On May 11, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) published a notice of proposed rulemaking (NOPR) to the Federal Register outlining new energy conservation standards for automatic commercial ice makers (ACIMs). If approved, this proposal would require up to 30 percent reductions in energy consumption for most of the currently available ACIM equipment by 2027.

Per the Energy Policy and Conservation Act, the DOE is required to evaluate periodically whether more stringent standards could result in significant energy savings in a manner that is both technologically feasible and economically justified.

In 2022, the DOE also published a final rule that updated the test procedures it uses to validate ACIM efficiency levels, which will be mandatory for new equipment testing starting on October 27, 2023. This procedure establishes testing parameters and conditions and clarifies certification and reporting requirements.

Currently, the DOE estimates that approximately 37 percent of ACIM equipment as presently designed can meet its newly proposed energy efficiency standards. Although the remaining 63 percent of ice machines presently on the market are still compliant under the current DOE requirements, they will likely need design improvements to achieve certification under the proposed 2027 standard.

The proposed rule would apply to all ACIMs manufactured in or imported into the United States—including both batch and continuous types—within three years after the date on which the final amended standard is published. This could set the compliance date to as soon as 2027, which would give manufacturers little time to complete their design cycles. The proposal also seeks to establish energy conservation standards for a new class of small-batch ACIM equipment that had not been covered under previous DOE standards.

In addition, the DOE requested public comments on whether to align its proposal with the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) 2022 Technology Transitions proposal, which established sector-based global warming potential (GWP) limits in support of the global hydrofluorocarbon (HFC) refrigerant phasedown—which is currently proposed for January 2025.

The DOE noted that the EPA’s proposed refrigerant restrictions—issued under the authority of the American Innovation and Manufacturing Act (AIM Act)—would also impact the refrigerants allowed within the ACIM sector. Per the EPA’s proposal, ACIMs with less than or equal to 500 grams of refrigerant would have a GWP limit of 150. The proposal would prohibit the manufacture and import of non-compliant ACIMs starting on January 1, 2025, and ban the sale, distribution or export of ACIMs starting on January 1, 2026.

In the DOE’s preliminary market analysis and technological assessment, it identified 20 technological design options that ACIM original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) could employ to reduce unit energy consumption—not including upgrading to a more energy-efficient compressor. However, considering the EPA’s refrigerant regulations, many OEMs are taking the opportunity to combine design cycles to address efficiency and lower-GWP refrigerant mandates in compressor selection. Copeland is working closely with our OEM partners and key industry organizations to better align these separate, yet related, regulatory efforts.

Industry drives additional efficiency efforts

While the DOE is initiating efforts to determine whether amendments to ACIM energy regulations are warranted, the EPA’s voluntary ENERGY STAR program has also amended its energy efficiency criteria.

ENERGY STAR Version 3.0 (2018) established their standard for ACIM efficiency, which addressed not only energy consumption but also the efficient use of water. Any current product manufactured and labeled as ENERGY STAR must meet its Version 3.0 requirements. Industry expects an update to the ENERGY STAR standard in the coming years, as it periodically updates its efficiency certifications to align with—and typically exceed—DOE standards.

The EPA requires third-party lab testing for the ENERGY STAR program. Products must be tested in a laboratory that is accredited to ISO/IEC 17025 standards for the relevant test procedures. ENERGY STAR levels are periodically reviewed to capture the top 25 percent of energy consumers and typically require 5–10 percent energy improvements over previous specifications. According to the EPA, ENERGY STAR Version 3.0 was developed to:

  • Lower the maximum energy consumption rate (kWh/100 pounds of ice) performance criteria levels.
  • Evaluate the potential to amend the potable water use limits (gal/100 pounds of ice).
  • Amend the applicable terms and definitions in accordance with the DOE’s final ACIM rule.

In addition, Natural Resources Canada (NRCan) has listed minimum performance requirements for ACIM cubers and flakers under Canada’s energy efficiency regulations. To date, these standards have been harmonized with U.S. regulations.

Part of a regulatory continuum

Improving energy efficiency in the commercial refrigeration space is nothing new. In 2001, the EPA introduced its ENERGY STAR program to establish voluntary energy consumption guidelines for commercial refrigeration equipment. These guidelines were then adopted as state law by the California Energy Commission (CEC), outlawing the sale of non-conforming products.

Subsequently, the Air Conditioning, Heating, and Refrigeration Institute (AHRI) supported proactive energy reduction measures by recommending standards to Congress that were equal to the most stringent of those proposed in California. The resultant Energy Policy Act of 2005 became a national law in 2010.

Efficiency isn’t the only regulatory driver that manufacturers need to consider. Since the introduction of the Montreal Protocol in 1989, HVACR industries have been under ever-tightening environmental regulations on the use of refrigerants. The Montreal Protocol and amendments to the Clean Air Act were enacted to phase down the use of ozone-depleting, chlorofluorocarbon (CFC)- and hydrochlorofluorocarbon (HCFC)-based refrigerants (e.g., R-22). The Kigali Amendment and subsequent EPA rules have since expanded this initiative to also limit the use of refrigerants with high GWP (e.g., R-404A).

Continuing along this evolutionary line, new proposed regulations are targeting the commercial refrigeration equipment used in food retail and foodservice applications, including ACIMs. The DOE-proposed ACIM rule is expected to be finalized in 2024, proposing up to a 30 percent reduction in energy by 2027.

As always, the challenge to the commercial refrigeration supply chain is to balance regulatory requirements with the demands of the marketplace. It’s inevitable that first costs may rise to achieve reduced energy consumption, but the promise of long-term efficiency savings may offset these costs.

Achieving energy efficiencies

ACIMs are designed to provide one of two operational cycles: batch and continuous. Energy efficiency is measured in kWh per 100 pounds of ice produced. One category that will be particularly challenging given the proposed energy efficiency levels is air-cooled “nugget” continuous ice machines. Several models from major ice machine equipment manufacturers will need to achieve 30–40 percent energy efficiency improvements to meet the proposed standards.

Equipment manufacturers have found that the DOE, EPA ENERGY STAR and CEE performance specifications can be met by using higher-efficiency compressors and motors and improving heat exchanger performance. The following is a sample calculation of the maximum allowable energy use for a typical 1,000-pound cube ice machine:

  • DOE 2018 (current standard): 5.55-0.00063H = 4.92 kWh/100 pounds ice
  • ENERGY STAR 3.0: 5.11-0.00058H = 4.53 kWh/100 pounds ice
  • DOE 2027 (proposed): 5.09-0.00063H = 4.46 kWh/100 pounds ice

As the refrigeration industry continues to face a myriad of challenges—from ever-changing environmental standards and expanding applications for electronics to operating cost pressures and evolving refrigerant technologies—Copeland will continue its stewardship to help the HVACR industry find the most optimal path forward. To stay informed of the ever-evolving regulatory landscape, please visit our resource center.

In his role as account executive on the Cold Chain team, Justin Miles, Account Executive, Outside Sales at Copeland, supports Copeland’s strategic original equipment manufacturer (OEM) partners. Justin began his career with Copeland as an engineering co-op on the company’s Integrated Solutions Team, where he assisted customers in the design and integration of refrigeration condensing units. Shortly after his hiring, he became the department’s lead engineer in condensing unit design and manufacturing. Four years later, Justin became an application engineer, where he was responsible for supporting OEM customers in the selection, application and qualification of refrigeration compressors, condensing units and electronics. Justin earned a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from Wright State University.

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