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A Climate and Clean Air Coalition (CCAC) funded demonstration project has introduced a cool new shopping experience to a supermarket in Jordan, pioneering a type of refrigerant new to the Middle Eastern food retail sector. The system uses carbon dioxide (CO2) rather than hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs) or hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) –chemicals thousands of times more powerful than CO2 at warming our atmosphere. Installed in a supermarket in Amman, the country’s capital, the new cooling system could become commonplace among supermarkets in the region thanks to its high energy efficiency and economic advantages.
The new system uses a form of cooling known as transcritical CO2 refrigeration. CO2 is a ‘natural refrigerant’ because it is a naturally occurring compound rather than a manufactured chemical. Ammonia and propane are two other commonly used natural refrigerants. Local business owners and inhabitants benefit because the super-efficient refrigeration system cuts down on energy consumption, saving hundreds of dollars per unit per year.
Energy savings and pollution reduction are among its numerous advantages. “We managed to prove that in Jordan, this CO2 system is more energy efficient than other conventional systems and more environmentally friendly”, says Nasser Abdin, Director of Abdin Industrial, a display cabinet manufacturing and installation company and a key player in the pilot. The company was responsible for replacing the old hydrochlorofluorocarbon (HCFC – R22) refrigeration system at the Al Salam military supermarket in Amman with the CO2 system.
That substitution makes complete sense in a country that experiences some of the most extreme summer temperatures on the planet. CO2 refrigeration has a broad role to play particularly in countries, like Jordan, that are currently phasing out HCFCs and wish to avoid unnecessarily transitioning to HFCs. Replacing existing HFC systems or avoiding them entirely by leapfrogging from HCFCs directly to efficient and more climate friendly alternatives such as CO2 systems can significantly change the trajectory of global warming, which itself could raise the country’s temperatures even further.
Studies comparing CO2 refrigeration with conventional HFC refrigeration show a major difference in global warming potential. For example, the global warming potential of HFC134a is 1,300 times higher than that of CO2. Switching to CO2 refrigeration thus makes a major positive impact on the climate.
The higher efficiency of CO2 systems can also reduce power plant emissions by lowering energy demand, which also protects grid stability. Meanwhile, reduced energy demand also decreases local air pollution from energy generation. The CO2 systems avoid super greenhouse gas emissions, leading to a knock-on reduction in future warming and hence the requirement for future cooling.
Future environmental or health gains are significant considerations that help to encourage change. However, financial rewards are usually more effective at incentivising any procurement switch in the competitive retail sector. The CCAC and its partners, the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) and the Jordan Ministry of Environment, thus emphasised the economic returns to businesses in order to encourage the adoption of CO2 refrigeration.
Being more energy efficient, CO2 refrigeration systems have the potential to save money by reducing electricity consumption for businesses in a region that relies heavily on cooling technologies. To evaluate the economic advantages, the installer Abdin International compared the system’s energy consumption to that of a similar local supermarket using an HFC refrigerant but that was also considered energy efficient.
They found that, over a period between February and September 2018, the new CO2 system at the Al Salam supermarket saved 20%-30% more energy than the system in the shop nearby. That was good news to the supermarket owner, of course, and can translate into a financial gain that may well encourage other local companies to transition to similar refrigeration systems.
That said, the windfall to bank accounts is only part of the story and more needs to be done to drive technology uptake. Initiatives run by the CCAC and its partners on HFCs need to be complemented by efforts to build consumer confidence and familiarity, and improve market access to new technology. At the same time, they need to broaden knowledge of the array of additional advantages associated with its adoption.
The Jordan experience is only a starting point for the promotion and rollout of climate-friendly refrigeration in the Middle East. Local businesses have already shown an interest, since installers gain from the rollout as well as supermarket owners.
“After installing the first CO2 project in Jordan, we at Abdin feel that we now have the responsibility and duty to inform other projects about the benefits of CO2 systems,” says Nasser Abdin.
Organisations involved in the pilot are already investigating ways to work with government to expand adoption of the technology across the country, where HFC and HCFC refrigeration is widespread.
“I think our government can do something to help in this regard, maybe for example by rewarding projects that manage to reduce their energy bills,” says Nasser Abdin.
Jordan is not the only place where the CCAC has launched CO2 refrigeration. In South America, a parallel project also showcased a CO2 system for the first time, and this has successfully been replicated across other supermarkets. It similarly emphasises the energy efficiency and financial advantages of the technology. The demonstration project in the city of Valdivia in Chile was funded by the CCAC and overseen by the Ozone Unit of Chile’s Ministry of Environment supported by the United Nations Development Programme.
As in the case of the Amman project, the Valdivia supermarket involved several different types of businesses in the supply chain.
“This project connects the different actors in the cold chain supermarket sector and promotes the adoption of this technology. It helps minimize the introduction of HFC based systems in Chile,” says Claudia Paratori, Coordinator of the Ozone Unit at the Ministry of Environment.
The Chilean pilot project worked with Hipermercados Jumbo, a South American supermarket chain with 40 stores in Chile. The company has now introduced CO2 refrigeration into more of its supermarkets.
Businesses adopting the technology do face some constraints. For instance, CO2 in a refrigerant system operates under conditions of high pressure, and this adds sensitivity to the installation. But CO2 refrigerants are cheaper than HFCs. This is because HFCs are manufactured by companies with strong patents charging costly licence fees for a super greenhouse gas pollutant.
Both the Jordan and Chile projects are part of the CCAC HFC Initiative, which aims to significantly reduce the projected growth of high global warming HFCs in the coming decade. It mobilises efforts of the private sector, civil society, international organizations and governments to be able to effectively meet their international obligations under the Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol by promoting energy efficient HFC alternative technologies and improving the market conditions for such products. The CCAC’s projects, case studies, conferences and interactive partner tools help increase knowledge of more sustainable technologies available as substitutes.
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