COPPELL, Texas -- Minyard Food Stores here will use ammonia as a coolant for its distribution center's perishables area when it completes a conversion from chlorine-based refrigerants.
The switch to ammonia, which will be used to cool 208,000 square feet of space, will be complete by February, said Prudencio Pineda, senior vice president of distribution and warehousing for Minyard Food Stores.
Minyard, which expanded its perishables area by 123,000 square feet of space three years ago, is already cooling the newer, additional space with ammonia.
"Including the new space, we are looking at about 70% of the perishables area currently using ammonia, with only about 30% that needs to be converted for the entire department to be using ammonia," he said.
The switch to ammonia was prompted by the production phaseout of ozone-depleting chlorofluorocarbon gases. Alternative refrigerants were not an attractive option for Minyard, said G. Howard Ray, process safety manager for Minyard.
"To use the alternative [coolant], you have to retool your facility's system. We took this into consideration, and decided to make accommodations for ammonia use instead, which is also a cheaper alternative," he said.
Pineda estimated that ammonia costs about 80 cents per pound.
Currently the area is operating efficiently using ammonia and a chlorine-based coolant. "Right now both chemicals work well together, though I do think the area with the ammonia seems a bit cooler," he added.
Because ammonia is an extremely hazardous material, Ray was brought in as safety process manager to ensure that proper handling practices are followed in the entire distribution center. This includes ensuring worker safety around the cooling agent. "Minyard has spared no expense, and invested $250,000 on process safety management enhancements," Ray said.
According to Ray, 100 ammonia leak detectors are currently being installed around the chiller units. The devices are triggered by leaks as small as 50 parts per million.
A notification and evacuation alarm is also being installed, and will be operational in two months. "There are three different tones to alert employees to an ammonia leak, a fire, or another type of problem," he explained.
Pineda said implementation of the safety program has gone well under Ray's leadership. "He puts us in compliance with all regulatory agencies, and we've been congratulated us on the job we've done promoting safety on this subject," he told SN.
Ray stressed that using ammonia is manageable provided that adequate systems and procedures are put in place. "Ammonia is no more dangerous than [other refrigerants], as long as the necessary system upgrades are maintained," he said.