Vale Klaas Visser

Refrigeration pioneer Klaas Visser, L.AIRAH, has passed away at the age of 83. A passionate advocate for natural refrigerant systems, particularly CO2 and ammonia, Visser worked extensively in the food industry, and was internationally renowned for his contribution to developing large-scale automatic plate freezers.

Transforming the meat industry

Born and educated in the Netherlands, Visser earned a degree in marine engineering and then emigrated to Australia in 1964 and studied mechanical engineering at RMIT. He went on to work for Wildridge and Sinclair, and started on a path of designing ammonia refrigeration systems for the food and cold storage industries.

Later he secured a position with McNiece Brothers in Bendigo, where he managed the refrigeration division until the mid-1970s. During this time, Visser designed numerous ammonia refrigeration systems, predominantly for the meat industry. He also developed the concept of a plate freezer for export cartons of meat.

The work on this concept continued over the ensuing years, even after Visser left McNiece Brothers and started his own consulting business in Bendigo. The design was based on freezing bulk meat in metal moulds without cartons, and used the principle of conduction rather than convection to remove the heat from the meat by direct contact with the plate. This meant much faster freezing times were achievable, together with significantly lower energy consumption for the refrigeration system.

The plate freezer also provided other advantages, including uniform shape, which gave much better product loading density as well more stable stacking. Visser applied for and received a significant federal grant to build a full-scale prototype freezer, which was successfully completed in 1985 after achieving fully automatic operation at Tancred Brothers’ Beaudesert meatworks.

The prototype project was proof of concept for the entire Australian meat industry, which embraced it and embarked on building many more plate freezers. Today, more than 85 per cent of the frozen red meat exported from Australia is frozen in plate freezers.

A vision for CO2 systems

Visser is also well known as a champion for CO2 refrigeration.

From 1976–1994 he worked with his friend and mentor, Norwegian CO2 refrigeration pioneer Gustav Lorentzen. After seeing the benefits of this technology, Visser campaigned vigorously for the revival of CO2 refrigeration systems. He was one of the first in Australia to design a transcritical system for the food industry, at Exquisine Foods, a dairy foods manufacturing facility in Northcote, Melbourne.

Ian Tuena, AM.AIRAH, was heavily involved in the project.

“Like Klaas, we believed that CO2 was a great refrigerant of the past and had a big future as the refrigerant of the future,” says Tuena.

“We partnered with Graham Lucas from Lucas Refrigeration and were successful in winning the project of which Klaas, inspired by Gustav Lorentzen and his good friend Sergio Girotto, was most confident. But we had no idea of what we had signed up to!

“There were many heated discussions as we pressed on, and finally we commissioned the project. Were there problems? Absolutely, but a lot of them were because we simply could not get the equipment we needed to handle the pressure and that these days you can buy off the shelf. One thing is for sure, we learnt a hell of a lot about CO2 transcritical systems in a very short space of time.

“When I look back at that project – which is still fully operational today – and with the advantage of hindsight, I now see how visionary it was. The low-temp rack serviced the -40°C blast and -20°C store, the medium-temp rack serviced the 2°C and 10°C areas, he had parallel and intermediate temperature compressors servicing the flash gas load and AC load way before it was common practice to do so. Klaas utilised the heat recovery, achieving 18°C to 80°C in a single pass.

“It was a real credit to both Klaas, for taking the initiative and believing in transcritical CO2, and David Rose for supporting him. They showed transcritical CO2 systems were an environmentally friendly and economically viable solution for Australian refrigeration systems, and paved the way for the expansion we now see within the supermarket and industrial industry throughout Australia and New Zealand.”

Industry tributes

Visser was an enthusiastic supporter of industry bodies and held positions with many organisations including AIRAH, the IIR and the IOR. He also represented AIRAH on several standards committees, including the rewrite of AS 1677, and wrote numerous technical papers that he delivered nationally and internationally at various forums including those hosted by AIRAH, the IIAR, the IIR, and the IOR.

In 1997, Visser was awarded AIRAH’s highest honour: the James Harrison Medal.

Many well-known names from the HVAC&R industry have paid tribute to Visser since his passing.

“Klaas was a welcoming and an inspiring person to work for,” says ISECO Engineering Services Director Ray Clarke, F.AIRAH. “He always had a head full of ideas and was ready to share them. He also had great energy and enthusiasm. No job was too difficult. No job could not be done better with a bit more effort, and no stone should be left unturned when searching for a better outcome.

“As the years passed, our paths crossed many times. I must say his work ethic and enthusiasm never left him. Only two weeks ago, when visiting him in the nursing home, he still wanted to keep working on his CO2 transcritical gas cooler design.”

“All things considered, Klaas personally experienced more revelations about the practical mysteries of refrigeration than most before his time was up,” says Scantec Refrigeration Managing Director Stefan Jensen, F.AIRAH. “Regrettably, he didn’t manage to pass all of it on, but he did a better job than most trying. For that Klaas should be saluted and remembered.

“We are all here to make a difference and change things for the better. Klaas did that in spades.”

A service will be held at 2pm on August 7 at the Bendigo Funeral Centre, 29 Miller Street in Bendigo, Victoria.  It will also be live-streamed here.

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