Target Stores Switching Their Cases to R-290 (Propane)

In 2015 the Obama Administration held a summit at the White House where various large companies in the United States were invited. The purpose of this summit was for Obama to gain pledges from each of these companies on beginning to phase out their HFC refrigerant usage. Each of these companies agreed to a specific pledge. One of these companies was the retail chain Target.

An excerpt from Target’s corporate website can be found by clicking here or reading below:

Part of our American Business Act on Climate Pledge is to drive implementation of refrigerants free of hydrofluorocarbons (HFC)—which contribute to climate change—in our food distribution centers and stand-alone refrigerated display cases. Recently, we opened two new food distribution centers that employ an HFC-free refrigerant, eliminating 900 metric tons CO2e—the equivalent of CO2 emissions from consuming 101,272 gallons of gas. We also require all new and replacement stand-alone coolers use a natural, HFC-free refrigerant (R290) to meet this commitment. We’re joined by more than 50 food retailers in the EPA’s GreenChill program to reduce refrigerant emissions and their impact to climate change.

As you can see above Target publically pledged that they would begin transitioning their refrigerated cases to R-290 beginning in January of 2016. Well, here we are now in January of 2017 and Target has shown tremendous results. Target now has propane units in five-hundred and eighty stores out of their eighteen-hundred stores. That’s thirty percent of their stores that now use propane refrigeration. Regardless of how you feel about the change it is rather remarkable for them to change that much in only a year.

In 2017 Target plans to operate some of their stores on nothing but R-290 refrigeration. Target is leading the way on Hydrocarbons in the United States.

Why R-290?

While R-290 is rare here in the United States it is actually quite popular in Asia and some European Countries. Let’s take a look at some of the reasons Target decided to make the switch over to propane:

  1. Target had a choice when they pledged to do away with their R-404A/R-134a usage. They could wait for Honeywell and Chemours to develop a new HFO refrigerant or they could use a refrigerant that is already in the market and that has already been proven to be effective. They chose R-290. There were no extra research and development costs involved. It was the easier choice.
  2. Propane is the environmentally friendly choice. In the past we had the CFCs and HCFCs such as R-22 and R-502. When leaked or vented these refrigerants actively damaged the O-Zone layer. The world made the switch to HFCs in the 90s and 2000’s. All was well with these until we figured out that HFCs are a ‘super gas’ when it comes to greenhouse gases.  This affect on the environment is measured by Global Warming Potential, or GWP. The GWP of R-404A is 3,922 times that of Carbon Dioxide. In contrast the GWP of R-290 is 3. Yes, that’s right 3. Quite the difference, huh? It’s easy to see why this is the environmentally friendly choice.
  3. R-290 is around fifty percent more efficient than the current HFCs being used today. What that translates to is lower power and energy bills for all of the Target stores that are using the new refrigerant. Referencing the article from they say that if Target replaces ten cases with propane over one-hundred stores they will save an annual amount of $42,920. Now, maybe it’s the cynic in me, but $42,000 in savings over a year across one-hundred stores is VERY minimal. The thing that you have to think about is what is the cost Target is having to put forward to buy all of these new units? What is the labor to have them all installed? My guess would be hundreds of thousands of dollars across all of their stores. $42,000 doesn’t sound like much now does it? It makes me wonder how long it will take for Target to fully recover their investment on this more efficient refrigerant.


Flammable Refrigerants
Flammable Refrigerants

I would be amiss if I didn’t mention this. I’m sure it is on everyone’s minds. R-290 is propane. As everyone knows Propane tends to explode. Just the other day I wrote an article about two technicians who were killed by a propane refrigerant explosion. (It can be read by clicking here.)  Do you know why this accident happened? It was because of recklessness. These two techs did not know what they were doing. Propane had been put into a unit that was not meant for propane. On top of that it was mixed instead of being flushed and to top it all off they were smoking while they were working on the unit. It was the perfect storm for an explosion.

I’m not trying to be insensitive here. Two men lost their lives and that is never a good thing. The point that I am trying to make here is propane is not dangerous if you know what you are doing. How many of you get nervous when you light your gas grill up and throw some burgers on? I know that I don’t. I don’t because I know what I am doing. I’m not going to pull the gas line out and light a cigarette with it. The same goes with propane refrigeration units. As long as you know what you are doing and you have done your research you’ll be fine. There’s a reason these are used all over the world.


Donald Trump's Affect on the Refrigerant Industry
Donald Trump’s Effect on the Refrigerant Industry

As I said before Target is leading the way on hydrocarbons here in the United States. In my eyes I don’t see this as Target being an innovator but instead Target being bullied by the Obama Administration. You make these changes, or else. (I’ve said in previous articles how I feel about these changes, but I won’t get into it here.) Target realized the risk to profits and to their business so they bit the bullet and began investing the money into the newer machines. It only made sense. If I was a business owner faced with that decision I would be on the side that made the government happy.

The irony of this is that Target started switching everything over in 2016. IF they had waited one more year all of this may have been null and void. Trump comes to power in only a few weeks and he has said multiple times that he thinks Climate Change is a Chinese hoax. Rather you believe him or not you have to look at it from a future perspective. I’m sure that when Trump gets into office the pressure for companies to switch away from HFCs and over to HFOs or Hydrocarbons will be gone.

Regardless of the politics of the issue, I still feel that Hydrocarbons will start to become more and more popular here in the United States. If you haven’t already trained on them I would suggest you take the time and do some research. It is only a matter of time before you come across a propane unit and if you’re servicing a Target location it may end up being tomorrow!

Thank you and if you enjoyed reading the article please take the time to subscribe to our mailing list which can be found on the very top right of the page. I will also be writing a future article on the pros and cons of R-290. Stay tuned.