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Navigating the shift to clean cold

A new report from the University of Birmingham, commissioned by Emerson to coincide with the one year anniversary of the Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol, has highlighted the significant challenge facing the European retail industry as it transitions from damaging HFCs to natural refrigerants.

Professor Toby Peters' report issues recommendations for retailers transitioning away from HFCs.

Last year the Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol set an aggressive global phase-down schedule for HFCs. 

HFCs were initially introduced to replace CFCs after these were found to damage the ozone layer. However, HFCs can have a significant impact on climate change, creating a global warming effect that is up to 4,000 times more damaging than CO2. If left unchecked, the use of these greenhouse gases could cause global warming of 0.5 degrees.

The influence of the retail sector is a key factor in the transition away from HFCs, as an average supermarket refrigeration system can leak up to 25 percent of its refrigerant charge annually, resulting in approximately 1,556 metric tons of CO2 equivalent emissions and producing the same environmental impact as the annual energy used by 165 homes.

However, the report written by Professor Toby Peters highlights industry analysis indicating that the European retail sector has already fallen behind schedule in phasing out HFCs and replacing them with natural refrigerants.

Professor Peters raises concerns that growing environmental and societal pressure, coupled with increasingly stringent regulations, must not drive retailers to focus on solutions which eliminate HFCs but also fail to maximise the wider energy efficiency, operational and cost benefits available from industry leading refrigeration technologies.

Discussing his report, Professor Peters stated: “The original Montreal Protocol was a momentous moment for the planet and our environment.  It is one of the few occasions where we can point to a single collective global decision and identify the benefits it brought about.

“However, as we phased out CFCs we introduced HFCs, and in so doing replaced an imminent environmental disaster with a long-term climate crisis.  As we respond to the Kigali amendment and introduce alternatives to HFCs, there is a collective responsibility to ensure the best possible long term solution is adopted, which not only addresses refrigerants, but maximises overall energy efficiency.” 

He added: “The report released today highlights the need for the refrigeration industry, and retailers in particular, to consider the holistic, long-term impact of their technology choices.

“The phase out of HFCs provides a unique opportunity to look beyond the choice of refrigerant, and to fundamentally rethink store and system architectures to ensure that they maximise environmental and operational benefits.

“Refrigeration systems introduced today could still be operating in 15 years and it’s imperative that we grasp the once-in-a-generation chance to deliver genuinely clean cold.

“Given the size of heating and cooling demands within our society, this is essential as we transition to sustainable energy.” 

Eric Winandy, director of integrated solutions at Emerson Commercial and Residential Solutions, said: “The aggressive phase-down schedule of HFCs presents both a challenge and an opportunity for the retail industry.

“Although there is certainly pressure for retailers to act quickly, we must be careful not to rush into choosing new refrigeration systems which eliminate HFCs but miss the opportunity to maximise energy efficiency and other long term environmental benefits. 

“After all, improved energy efficiency equates to tangible cost savings and improved profitability, so making the right environmental choice can also deliver multi-million euro savings for retailers across Europe.”

The report, Retail Refrigeration: Making the Transition to Clean Cold, examines what the move to natural refrigerants means for retailers and offers recommendations for the path forward. The conclusions and recommendations include the following:

  • Although progress is being made, retailers are not transitioning from HFCs to natural refrigerants quickly enough to meet phase-down targets.
  • As retailers make the transition, it is important to consider the whole system impacts of refrigeration and not just the need to meet refrigerant targets.
  • In particular, the long-term energy efficiency of the wider system must be considered to ensure that any refrigeration technology selected maximises the overall environmental benefits and economic opportunities.
  • Other factors should also be considered, including the complexity of installation and long-term maintenance requirements of different technologies, which can have a significant impact on operations and cost.

The report also makes recommendations for governments across Europe:

  • Governments have a critical role to play in encouraging retailers to transition to natural refrigerants and to ensure that the solutions adopted deliver maximum long-term benefit.
  • Governments should invest significantly more in research and development into sustainable refrigeration and integration into energy systems.
  • They should support the development of a clear pathway for sustainable refrigeration, not just low GWP refrigerants.
  • Governments also need to provide incentives, not just penalties, for end-users to accelerate transition to low-impact systems. They should, for example, consider increasing depreciation allowances for investments in new refrigeration systems that are low GWP and also demonstrably produce the best energy efficiency outcome for the proposed location.
  • Invest in the skills required to support the long-term transition to natural refrigerants, recognising that an expanded workforce, with new competencies and certifications, is going to be required.

As alternatives to HFCs are considered, there are two primary solutions available: CO2 and hydrocarbons. 

The report noted that although CO2 systems are most commonly being installed across Europe, some major retailers have selected integrated display cases, which operate more like domestic fridges and use propane as their refrigerant. 

Industry analysis from these retailers highlighted the benefits of these systems, including improved energy efficiency, reduced refrigerant leakage and lower maintenance requirements, which can contribute to improved environmental performance and significant cost savings in the right application.   

To access the full  white paper, Retail Refrigeration: Making the Transition to Clean Cold, visit


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