Top 10 Trends in the Cool®ing Industry

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As the Climate Talks start to heat up in Paris, let’s look at what’s been happing lately in the cooling industry, particularly with environmentally friendly refrigerants and coolants that promise to put a chill on global warming. It runs the gamut, from policies to products.

1. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is still on track to complete a new rule for its Significant New Alternatives Policy (SNAP) Program before 2016 is over. But the industry is going to have to meet some key deadlines by 2017 instead of 2016. The new EPA rule is expected to prohibit certain high-global warming potential HFC’s as alternatives under the SNAP program. By Jan. 1, 2017, the hydrofluorocarbons  R404A, R507A and some other HFCs will be delisted from use in new supermarket systems and delisted by Jan. 2018 from new remote condensing units in supermarkets. According to the EPA, self-contained refrigeration units will have to make significant adaptations when HFCs R134a, R404A, R407A and R507A won’t be acceptable in new stand-along medium-and low-temperature units in supermarkets as of Jan. 1, 2020.

2. In Japan, Hoshizaki has launched its new Emerald Class product line of innovative ice-making machines that use propane gas (R290), a naturally occurring hydrocarbon that is one of the most environmentally friendly, non-toxic and cost-efficient refrigerants available. Using the latest in smart technology, it’s got a low global warming potential and the low charges of the R290 refrigerant also permit smaller heat exchangers and piping dimensions. The idea behind calling it “emerald class” is because they want to help the consumer “go green.”

3. The release of an Options Paper as part of Australia’s federal government’s review of the Ozone Protection and Synthetic Greenhouse Gas Management Act has reportedly sparked heated debate in industry circles. The final report is slated to be released in early 2016. The goal is to look at ways to further reduce emissions from synthetic gases as well as reduce regulatory compliance costs for business. Under the Montreal Protocol, Australia has met or exceeded all of its phase-out imports of HCFCs by 2016—four years ahead of schedule, according to reports. It’s all part of the effort to support theAustralian government’s commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. But the HFC reduction proposal hasn’t gone as smoothly, splitting Refrigerants Australia (RA) and the Australian Refrigeration Association (ARA), on how best to do it safely, economically and effectively. In a nutshell, some advocate replacing HFCs with natural refrigerants instead of relying on synthetic refrigerants while others say that hydrocarbons are more flammable, prompting hydrocarbon proponents to say that that argument is a myth fueled by the $18 billion in annual revenue the synthetic refrigerants industry stands to lose if the switch gathers force.

4. A prominent Belgian retailer, The Colruyt Group, has said it plans to use propane (R290) for all its 360 Belgian stores, which includes its Colruyt, Okay and Bio-Planet stores. Replacing their current cooling system that primarily uses hydrofluorocarbon R507 with this environmentally friendly refrigerant will reportedly help the group reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 10 percent. The goal is to get rid of all the chillers using R507 by 2020. Another advantage for the switch, the group says, is that they’ll be able to recycle the waste heat generated from the system so they can rely less on fossil fuels.

5. According to exhibitors at a recent conference devoted to energy use and store development, hydrocarbons are reportedly starting to find their niche in North America as some U.S. food retailers are trying hydrocarbon propane (R290) in self-contained units in the stores. Among those testing out the new coolant are H.E. Butt Grocery Co., Lowe’s markets, ShopRite (Wakefern Corp.) and Whole Foods market. Helping to prove persuasive is a recently completed three-year study of a store in Thailand that demonstrated R290’s advantages over an HFC DX system: 60 percent reduction in maintenance costs, 90 percent in refrigeration charge, and an 8 percent reduction in energy consumption.

6. At the recent China Retail Trade Fair (CHINASHOP), held at the Wuhan International Expo Center, Panasonic showcased its advanced cold chain solutions and products, which rely on CO² compressors, LED lighting, store controllers, remote energy management systems, smart containers, low temperature distribution cases and other innovations. Panasonic says its approach will help customers build “eco-conscious, intelligent and highly energy-efficient solutions” to store operation. Panasonic is reportedly the first in the industry to implement a technology that uses a natural CO² refrigerant and reduces the impact on the ozone layer. Its booth was packed with people eager to learn more.

7. The phase out of R-22 is accelerating rapidly as EPA regulations put the squeeze on. It was banned from being used in new machines in 2010. Then production and imports faced severe cuts, reducing it by 90 percent in 2015, and by almost 100 percent by Jan. 1, 2020. Scarcity will make the prices of R-22 continue to soar, from around $300 a cylinder to more than a $1,000, expected in the year ahead.

8. According to news reports, the first major HFO to come to prominence as HFC’s get phased out is Honey Well’s Solstice 1234YF, an alternative to 4-134a, because it’s global warming potential is 4, whereas R134a’s GWP is 1,320. Both Honey Well and DuPont have stepped up production of its HFO refrigerants.

9. Germany continues to be the leading European proponent of using CO² in refrigeration and cooling. Carbon-dioxide technologies are reportedly moving into the mainstream and opening the door in new commercial areas such as supermarkets.

10. Ammonia is reportedly getting increasing attention as the natural refrigerants marketplace expands with new industrial and commercial applications. In response, two new comprehensive safety standards will be in place, one covering system installation and the other covering system decommissioning, all under the leadership of the International Institute of Ammonia Refrigeration.  One thing’s for sure: the world is moving toward natural refrigerants.