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CO2 refrigeration on the rise in the US

For the past decade, CO2 refrigeration systems in the United States have been perceived as exceptions to the accepted norms of commercial refrigeration. Mostly championed by a small subset of sustainably minded supermarket operators, CO2 installations have been deployed often as proofs-of-concept and more sparingly as a retailer’s primary refrigeration strategy. Although the US has seen steady increases in CO2 adoption in recent years, it still hasn’t experienced the industry-wide acceptance taking place in Europe.

This trend, however, appears to be changing. The global hydrofluorocarbon (HFC) refrigerant phasedown and subsequent environmental regulations have generated renewed interest in CO2 refrigeration and set the stage for its likely widespread adoption in the US.

Throughout the food retail industry, stakeholders are rethinking their approach to refrigeration and promoting the use of refrigerants with lower global warming potential (GWP). Image credit: Supermarket News

Throughout the food retail industry, stakeholders are rethinking their approach to refrigeration and promoting the use of refrigerants with lower global warming potential (GWP). Image credit: Supermarket News

Throughout the food retail industry, stakeholders are rethinking their approach to refrigeration and promoting the use of refrigerants with lower global warming potential (GWP). Among the environmental strategies identified to combat climate change, the greening of commercial and industrial refrigeration equipment has been recognized as an essential tactic of decarbonization plans and corporate sustainability initiatives.

Retailers are seeking long-term refrigeration strategies that support:

  • Environmental, social and governance (ESG) efforts
  • Energy efficiency and emissions reductions targets
  • Net zero goals

For the past decade, CO2 refrigeration systems in the U.S. have been perceived as exceptions to the accepted norms of commercial refrigeration. Mostly championed by a small subset of sustainably minded supermarket operators, CO2 installations have been deployed often as proofs-of-concept — and more sparingly as a retailer’s primary refrigeration strategy. Although the U.S. has seen steady increases in CO2 adoption in recent years, it still hasn’t experienced the industry-wide acceptance taking place in Europe.

But that appears to be changing. The global hydrofluorocarbon (HFC) refrigerant phasedown and subsequent environmental regulations have generated renewed interest in CO2 refrigeration and set the stage for its likely widespread adoption in the U.S.

Throughout the food retail industry, stakeholders are rethinking their approach to refrigeration and promoting the use of refrigerants with lower global warming potential (GWP). Among the environmental strategies identified to combat climate change, the greening of commercial and industrial refrigeration equipment has been recognized as an essential tactic of decarbonization plans and corporate sustainability initiatives. Retailers are seeking long-term refrigeration strategies that support:

  • Environmental, social and governance (ESG) efforts
  • Energy efficiency and emissions reductions targets
  • Net zero goals

With zero ozone depletion potential (ODP)and a GWP of 1, the natural refrigerant CO2 (R-744) has become a proven viable alternative to higher-GWP HFC refrigerants. In addition, the proliferation of CO2 refrigeration systems around the globe has given equipment manufacturers opportunities to improve compression, controls and valve technologies — simplifying system management and bringing system costs into parity with traditional HFC systems. Some of trends driving the increased adoption of CO2 refrigeration in the US are taken under consideration.

Regulations drive down GWP levels

Global, federal and state regulations are steering the industry away from HFCs and toward lower-GWP alternatives. The Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol serves as the regulatory framework supporting a variety of these efforts in the US and abroad.

Per its HFC production and consumption phasedown schedule, the next step will be a 40% reduction in 2024 (compared to the baseline established in 2011–2013). Refrigerant regulations in the US have been constructed to follow this mandate.

The passing of the American Innovation and Manufacturing (AIM) Act in 2020 restored the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) authority to enforce HFC mandates and establish sector-based guidelines. As the EPA implements the Kigali Amendment’s HFC refrigerant phasedown guidelines and supplies are reduced, the industry can expect an increase in HFC refrigerant prices.

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