As new legislation regarding the sale of refrigerants is brought in, Katie Hill looks at the efforts being made by our industry to secure a greener future.

The close of 2009 saw representatives from major countries gathering to discuss the ever pressing issues surrounding global warming.

It’s fair to say that very little came out of the Copenhagen conference, aside from some worrying statistics from the experts.

Despite the lack of publicised, meaningful plans from the world leaders at Copenhagen however, there are changes taking place globally which will significantly reduce ozone depletion potential (ODP) and global warming potential (GWP) in processes across the board.

Changes in refrigeration
One of the changes affecting our industry is that of the legislation surrounding the use of damaging refrigerants.

As happened with CFCs, the next generation refrigerants, HCFCs, are now also being phased out.

Jon Black, Global Head of Chemicals & Refrigerants Product Management at Linde Gas, spoke to gasworld about the changes taking place, “The problem with CFCs was that they were globally, widely publicised as causing ozone depletion, as well as global warming – they did both,” he commented.

“Most of the industry then moved to the easiest progression from CFCs; HCFCs, the next generation, which have much lower ozone depleting potential, but they still have some, and they also have high global warming potential.”

As of 1st January 2010, the popular HCFC refrigerant, R22, became no longer available as new product anywhere in Europe. Use of recycled and reclaimed R22 will be banned from 1st January 2015 across Europe. This new legislation is causing a major shakeup in the way the air-conditioning and refrigeration industries run their systems, and alternatives must now be sought.

Companies have the option of purchasing reclaimed and recycled R22 for as long as they can, but it is anticipated that prices will rocket and demand will be high.

The next step is to move onto the third generation, HFCs.

Natural refrigerants
Most supermarket chains have already made the transition from HCFCs to HFCs, like R404A.

However, whilst having no impact on the ozone layer whatsoever, these third generation products still have a very high global warming potential.

Fierce media scrutiny and a loyalty to consumers is now moving supermarkets away from HFCs in favour of an option that is greener still.

Black explained, “Some supermarkets, which are very consumer facing, have been in one of the areas of industry that has had most pressure from the environmental campaigners who are saying they shouldn’t be using these products.”

“So what that has meant is that the supermarkets especially are near the forefront of looking to new solutions which have lower global warming potential, and that means that at the moment they are reviewing natural refrigerants.”

One of the options now available to them thanks to the work of our industry is CO2 refrigeration, which is both free from any ODP, and has an extremely low GWP.

Barry Lyons, Business Development Manager for Refrigerants at BOC explains, “The GWP of CO2 is 1, that is the base that all other refrigerants are measured against, and the standard refrigerant being used today, R404A, is somewhere in the middle of 2000 to 3000.”

He added, “As an industry we’ve backed away from CO2 because the pressures are much higher, they’re not anything that a standard refrigeration technician is used to.”

“Because of the pressures the system has to be designed to cope with it and therefore is not the simple copper piping solution that you’d get in what was a standard supermarket.”

Much research has been carried out however, especially in Scandinavia, to get CO2 refrigeration technology to a commercial level.

Christer Hens, Business Manager at AGA Gas AB, a member of The Linde Group told gasworld, “CO2 in Sweden as a refrigerant is something that we entered into around five or six years ago. There’s still some areas to refine, but I think if we have this conversation in perhaps as little as five years time we’ll see widespread use of the gas as a refrigerant in supermarkets.”

Large capital expenditure on new refrigeration equipment means a full transition will be slow. Supermarkets are, however, setting medium term targets to replace their high GWP refrigerant systems in existing stores, and implementing CO2 systems in new builds.

Black explained, “There is a natural cycle of new supermarkets being built, so by setting these objectives it gives them time to incorporate these new systems into their long term plans.”

Hens added, “It’s not like they throw out their refrigerant and replace it with CO2; they try to find split solutions, or halfway solutions, combining CO2 with something else.”

In a statement to gasworld, Tesco in the UK said, “Tesco opened the first store in the country with CO2 refrigeration three years ago. From March this year, all new stores we open will have CO2 refrigeration.”

Several other major supermarkets have pledged a switchover to CO2 in all stores by 2030.

Growth driver?
So is this likely to be a major new source of income for our industry?

The answer, quite simply, is no, as Black explained, “The big volume use of CO2 in the industrial gases industry is where it is employed for a single-instance use, so for example for food freezing or beverage carbonation. With a refrigeration system you’ve got a closed loop cycle; the refrigerant is put into the system and pumped around, and any leakage is minimal.”

Hens noted opportunities for equipment manufacturers however, adding, “Three or four years ago it was difficult to find compressors in a range of powers needed for CO2 refrigeration, there were a good amount of small ones and very big ones, but there was a gap in the middle.”

“As always, when manufacturers see that there’s going to be demand for something, they begin to develop new products.”