Choosing a More Environmentally-Friendly Chiller

By Aimee O'Driscoll, 05 February 2021


With sustainability a core goal for an increasing number of organizations, you may be looking to select the most environmentally-friendly equipment for your lab. Chillers can impact the environment in several ways, including energy consumption and the use of harmful refrigerants. However, by taking certain factors into consideration, you can minimize your carbon footprint and limit the potential of contributing to greenhouse gases. 

In this post, we reveal the main factors to consider when choosing a more environmentally-friendly chiller including:

  1. Refrigerated vs. non-refrigerated
  2. Temperature control
  3. Heat generation
  4. Type and level of refrigerant
  5. Durability

Let’s look at each of these in detail:

1. Refrigerated vs. Non-Refrigerated

One of the first decisions to make when choosing a chiller is whether to go with a refrigerated or non-refrigerated model. While there are obvious benefits to having a refrigerated unit, your application may not require the additional cooling capacity.

A non-refrigerated chiller such as a PolyScience Non-Refrigerated Recirculating Cooler can give you a temperature range of 5–70°C. You can choose a model that either uses liquid-to-air cooling (facilitated by a fan-cooled heat exchanger) or liquid-to-liquid cooling (using your facility’s water). You just need to bear in mind that the working temperature range will be dependent on ambient air temperature or facility water temperature, respectively.


PolyScience Non-Refrigerated Recirculating Cooler

Left: Liquid-to-air cooler. Right: Liquid-to-liquid cooler.

There are a couple of advantages here. First, you have relatively low energy consumption compared to refrigerated chillers. Plus, once the chiller is no longer useful, you don’t have to worry about special disposal of refrigerants.

One more advantage (not related to the environment) is that non-refrigerated chillers are usually relatively inexpensive compared to their refrigerated counterparts.

Of course, with a non-refrigerated unit, you won’t be able to achieve the same low temperatures you can with a refrigerated unit. Also, you are dependent on the ambient air or facility water temperature and typically can’t benefit from the same level of temperature control you have with a refrigerated model.

2. Temperature Control

Refrigerated or not, some chillers consume more energy than others. To help the environment and save on energy bills, you may want to look for a recirculating chiller that has relatively low energy consumption. And one key factor in energy consumption is temperature control.

For example, LabTech’s H Series Recirculating Water Chillers boast high energy efficiency as a result of using “hot gas bypass” technology in maintaining the setpoint temperature. This method sends hot, uncondensed refrigerant through a reservoir coil, negating the need for energy-consuming heaters and avoiding on/off cycling of compressors that can lead to energy-wasting temperature overshoots.


LabTech’s H Series Recirculating Water Chillers

LabTech’s H Series Recirculating Water Chillers.

3. Heat Generation

All chillers release heat into the environment but some more than others. While it’s not an obvious consideration, it’s worth looking at how much heat is produced and the impact on the surrounding environment. This is especially important if you are purchasing a large unit or a number of small units which will produce a significant amount of combined heat.

The heat released can have an impact on the facility’s HVAC system, increasing or decreasing the burden. For example, if you work in a climate that requires heat to achieve suitable ambient temperatures, then the heat generated by the unit will help to lower the burden on your HVAC system. If you work in a warmer climate, however, the heat generated by the chillers will mean that air conditioners will need to work harder to bring the temperature down to ambient levels.

You can actually calculate how much heat will be generated by a unit using a fairly straightforward calculation.

4. Type and Amount of Refrigerant

Refrigerated units made after 1995 no longer contain ozone-depleting substances (ODS) such as chlorofluorocarbon (CFCs) and hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs). However, they do typically contain hydrofluorocarbon (HFC) refrigerants, which are greenhouse gases. According to the Climate and Clean Air Coalition:

“Though HFCs currently represent around 1% of total greenhouse gases, their impact on global warming can be hundreds to thousands of times greater than that of carbon dioxide per unit of mass.”

While there are HFC alternatives, it’s difficult to get away from them completely in refrigeration systems. One solution is to look for a unit that contains a relatively small amount of refrigerant, limiting the potential environmental damage when it is released into the atmosphere. For example, the technology used in PolyScience's DuraChill® Portable Chillers requires a very small amount of refrigerant gas, limiting the product’s global warming potential.


A PolyScience DuraChill® Portable Chiller

A PolyScience DuraChill® Portable Chiller.

Note that all our chillers use refrigerants that are compatible with international environmental standards. 

5. Durability

While your chiller won’t last forever, you’ll likely want to purchase one that will last as long as possible. A longer lifespan for your machine means a better investment of your money, but it’s good for the environment too. Once they’re no longer useful, chillers must be disposed of, and whilst there are guidelines regarding proper disposal of refrigerants to cause minimal impact, they will ultimately have some effect on the environment.

While it can be impossible to state for certain how long a machine will last, there are some ways to get a good gauge of durability. Checking the warranty is one, as longer warranties may be offered on a more reliable machine. You could also check with the manufacturer to find out the typical lifespan of the machine.

Most of our chillers come with a one or two-year warranty. For example, the Jeio Tech RC Compact Recirculating Cooler comes with a 1–2 year warranty.


A Jeio Tech RC Compact Recirculating Cooler.

A Jeio Tech RC Compact Recirculating Cooler.

You often pay more for quality and durability, but this usually means you won’t have to replace your unit as soon as you would with a low-end model.