Guest Contributor, Items of Interest

How Is New Refrigeration Technology Championing Sustainability?

April 29, 2024
Emily Newton

Although many disagree about the best ways to tackle climate change, most understand the urgent need for new refrigeration technology. A common category of refrigerants called hydrofluorocarbons are greenhouse gases that deplete the ozone layer. This has caused many governments to ban or heavily restrict these refrigerants and similar ones while urging industry leaders to develop more sustainable HVAC systems and processes. What are some of the outcomes so far?

Grocery Stores Transitioning to New Refrigeration Technology

Grocery stores typically have several aisles full of freezers and refrigerators. Unsurprisingly, the people overseeing these establishments have actively worked to switch to new refrigeration technology as soon as possible. Making such a substantial change takes time and money, but many supermarket brands have made promising gains.

Aldi is working through progressive updates affecting all its stores in the United States. As of January 2024, more than 600 of 2,357 locations were using environmentally friendly refrigerants. However, Aldi’s executives have set a goal for all to rely on natural refrigerants by the end of 2035.

Responsible parties will purchase CO2 and propane-based refrigerants and implement them in individual stores based on a location’s regional climate. The company will use environmentally friendly refrigerants in new and remodeled stores. However, all existing stores not subject to remodeling will have refrigeration with low global warming potential.

Although the categories apparently overlap, Aldi representatives did not elaborate on the perceived differences between an environmentally friendly refrigerant and one with low global warming potential.

In another case, Georgia’s Dover Food Retail’s Hillphoenix brand received an award from the Environmental Protection Agency for its work in reducing refrigerant emissions through new technology. Statistics indicate more than 80% of 13,515 retailers that have received the same recognition have Hillphoenix refrigeration equipment.

Dover Food Retail executives began focusing on sustainable refrigeration in the mid-1990s. It now ships thousands of eco-friendly refrigeration products to clients ready to pursue greener solutions.

An Early-Adopter New York Grocery Store Achieves a First

In one case study, a New York location of an American grocery store chain became the first of its kind in the United States to stop using synthetic refrigerants. That achievement occurred in 2016, illustrating that the attention given to sustainable refrigeration options is not new. In addition to the store’s all-natural, CO2-based refrigeration system, the location has numerous other sustainable and energy-efficient upgrades.

For example, the store has demand-control ventilation and electric car-charging stations powered by wind and solar energy. Although the case study didn’t mention any other details about sustainable HVAC systems, the store leaders may have installed other equipment without explicitly saying it.

Investing in new refrigeration technology is a smart way to save money in ways decision-makers may not expect. For starters, older equipment using phased-out tech is more likely to leak refrigerant and need costly repairs. Plus, the newer equipment designed to work with more sustainable refrigerants is usually significantly more efficient.

Leaders associated with this New York grocery store anticipated saving $125,000 in energy costs during 2016. Additionally, projections suggested the location would reduce power usage by 60%.

This example is an excellent one for other decision-makers to carefully evaluate. Sustainable HVAC systems use newer refrigerants but also offer numerous other advantages. Since grocery stores must maintain so many climate-controlled areas for frozen and perishable goods, they include many opportunities for leaders to capitalize on sustainability while saving money and resources.

Users Enjoy Better Visibility Through Increased Connectivity

Smart home technologies have allowed consumers to get appliance-related statistics anytime and anywhere. People can also program connected items to turn on or off according to specific schedules.

A cost-conscious college student might set a connected air conditioner to run 30 minutes before arriving home from her last class. Some people also enable smart thermostats to create temperature zones to meet their needs.

Many commercial examples of new refrigeration technology have even more features to suit industrial requirements. For example, a technician could set up customized alerts about an appliance’s evaporator or receive warnings someone has left a refrigerator door open.

The benefits of such solutions go beyond sustainability. They make it easier for technicians to track statistics that show whether a refrigeration unit is operating as expected or may have problems. Then, whether the issue is a leak, a soon-to-fail component or another matter, specialists can address the situation promptly to mitigate wasted energy.

However, sustainability also becomes part of the equation when people decide when to replace items that function well but have sustainable downsides. For example, refrigeration systems built before 2010 likely use a refrigerant called R-22.

Although R-22 is being phased out, it’s probably safe to keep using an appliance that relies on it. Leaders could make sustainable choices by planning that replacements will use all-natural refrigerants and have connected features that curb wasted resources.

Recycling to Create Sustainable HVAC Systems

If buying a new HVAC system that uses a greener refrigerant is not immediately feasible, people still have another better option for the planet than continuing as usual. As the phasing out of nonsustainable refrigerants occurred, some enterprising individuals capitalized on an emerging business model. It involves reclaiming and reusing the now-restricted refrigerants.

Mike Armstrong is the president of one such business. He points out that refrigerants have a three-decade life span and can be reused many times. Armstrong says his business is already doing well, and he expects the overall industry to grow by up to five times over the next few   years. His company and others offering recycling services use pyrolysis to destroy the greenhouse gases associated with refrigerants that are unsuitable for reuse.

One recovery and reuse program in Galápagos involves a team of people teaching technicians from private and public institutions how to manage refrigerants to minimize harm to the planet. They learn to transfer the liquids into a designated storage tank using a recovery pump. That method reduces pollution while making recycling more accessible.

These examples show how transitioning to greener refrigerants is not the sole option for sustainable HVAC systems. It’s probably superior to recycling because refrigeration is one of many aspects determining whether equipment is eco-friendly. However, people should not quickly assume that there is no way to make sustainable changes without investing in systems that use improved refrigerants.

New Refrigeration Technology Takes Many Forms

This overview illustrates many compelling ways people can upgrade their refrigeration equipment. One popular option is to transition to greener refrigerants and energy-efficient equipment. If those possibilities are inaccessible, the next best thing is to partner with providers offering refrigerant recycling programs. Either way, the result is a healthier planet.