanfeng Poultry Plant explosion has caused 120 deaths and 60 injuries. There was no official account of how the fire started. Whether the leaking liquid Ammonia leads to an explosion or a fire causes the explosions of Ammonia tank are still under investigation. The accident leads people to focus on the management and development of the Ammonia refrigeration system markets. The impacts and the markets share of Ammonia refrigeration system are well concerned. 


The accident results in cessation of all Ammonia refrigeration systems projects in Jilin province


As reported, in China, there are more than 90% of large cold storages of Ammonia refrigeration systems. As Ammonia is a natural refrigerant and the Ammonia refrigeration system costs less than Freon refrigeration system, using Ammonia system in large cold storages is still the mainstream. A staff from an Anshan refrigeration company said that some people are very sensitive about Ammonia and the terrible accident would surely have great impacts on the market since the halt of all the Ammonia refrigeration projects in Jilin province.


Opinions split on shrunk market prospect of Ammonia refrigeration system


An expert of refrigeration said that the Ammonia refrigeration system application in large scale construction cold r rooms and food processing plants is of a very high proportion world wide. In general, if it is of good quality, properly operated and well maintained, there is very small possibility of going explosion for the Ammonia refrigeration system. The explosion accident will have certain impacts on markets including the refrigeration companies, automation components, evaporator, condenser, and compressors using Ammonia refrigerant.


The staff from an Anshan refrigeration company pointed out the accident has already influenced the Ammonia refrigeration system markets, and the application for approval of Ammonia refrigeration system will be more stringent. Another staff from Rushan refrigeration company said some projects may use Freon as an alternative since the Freon refrigeration cold storage can reach 10tons or more, and is safer. The expert of refrigeration said the mainstream refrigeration system for large cold storages is still the Ammonia system, because most of the contractors and companies would choose it for lower cost. Recently abroad, some cold storages use new refrigerants including R502 and R404. Yet the application is still too limited. In future, the trend will be the use of safe and natural refrigerants.

Liquid Ammonia Tank being transported from the plant on 5th, June 


Which one is more advantageous for Cold storage: Ammonia Refrigeration System or Freon Refrigeration System


It is reported that the two dominant refrigeration systems for cold storages in China are Ammonia and Freon refrigeration system. Currently in domestic market, the Ammonia refrigeration systems are generally used in cold storages with capacity over five thousand tons and Freon system for capacity less than that amount. Comparison between the two are as below.


Firstly, Ammonia refrigeration systems are environmentally friendly by using Ammonia as coolant, which is natural and doesn’t cause greenhouse effect; on the contrary, Freon refrigerant results in severe greenhouse effect and is officially banned in China, especially for large scale cold storages. However, whether the Jilin Ammonia accident will change the orientation of refrigerant application is still not known. Secondly, Ammonia refrigeration system is lower cost. The price for refrigerant Ammonia is lower than Freon and in the meanwhile the hard wares for Ammonia systems cost less. For Ammonia systems use seamless steel tube and casting valves while Freon systems need the corresponding brass tube and copper valves parts. Thirdly, Ammonia system has certain risk of explosion, but as long as the strict implementation of safety systems, risks are manageable; while Freon refrigeration system is almost zero chance of explosion, but Freon is the culprit of the ozone layer damage. The "Montreal Protocol" stated to eliminate R22 in 2020.  


Lastly, Ammonia leakage is easy to perceive for its stimulating odor, and if properly handled, it generally will not lead to explosion. Ammonia is not flammable at room temperature. When heated to 350 ℃, it is decomposed into nitrogen and hydrogen, and the hydrogen mixing with oxygen in the air can cause explosion. The air mixture is flammable when the volume fraction reaches 11% to -14%, and explosive when reaches 16%-25%. Ammonia intoxication occurs if people stay in the mixture of 0.5%-0.6% concentration for half an hour. Water spray can be applied to dilute Ammonia leakage as it is extremely soluble in water.  At 0 ℃, 130 liters of Ammonia can be dissolved in one liter of water.

The expert analysis, Ammonia and Freon refrigeration systems have their specific advantages and disadvantages. It is hard to change the current status and prospect in a very short term, unless affected by corresponding external factors. The Jilin Ammonia system accident will draw more attention to security management of food refrigerated preservation. At present, China does not have sufficient policies in this regard. We hope the country will introduce detailed relevant rules to regulate the cold storage market for its better development.