The grocery store chain Aldi has announced their intention to switch all of their stores in the United Kingdom to CO2 refrigerant. (Also known as R-744.) Their goal is by the end of the year 2018, just over twelve months from now, that one-hundred of their stores will be fully converted over to R-744. This is a twenty million Euro investment for the German based company. That’s equal to about twenty-three and a half million dollars. This is just the start for their conversion as Aldi has over seven-hundred stores in the United Kingdom and plans to open up another three-hundred over the next couple years. All of these stores will be using CO2 as their main refrigerant source.
There are two main reasons Aldi has made this decision. The first is to become compliant with the European Union F-Gas regulations that come into effect in 2030. (For more information on the EU’s F-Gas Regulation please click here.) Like most other countries around the world the European Union has agreed to phase-out HFC refrigerants entirely. These refrigerants include R-404A, R-410A, and R-134a. (There are others, but these are the most popular.) The plan is to cut the availability of HFC refrigerants by seventy-nine percent between the years 2015 and 2030. Only companies with approved EU quotas will be able to supply, manufacture, or import HFC refrigerants. A full schedule of the phase-out can be seen in the picture below:
The second reason Aldi made this decision was for it’s impact on the environment. Sure, you can say that the environment was their primary reason but they are a business and they weighed the pros/cons and the cost involved in switching now or switching later when they got closer to the 2030 deadline. Switching now made more financial sense. By switching over to CO2, or R-744, Aldi will be reducing their gas carbon emissions down by ninety-nine percent and will see an annual decrease of over fifteen-million in Global Warming Potential. CO2 refrigerant has a GWP of 1. That is a HUGE difference when comparing it to the commonly used R-404A refrigerant which has a GWP of 3,922! You can begin to see why governments have been pushing to phase these HFC refrigerants out.
CO2 R-744 Refrigerant
R-744 refrigerant is becoming increasingly popular across the world. It’s ironic really as CO2 was one of the first widely used refrigerants in the world. Let’s go back one-hundred years. Chances are if you went to a movie theater on a hot summer day in the 1920s that the movie theater would have been cooled by CO2. You’d step in from the heat and feel the cool and relaxing air and then watch yourself a Charlie Chaplin film.
The problem with CO2 back then, and today, is that it requires an extremely high pressure to operate in a refrigeration cycle. This high pressure caused units and parts to break repeatedly. It was during the depression when a new cheaper alternative refrigerant was discovered. The CFC R-12. The moment R-12 was discovered it took off and was soon found in every application across the globe. Next came R-22, and so on and so on.
So, we went from CO2 > CFCs > HCFCs > HFCs > and now back to CO2. We’ve come full circle folks. The difference here is that with today’s technology, new parts, and equipment the extremely high pressure of CO2 is no longer a problem. We have stronger, tougher, and better tools and parts to compensate for this pressure. Now the big concern is danger to the earth and the climate. R-744 is one of the most logical answers here.
Like it or not folks natural refrigerants, like CO2, are going to be part of our future. HFCs are going away and the HCFCs are pretty much gone already. We have two choices. We are either going all in on the new HFO refrigerants or we are going back in time to the days of Natural Refrigerants such as CO2 or Ammonia. Which do you prefer?
If and when you do come across a CO2 unit just think of yourself as honoring the past. You’re honoring the memories of your grandparents and maybe even their parents. The people who pioneered this technology we are now using today.