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The Future of Refrigerant CO2 Is the Future of Supermarket Refrigeration

Refrigeration remains a hot topic as state and federal legislators determine the next set of requirements for low global warming potential (GWP) refrigerant choices. Three categories of synthetic refrigerants — Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), Hydro chlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs), and Hydro fluorocarbons (HFCs), — have been the mainstay of refrigeration technology since the 1930s. Many of these manufactured refrigerants have been phased out, but a fourth category of natural refrigerants is making its way into the refrigerant market and changing the geography of commercial refrigeration applications.

Natural refrigerants are chemicals that occur in nature’s biochemical processes. They include hydrocarbons (HC), carbon dioxide (CO2), ammonia (NH3), water, and air. Also called the natural five, these refrigerant choices don’t deplete the ozone layer, don’t contribute to global warming, and are classed as viable alternatives to CFCs, HCFCs, and HFCs.

Technology and legislation have pushed the evolution of refrigerants, but waiting on legislation to create a long-term refrigerant strategy for your business is like waiting for your HVACR contractor to choose your next marketing plan — it doesn’t make sense. What does make sense is consulting your HVACR provider to discuss the long-term effectiveness of CO2 refrigerant for your commercial refrigeration applications. Of the list of refrigerants available, natural or otherwise, I predict that within the next five to 10 years more than 50 percent of supermarkets will use CO2 for new construction. Officially known as R-744, this refrigerant is non-flammable, has low toxicity, low GWP, and notable thermodynamic properties allowing for a low energy requirement.

"R-744 is environmentally friendly, having zero ozone depletion potential (ODP) and minimal GWP,” stated The Linde Group, a world leading supplier of industrial, process, and specialty gases. “It also has excellent thermodynamic properties and low energy usage making it suitable for a range of applications such as industrial heat extraction, chilled warehousing, shipping vessels, commercial refrigeration, and mobile air conditioning.”

What does all this mean to the commercial refrigeration and freezing customers out there considering their refrigerant choices? First it means reduced emissions of greenhouse gases. Second it means space saving for piping arrangements because it is a self-contained system. Third are the reduced costs of piping arrangement and insulation. Not only that, but this generally available refrigerant is energy efficient, especially when ambient temperatures are kept in check.

When considering the future of your refrigeration equipment, the impact that it has on your bottom line, and its effects on the ozone layer, it is imperative that you consult with a licensed HVACR technician to discuss all the available options as well as the requirements for each. Take R-744 for example. It is not usable as a retrofit refrigerant. According to The Linde Group, R-744’s high pressure and low critical temperature refrigeration systems require special equipment designs. Along with the different equipment, it is suggested that permanent leak detection systems be installed when using CO2 refrigerant. Although not flammable, like ammonia refrigerant, the gas is an odorless asphyxiant. Leak detection systems protect your employees and customers in case of a leak.

Every refrigerant offers a list of tradeoffs depending on which is chosen. After examining this list, I still believe that within the next five to 10 years more than 50 percent of supermarkets will use CO2 for new construction. It’s time to get on board, take a look at your refrigeration strategy, and choose what’s best for your company. Don’t wait for the government to dictate your refrigerant future.


AJ Milbes

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