Well folks, as most of you know today is Earth Day. Personally, I don’t do anything to celebrate it besides walking around my property and enjoying the view. I just cleared an area by our pond this weekend and now I’ve got a nice quiet place to relax after a day’s work.
As I was reading the news today I saw a plethora of Earth Day stores. One that stuck out to me though was that the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) announced that they had launched a website in honor of Earth Day. This website aims at identifying retailers within the United States who have begun to use natural refrigerants instead of HFCs. The goal here is to have the companies who have started moving forward with natural refrigerants to be recognized for leading the pack.
Before we get to the website, let’s take a look at who the Environmental Investigation Agency (IEA) is. I have not heard of them before, and when I haven’t heard of something I like to research it. EIA is a non-profit organization that was founded back in 1984 out of the United Kingdom. Today they have offices in London and in Washington DC and focus on environmental crime and abuse across the globe. They work on wide variety of things from endangered animals and poaching all the way over to climate change and refrigerants.
The new HFC website that EIA created can be found at climatefriendlysupermarkets.org. At first glance when looking at this website and the map that shows you where the natural refrigerant supermarkets are within the United States I couldn’t help but laugh. Nearly every location is in California or New York. This was expected as California usually leads the way in environmental progress, but still it was quite funny to see that the closest one to me is about one-thousand miles away (I’m in Kansas City).
Regardless of how far away they are progress is progress. According to IEA there are five main companies that have been pushing their locations to move away from HFCs and switch over to natural refrigerants. These companies are: Target, Aldi, Ahold Delhaize, Whole Foods Market, and Sprouts. Each of these companies has their own innovative ways of applying these alternative refrigerants. These range from:
- Transcritical CO2 systems
- Cascade or indirect systems using a combination of two low-GWP refrigerants
- Micro-distributed systems using hydrocarbon condensing units on a chilled water or glycol loop
- Stand-alone display cases using hydrocarbons
I won’t get into the details of what every company has done over the past few years to make this listing, but instead give you a quick highlight from each company. If you wish to read more on the subject feel free to visit our ‘Sources’ section at the bottom of this article to continue reading.
Aldi has been one of the leaders here in the United States. This isn’t surprising in the slightest as they are a European based company and have European ideals. (Europe is always ahead of us when it comes to environmental changes.) According to IEA Aldi has over two-hundred stores with transcritical R-744 systems with plans to add another one-hundred by the end of 2019. Along with that they have launched R-290 propane self-contained refrigerators/freezers and they have transitioned their warehouses over to R-717 ammonia based systems.
Target is another big driver of change. So far they have over one-thousand stores using self-contained hydrocarbon refrigerators/freezers (R-290 and R-600a). They have also begun experimenting with CO2 applications. They are piloting a transcritical R-744 application in two stores and they have also begun using CO2 cascade systems in their larger stores. Also, just like Aldi, they are using ammonia R-717 in their food distribution warehouses.
The other stores haven’t done as much as Aldi and Target, but they are still making strides to cleaner refrigerants. Whole Foods, now owned by Amazon, has begun distributing propane stand-alone refrigerators/freezers across their entire store network. They have also been piloting a transcritical CO2 system in their Brooklyn, New York store. The company Ahold USA was the very first store ever in the United States to begin using a transcritical CO2 system. Lastly, Sprouts was the first grocery store in the United States to use a R-744 ejection refrigeration system.
Along with these companies being environmentally friendly and being recognized by such agencies such as the IEA they also get the added benefit of increased energy efficiency. More often than not natural refrigerants are far more efficient than your standard HFC refrigerant. Ammonia, for example, is the most efficient refrigerant out there. All of this efficiency means decreased monthly energy bills for these stores and companies. So, while there may be a larger expense up front with a natural system the business owner will make it back month to month with lower operating expenses. They also get the peace of mind knowing that natural refrigerants will never be phased out by the Environmental Protection Agency as they have no, or extremely little, impact on the climate and the Ozone layer.
While looking at the map of all of stores using natural refrigerants was comical, we do all have to start somewhere. I’m willing to bet though that the map isn’t covering every store in the country. There’s a Whole Foods and an Aldi not far from me and I bet one of those stores are using a propane based refrigerator. With each year that passes the chance of running into these systems increases. If you haven’t already familiarized yourself with them I would recommend looking into it soon.
What is interesting though was after reading this I saw very little mention of HFO refrigerants from Honeywell and Chemours. Are the HFO refrigerants being eclipsed by natural refrigerants? Will we begin to see the mass conversion away from R-404A before HFOs can be fully rolled out? Time will tell.