Clean Refrigeration Technology Rapidly Increasing in Supermarkets Around the World

by CCAC Secretariat - 10 November, 2023
Ratification of the Kigali Amendment, local regulations, and energy efficiency concerns are driving widespread uptake of clean cooling technology.

A warming atmosphere will necessitate growth and expansion in the use of cooling technologies – primarily refrigeration and air conditioning. Unfortunately, these two technologies are also outsized drivers of atmospheric warming, due to their high energy consumption and use of super-polluting hydrofluorocarbon gases (HFCs). The most abundant HFCs warm the atmosphere thousands of times more powerfully than carbon dioxide (CO2).  

There are however, technological alternatives which can achieve benefits not only in having a lower warming impact, but also in reducing food waste, and running costs. One of the most important cooling subsectors – commercial refrigeration – is rapidly shifting to transcritical refrigeration systems which use carbon dioxide (CO2) instead of hydrofluorocarbon gases. 
Unlike common refrigerant HFCs R-134 and R-404A – which have Global Warming Potentials (GWP) of 1400 and 3260 respectively – CO2 has a GWP of 1. GWP is the unit of measurement which assesses the potency of climate warming compounds. The design of transcritical refrigeration systems can also be used to recover waste heat from the system to heat water, further increasing the system’s energy efficiency. 

Between 2014 and 2018 the CCAC supported pilot projects for commercial-scale transcritical cooling systems in Chile and Jordan. Since then investment in transcritical cooling in developed countries such as Japan, Europe and the United States has increased mass production of the technology, bringing down production costs and enabling its uptake in middle income countries.  

Even in the early stages of technology roll-out, one of the primary advantages of transcritical cooling has been that the systems are much more energy efficient than older cooling technologies, creating large energy cost savings for operators of at least 20%. 

According to a 2020 report by cooling industry specialists AtmoSphere (formerly Shecco) adoption of transcritical cooling systems increased from only 140 systems in 2008 to more than 35,500 in 2020 – the majority of which are in Europe. The growth trends tracked by the study show exponential growth in transcritical CO2 refrigeration, with most regions experiencing 75% or more growth between 2018 and 2020, reflecting the impact of both widespread Kigali Amendment ratification and implementation, as well as energy efficiency concerns becoming mainstream. 

Transcritical cooling systems are now nearly equalling the cost of HFC cooling systems according to Pier Zeccheto, technical advisor to the CCAC-supported cooling project in Chile. In Chile, early CCAC support helped bring the cost of transcritical cooling down from over 30% more expensive to less than 20% more expensive than HFC systems. The input gases (mostly CO2) for transcritical cooling systems are also much cheaper than HFC systems, with CO2costing $1 per 500 grams and common HFCs between $6 and $8 per 500 grams. 

According to Professor Armin Hafner of the Department of Energy and Process Engineering at the Norwegian institute of Science and Technology who has led low-GWP cooling projects in multiple countries cooling systems with natural low-GWP fluids are preferred by vendors worldwide if they can access them. 
“Informed end-users understand that the transition towards clean cooling solutions will give them an economic benefit and the possibility to report their actions with the developing carbon credit regimes,” said professor Hafner. 
Combined with the economic advantages of transcritical cooling, developed nations’ progress on regulations to completely eliminate HFCs and other harmful substances used in cooling and foaming agents is advancing the potential to outlaw new production of F-gas equipment by 2030. 
“It should be understood by authorities that from 2030 onwards new systems must be made only with natural [low-GWP] fluids. That would be a significant signal which can be given by lawmakers and funding agents,” said Professor Hafner.  

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