You are on page 1of 4


Scott Sanford
Energy Conservation in Agriculture Milk must be cooled to storage tem-
perature, typically about 38˚F, to Refrigeration heat
preserve its quality. The cooling
process involves removing 56 BTUs of recovery units (RHR)
energy from each pound of milk. Refrigeration heat recovery (RHR)
units are very popular and efficient at
The basic refrigeration system is
capturing heat from the refrigerant
made up of a refrigerated bulk tank, a
that would otherwise be discharged
refrigeration compressor unit and an
directly into the air. Some of the
air-cooled condenser unit (see figure
brand names for these devices
1). There are several technologies that
include: Therma-Stor, Heat-Bank, Fre-
can be added to the milk cooling
Heater, Century-Therm and
systems on dairy farms to reduce the
refrigeration requirements or to
capture waste heat for pre-heating Refrigeration heat recovery units can
water. They include refrigeration heat capture 20–60% of BTUs in the milk
recovery units, well water precoolers for pre-heating water. The water tem-
and scroll compressors. This publica- perature rises depending on: 1) the
Figure 1. Milk cooling energy flows: tion discusses refrigeration heat amount of hot water used while the
Basic refrigeration system. recovery units. refrigeration system is running; 2) the
ambient air temperature surrounding
the condensing units; and 3) the
amount of milk being cooled. The
Milk from maximum water temperature is about
cow, 98˚F 56 BTU/lbs. of milk to remove before storage
140˚F, but varies greatly depending
on farm conditions.

Super heated
Bulk milk Refrigeration
storage unit(s)



Heated air


University of Wisconsin Extension • Cooperative Extension 2

Depending on ambient conditions, the

How do they work? refrigerant gas can reach tempera- Sizing refrigeration
An RHR unit captures heat from the
tures in excess of 200˚F when entering
system refrigerant that would other-
wise be discharged to the air and
the RHR heat exchanger and 75–85˚F heat recovery units
lower exiting the tank after the refrig- To maximize the recovery of waste
transfers it to the water, in effect pre- heat, the RHR storage tank should be
erant heat is transferred to the water.
heating the water before it enters the large enough to provide all of the hot
An air-cooled (sometimes water-
water heater. water requirements for one milking. If
cooled) condenser unit is plumbed in
The RHR unit is made up of a water series with the RHR heat exchanger to it takes 50 gallons per cycle for
storage tank and a heat exchanger. remove any remaining heat from the washing the milking system and 46
The heat exchanger can be separate refrigerant before it passes through gallons per cycle to wash the bulk
from the water tank or jacketed to the the evaporator to start the cycle over tank every other day, then it will typi-
outside of the storage tank and (see figure 4). cally require 75 gallons of hot water to
covered with insulation and a protec- clean the milking system and 69
Some RHR tanks are available with
tive shell. gallons for the bulk tank.
electrical heating elements so they
The jacketed storage tank, which is can be used as a water heater/RHR In an ideal world, we would like 144
available in 50-, 80- and 120-gallon combined unit. These are advanta- gallons of RHR storage but since the
size tanks (see figure 2) is the most geous where space is limited and bulk tank is only washed every other
popular. Heat is transferred to the water usage is low but at the expense day, we would typically only provide
water as the hot refrigerant gas of reduced heat recovery. storage for 110 gallons (75 gallons
leaving the compressor unit is piped plus half of 69 gallons) so the RHR unit
through the RHR heat exchanger and would be sized to a 120-gallon tank.
cooled (figure 3). Large farms may benefit by having
two or more RHR storage tanks.
Another option for farms needing
additional storage volume is to install
an insulated storage tank next to the
Figure 2. Typical refrigeration heat
RHR unit and plumb the tank drains
recovery installation next to water
Figure 3. Cut-away view of a refrigeration heat recovery unit.
3 Energy Conservation in Agriculture: Refrigeration Systems

together and the tank outlets at the

top together (see figure 5). Thermal Economic
buoyancy will move warm water into
the storage tank as it is heated. If justification
increased efficiency is desired, a small The payback for the purchase of an
circulator pump can be installed so RHR unit is based on a reduction in
that water is continuously being circu- water heating costs. If the water is
lated whenever the refrigeration com- heated from 55˚F–100˚F with an RHR
pressors are running. unit and then heated to 165˚F with
the water heater, the estimated water
heating cost savings would be (100˚F -
55˚F)/(165˚F -55˚F) x 100 = 40%
savings. Actual savings will vary
Figure 4. Milk cooling energy flows greatly depending on individual farm
refrigeration system with refrigeration
heat recovery.

Milk from water
cow, 98˚F 30-50% of
56 BTU/lbs. milk BTUs
of milk to remove Hot water
before storage
Super heated
refrigerant Water
Refrig. heater
heat unit
Refrigeration recovery
Bulk milk
unit(s) unit
storage De-super
38˚F heated

Air-cooled Energy source:

Electricity condenser Potable • electricity
water • propane
• heating oil
• natural gas

Heated air

Figure 5. Refrigeration heat recovery

unit with extra storage tank.


Hot water

Refrig. Insulated heater
heat storage unit
recovery tank

Circulator pump Energy source:

(optional) • electricity
Potable water • propane
• heating oil
• natural gas
University of Wisconsin Extension • Cooperative Extension 4

An RHR unit can recover 20–60% of If an RHR unit is not being used and is
Precooler and the 56 BTUs that must be removed not economical, then maximum
from the milk to cool it to storage cooling of the milk (within 3˚F of the
refrigeration temperature. Depending on the dairy’s well water temperature) with a pre-
hot water usage, only a portion or all cooler should be considered. If an RHR
heat recovery unit of the available energy may be usable unit is being used and it is economical
for preheating water. to use a precooler, the temperature
interactions If all of the energy captured by the decrease by the precooler may be only
The precooler and refrigeration heat a portion of the maximum cooling
RHR can be used for preheating water,
recovery units are competing tech- possible.
then installing a precooler will
nologies. The precooler removes heat
increase overall energy costs because
from milk that could be used to
preheat water for washing. Conduct an
some of the 56 BTUs of energy will be For more information
transferred to well water as opposed Information on different technologies
energy analysis to ensure that if both and energy conservation opportuni-
to preheating water that must eventu-
technologies are used, energy costs ties are contained in the Energy
ally be heated to a high temperature.
will not actually increase. Figure 6 is a Conservation in Agriculture publication
schematic of a typical milk cooling series, available from Cooperative
system with a precooler and refrigera- Extension Publications at
tion heat recovery unit.
Figure 6. MIlk cooling energy flows refrigeration system
with refrigeration heat recovery and precooler.

Milk from
cow, 98˚F 56 BTU/lbs. of milk to remove before storage

Warmed well water out
30-50% of
Well milk BTUs
Hot water
water in possible
Cooled milk Super heated
refrigerant Water
Refrig. heater
heat unit
Bulk milk Refrigeration recovery
storage unit(s) unit
38˚F heated

Air-cooled Energy source:

Electricity condenser Potable • electricity
water • propane
• heating oil
Heated air • natural gas

Author: Scott Sanford is a senior outreach specialist with the Department of Biological Systems Engineering at the University of
©2003 by the Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System. Send inquiries about copyright permission to Cooperative
Extension Publishing Operations, 103 Extension Building, 432 N. Lake St., Madison, WI 53706 or call 608-262-2655.
This publication is funded in part by the Wisconsin Focus on Energy Program.
University of Wisconsin–Extension provides equal opportunities in employment and programming,
including Title IX and ADA requirements.
To order multiple copies of this publication, call toll free: 1-877-WIS-PUBS (947-7827).
To see more Cooperative Extension publications, visit our web site:
Energy Conservation on the Farm: Refrigeration Systems (A3784-4) I-2/2004