By Mason Nichols
Millions of drivers around the globe rely on air conditioning systems to regulate the temperature in their vehicles. For more than two decades, many of these vehicles have employed a refrigerant known as R134a to make the process work. However, efforts are underway to replace R134a with a new, more environmentally friendly solution. One result of those efforts is the development of Solstice yf.
Created by Honeywell, Solstice yf boasts a global warming potential of less than one, a massive reduction from R-134a’s GWP of 1,300. The drastic difference in GWP between the two materials means that – with a complete shift from R134a to Solstice yf in all vehicles – greenhouse gas emissions from vehicle air conditioners could be reduced by 99.9% (1).
To produce its new refrigerant, Honeywell constructed a $300 million plant in Geismar, La., in 2017. Manufacturing Solstice yf creates hydrofluoric acid, a corrosive and potentially explosive substance. As a result, Honeywell required a structure capable of safely and efficiently capturing the generated wastewater. The company’s solution was precast concrete.
Just an hour up the road, Gainey’s Concrete Products of Holden, La., designed and manufactured a 14-foot-by-14-foot I.D. precast concrete secondary containment structure for the Honeywell plant. The tank was produced with 12-inch-thick, 6,500-psi walls. According to Cyndi Glascock, senior design manager, the structure included many unique characteristics.
“The floor had to be hand-sloped around 8-inch-by-8-inch support beams at a fixed angle leading to a sump blockout in the floor,” she said.
Including the beams, the containment structure weighed 75,000 pounds – the largest piece ever manufactured in the production facility at Gainey’s. In addition to the tank’s impressive size, care had to be exercised to ensure the structure could be quickly and efficiently installed once it reached the job site.
“We had to cast in expanded coil ferrule inserts at extremely precise locations so that the contractor could lock the precast riser sections together in the field with galvanized plates,” Glascock said.
Once the massive structure was delivered to the facility, project contractor Beard Construction got to work. Terry Overton, project superintendent, explained that – despite the tank’s size – installation was a breeze.
“The precast concrete components went in with ease and speed,” he said. “There was nothing difficult about it.”
Overton added that the use of precast meant the contracting team knew exactly what to expect when the work began, allowing the owner to save money. Beard Construction completed installation in just one day.
Glascock noted that the use of precast also brought other benefits to the job.
“Precast concrete offered a rapid installation option for Honeywell’s safety-intense site so that the contractor could close up the excavation as soon as possible,” she said. “Additionally, the higher density properties of precast versus cast-in-place will offer better containment for the wastewater created by the manufacturing process.”
With the completion of the project, Honeywell is primed to continue its quest to provide an environmentally friendly refrigerant for automobiles. And thanks to a custom precast concrete solution, company officials can remain confident that the wastewater generated in producing Solstice yf will be safely contained.
Mason Nichols is the managing editor of Precast Solutions magazine and is NPCA’s director of strategic outreach.