Clearing the air
If you were asked what the future of mankind depended on, refrigeration is unlikely to be your first answer. Ron Vallort, global President of the American Society of Heating, Refrigeration and Air-conditioning Engineers, tells FM Magazine how this is so.
“The number one cause of death in the world is malnutrition,” declares Ron Vallort, global President of the American Society of Heating, Refrigeration and Airconditioning Engineers (ASHRAE). “Yet still we find in some countries that up to 50 per cent of crops don’t make it to the table. And that’s because we don’t have the infrastructure set up for the cold chain.”
For the uninitiated, the cold chain refers to the steps necessary to preserve and transport foodstuffs and other perishable products from source to consumer. On the face of it, it may seem a little odd that an association of engineers is so passionate about saving the planet. But, on reflection, it is thanks to the likes of ASHRAE members that we have temperate homes to live and work in, clean indoor air and access to foods and medicines from around the globe.
It is estimated that three million children die each year from diseases that could be prevented by vaccine. That’s equivalent to 30 jumbo jets filled with children crashing every day with no survivors.
“Vaccines prevent diseases such as polio and malaria,” continues Vallort. “If we can’t get those vaccines out to the world, people die. It is estimated that three million children die each year from diseases that could be prevented by vaccine. That’s equivalent to 30 jumbo jets filled with children crashing every day with no survivors.”
Such is Vallort’s concern for this morbid state of affairs that at times he sounds as though he takes personal responsibility for it. As president for more than 55,000 members of an association that has become the global standards setter on all issues related to heating, AC and refrigeration, there is certainly a great deal of accountability to be considered.
ASHRAE’s background in refrigeration goes back to 1904, when the newly formed American Society of Refrigerating Engineers (ASRE) sought to standardise muddled existing refrigeration data. ASHRAE itself was formed in 1959 by the merger of ASRE and the American Society of Heating and Ventilating Engineers (ASHVE), known after 1954 as the American Society of Heating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHAE).
With 112 active standard and guideline project committees and 95 technical committees, ASHRAE sponsors research, develops standards, publishes technical data and organises meetings and educational activities for both its members and other professionals concerned with the HVAC&R industry. ASHRAE’s sole objective is to advance through research, standards writing, publishing and continuing education the arts and sciences of heating, ventilation, air conditioning and refrigeration to serve the evolving needs of the public’.
Vallort was in Dubai recently as keynote speaker at an ASHRAE Emirates Falcon Chapter’s general members’ meeting. On the subject of refrigeration, he noted that “everything old is new again”, highlighting the benefits of the refrigerants of yesteryear. “We started out with ammonia, carbon dioxide and propane as refrigerants,” he explains. “We can call those the old refrigerants, the natural refrigerants. Now there is a move back to using these as they are more environmentally friendly. We must continue to phase out refrigerants that destroy both the earth’s ozone layer and contribute to global warming.”
Vallort adds that, regardless of the refrigerant used, increasing the energy efficiency of refrigeration systems is the most effective way to battle global warming. Creative, practical thinking coupled with further research and development, he says, is needed to come up with new
ways of utilising wasted heat energy. Tri-generation, the simultaneous production of electrical power, heating and refrigeration, is one such solution. As are heat pumps, which reduce CO2 emissions and can be used to both heat and cool. Uses for waste heat are numerous, such as powering microturbines, heating water, driving absorption refrigeration cycles or merely heating spaces.
Energy efficiency and sustainable design are big issues in the HVAC&R industry, and ASHRAE is playing a major role in formulating guidelines for governmental bodies and green building consortia. Just last year, the United States government passed legislation requiring that residential central AC units must be 30 per cent more energy efficient by January 2006. Vallort welcomes this and notes that it is easily achievable with basic awareness.
“Simple maintenance on a facility can reduce energy by up to 30 per cent,” says Vallort. “We have a recent publication that states for an office building of less than 20,000 square feet we can reduce energy usage by up to 30 per cent just with off-the-shelf engineering techniques that are available to everybody. Unfortunately, however, energy-efficient equipment usually means a higher investment, so there need to be more incentives such as this new law to convince manufacturers and consumers that efficient equipment is indeed advantageous, both economically and for the environment.”
For an association as influential as ASHRAE, it is sometimes difficult to avoid being drawn into political issues. In setting indoor air quality (IAQ) standards, ASHRAE has found an unyielding adversary in the tobacco industry. For the past 20 years, ‘big tobacco’ has dedicated significant human and financial resources to ensure that its interests were represented at federal level. This meant attempting to change ASHRAE’s Standard 62 on IAQ from a smoke-free framework to an accommodation’ framework.
The battle began in earnest in 1981 when ASHRAE updated Standard 62 to require ventilation rates two to five times higher in smoking areas than in non-smoking areas. The new standard, Philip Morris noted, “would effectively double the costs for heating and cooling in areas which allow smoking”. The giant tobacco company went on to say: “It is mind boggling to attempt to calculate the harm that [ASHRAE Standard 62-1981] would have done to our company and our industry had it been adopted.”
An ongoing standards revision cycle ensued, with much debate over how to deal with second-hand smoke (SHS), resulting in today’s standard which provides ventilation rates for non-smoking areas only, with an addendum suggesting ventilation rates for places where smoking is permitted. However, ASHRAE has already made it clear that increased ventilation does little to alleviate the problem of environmental tobacco smoke (ETS). Meanwhile, for the hospitality industry, Big Tobacco continues to push for a separate standard allowing for smoking. Ultimately, the decision lies with the lawmakers in government.
“All of us are concerned about it,” says Vallort. “We need to all look into what’s best for the occupants and we keep on striving to come up with the best solution. People need to work together to do that. Everybody is concerned about better indoor air quality. We stay above the politics in it. ASHRAE promotes a smoke-free environment. We don’t determine if smoking is good or bad. We just come up with the engineering solution to handle what has been given to us.”
Vallort insists that ASHRAE is very particular about having balance on each of its standard-writing committees. He says that the association is keen to be much more proactive in the development of standards in its respective industries and wants to better promote itself around the world – hence his visit to Dubai. “We are considered the experts in the HVAC scenario, so we should give authorities the benefit of our experience and our knowledge so that they can draft better rules and regulations. We should work with them rather than following after them to try and make changes.”
“More and more of our members around the world are asking if they can start chapters. The UAE is one of those which have started a chapter in the past couple of years. They have technical programs monthly, interact with government officials and that by itself will promote ASHRAE globally.”