Future-Proofing Refrigerants

Naturals Reach Wider Markets as Environmental Incentives Increase
Against a shifting regulator landscape, with restrictions of hydrofluorocarbon synthetic refrigerants growing by fits and starts, use of natural refrigerants is increasing among a widening range of companies seeking to ensure that their investments will be viable in the future.

In industries ranging from biotechnology and pharmaceuticals to retail groceries, data centers and office buildings, companies are embracing more sustainable refrigerant options to reach their sustainability and climate goals and achieve regulatory compliance.

“Eliminating halogenated hydrocarbons is an integral part of our sustainability strategy to reduce our impacts on the environment. The program helps us future-proof our operations by staying ahead of relevant legislation, reduce risks to our business and in many cases improve energy efficiency,” said Scott Hemphill, global environmental sustainability expert in the Diagnostics Division at The Roche Group.

Halogenated hydrocarbons are hydrocarbon chemicals containing elements called halogens, such as chlorine or fluorine. Used as synthetic refrigerants such as HFC, production and use of the chemicals is restricted by environmental authorities because of their stability and persistence in nature.

In addition to being a green alternative, the concept of future-proofing has taken on greater importance as businesses monitor varying state, federal and global requirements. Morgan Smith, manager of programs and operations at the North American Sustainable Refrigeration Council, said the industry is currently facing uncertainty regarding regulatory requirements at state, federal and global levels

While the Environmental Protection Agency’s Significant New Alternatives Program Rules 20 and 21, which were issued under the Obama administration, have been vacated by the Trump administration, some states have moved in with their own regulations.

invalid, and we’ve started to see the Environmental Protection Agency begin dismantling other HFC policies in the wake of those decisions,” said Lowell Randel, IIAR director of government relations.

However, some states have their own plans to phase down high globalwarming-potential refrigerants. “In the absence of federal regulations, a number of states have announced plans to enact their own HFC regulations,” Smith said.

California has passed the California Cooling Act, which will put forward regulations restricting the use of HFCs and create incentives for companies to shift from high global-warming-potential refrigerants to low-GWP refrigerants.

Although California’s legislation was slated to include an incentive program, that went unfunded in the proposed 2019 budget. “It was disappointing to see the program go unfunded because it has the potential not only to help offset the cost premiums of low-GWP alternatives in California, but it also has the power to stimulate volumes of adoption that will drive economies of scale across the United States,” Smith said, noting that there is still a significant cost barrier.

Washington State is considering legislation that would restrict HFCs and would phase down their use, Randel said. Smith added that the effective dates vary for different refrigerant applications. Supermarkets would need to begin complying in 2020, while refrigerated food processing and compact residential facilities have until 2021. The deadline is 2022 for residential consumers and 2023 for cold-storage warehouses.

Randel said some companies might be challenged to meet those deadlines. “Some people have raised concerns that there may not be enough transition time built into the legislation to provide sufficient time for industry to make those adaptations,” he explained.

adaptations,” he explained. In Connecticut, the legislature passed a bill concerning climate change planning and resiliency. “Their governor has signed that into law and has asked for the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environment Protection to develop regulations that would phase down HFCs,” Randel said.

In New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo has charged the Department of Environmental Conservation to develop a plan to address HFCs. Some refrigerants will begin being phased down in 2020, Randel said. Also, “New Jersey’s legislature is looking at legislation that would address HFC phasedowns, and Maryland has approved a greenhouse gas emission reduction and HFC’s could be part of that policy as it moves forward,” Randel added.

However, many would like to see the federal government take the lead on regulatory requirements. “It would be a real challenge to manage different HFC regulations across a number of states,” Smith said.

Even with the uncertainty surrounding regulatory requirements, several businesses are moving forward with natural refrigerants.


The Roche Group is a leading biotechnology company and an early leader in natural refrigerants in the pharmaceutical and biotechnology space. “We strongly believe using natural refrigerants is the right thing to do and that as a big company we not only have a responsibility to improve patients’ lives but also to the society in which we operate,” Hemphill said.

The Roche Group’s commitment to phasing out halogenated refrigerants is governed by the K6 Directive, one of 24 mandatory corporate directives that every part of the Group must follow. “The halogenated hydrocarbon elimination program has been prioritized throughout Roche by including it in a mandatory Group Directive that has the backing of senior managers,” Hemphill said.

The K6 Directive was first introduced in 1994 to reduce and ultimately eliminate ozone-depleting substances in all operations, which was effectively achieved for the original business scope in 2015. The directive has been continuously updated and strengthened over the years to include other halogenated hydrocarbons that have a negative impact on climate, such as HFCs, with corresponding reduction targets set, Hemphill explained.

“Between 2002 and 2015, halogenated hydrocarbon inventories were reduced by nearly 90 percent. The current target to reduce inventories by a further 20 percent by 2020 has already been achieved,” Hemphill said. “The K6 directive aims to phase-out halogenated hydrocarbons in equipment in all our facilities including air conditioning systems, cool rooms, refrigeration and freezer units, fire suppression systems, etc., and promotes only natural replacements —ammonia, carbon dioxide, non-halogenated hydrocarbons, water and air — to be used.”

Hemphill explained that existing noncompliant equipment is being replaced continuously at all Roche facilities. “New acquisitions have been consequently applying the directive with corresponding later timelines,” he said.

Hemphill said environmental sustainability objectives are easier to achieve with clear and mandatory requirements, strong management support and robust control mechanisms. “The K6 program is an excellent example of what can be achieved with the right pre-conditions,” he said.

here are many types of smaller equipment, such as environmental chambers, centrifuges, split air conditioning systems and lyophilization units, that are not yet available on the market with natural coolants. “Roche still has significant numbers of such equipment in our inventories, and these will be challenging to replace. The biggest efforts in our program will be required to remove the remaining halogenated hydrocarbon inventories in small equipment,” he said.

For those looking to switch to natural refrigerants, Hemphill advises that they obtain top management support, make requirements clear and mandatory and continuously control compliance within the organization. “Be prepared to invest more time in searching for halogenated hydrocarbon-free equipment, be willing to work with external partners on solutions that may not yet be available on the market and be prepared for possible higher equipment costs as HFC solutions are in many cases still cheaper than natural alternatives,” he said.


Several grocers are investing in natural refrigerants. An analysis by the private Environmental Investigation Agency identified Aldi U.S. as an industry leader, along with Whole Foods, Target, Sprouts and Ahold Delhaize USA.

Earlier this year EIA unveiled a new initiative identifying U.S. retailers committed to taking leadership action to reduce HFCs. As part of the initiative, Aldi U.S. announced its goal to add HFC-free refrigeration systems to 100 more stores in 2019.

“Aldi is deeply committed to reducing its refrigerant emissions and believes natural refrigerants are the best longterm solution for the planet,” said Aaron Sumida, vice president at ALDI.

Aldi has adopted transcritical CO2 refrigeration systems in many of its new and remodeled stores. “We’re excited to continue to drive forward change with our commitment to hydrofluorocarbon reduction and adopting natural refrigeration systems,” Sumida said.

Randel said CO2 systems are finding a lot of traction in supermarkets. “Quite a few of the facilities that are transitioning to more climate-friendly refrigerants are looking to CO2 or a cascade system,” he said, adding that distribution centers are more likely to have ammonia or CO2 or some type of cascade system. “We’re seeing hydrocarbons coming in and being used in some of the self-contained equipment.”

Avipsa Mahapatra, lead of climate campaign at EIA, said smart companies, such as Aldi U.S., are committed to rapidly scaling-up energy efficient HFC-free technologies, demonstrating that it makes business and climate sense to lead in adopting future-proof refrigeration systems not reliant on potent super-pollutants.

“We are committed to limiting our climate footprint, including taking steps to reduce HFCs used in cooling,” said Brittni Furrow, vice president of sustainable retailing for Ahold Delhaize USA. “Our company’s global target to lower the average GWP of refrigerants in stores to 2,230 by the year 2020 reflects this commitment.”

Furrow said Ahold is continuing to look for opportunities to use climatefriendly cooling technologies such as those already employed in one Food Lion and three Hannaford stores in the U.S.

Frank Davis, director of facilities and engineering at Sprouts Farmers Market, said Sprouts is also committed to lowering HFC emissions from cooling by reducing leaks and piloting sustainable refrigeration technologies in stores. “We continue to follow through on this commitment through our participation and certification of stores in EPAs GreenChill Partnership,” he said.

Christina Starr, climate policy analyst at EIA, commended the companies which are taking action but said there is much more the U.S. supermarket sector should do. “These leading companies represent just 15 percent of U.S. supermarkets, so there’s a big opportunity for more commitments such as phasing out the worst HFCs like R-404A, adopting climate-friendly refrigerants in new refrigeration systems, or joining the EPAs GreenChill Partnership and taking steps to limit leaks,” she said.

If all U.S. supermarkets join the EPA’s GreenChill Partnership and achieve similar reduced leak rates, it would mitigate an additional 15.5 million metric tons CO2 annually, EIA said.

EIA has created a map of supermarket locations in the U.S. using climatefriendly cooling. The site, www.climatefriendlysupermarkets.org, highlights specific company actions in three key areas: adopting technologies, refrigerant management, and engaging in technical and policy dialogue.

“The fact that these major retailers are coming out and aligning themselves in this climate-friendly supermarket marketing is a signal that a lot of these companies are thinking about their environmental footprint and recognize that going with natural refrigerants like ammonia or CO2 is the right choice for them,” Randel said. “The more you see people taking these actions, that will build on the momentum for other companies to say we can do this and do it efficiently and it improves the bottom line.”


Natural refrigerants have always been the mainstay for industrial refrigeration and Campbell Soup Co. has long had a commitment to natural refrigerants. Most of Campbell’s loads are high-temperature applications and are serviced from either a 40 °F chilled water circuit or a 28 °F glycol circuit, said Chuck Taylor, president of CRT Design Inc., a Campbell’s engineering contractor. Using ammonia to chill the water and glycol makes it possible to take advantage of the benefits of ammonia without having ammonia in the plant.

Each of these facilities also has a very small freezer. In the Campbell’s plants in Denver, Pennsylvania, and Lakeland, Florida, Campbell’s installed a CO2 lowside compressor package to service the freezer and transferred the heat of rejection from the low stage CO2 system to the 28 °F glycol loop. This enabled the use of natural refrigerants without having ammonia in the plant, Taylor said.

In another application, Campbell’s needed to install a spiral freezer in the middle of its Downingtown, Pennsylvania, facility. Again, Campbells wanted to keep the ammonia in the machine room and use natural refrigerants. Campbell’s installed a low side CO2 system to service the spiral and transferred the heat of rejection to the 28 °F glycol loop. The spiral utilized 6 DX evaporator coils and a rack manufactured by Hill Phoenix, Taylor said.

In addition, Campbell Soup Co. needed to add a 25,000-square-foot freezer and cooler to its research and develop center at the company’s corporate headquarters in Camden, New Jersey. Again, the company wanted to utilize natural refrigerants but because of New Jersey regulations did not want to use ammonia. Campbell’s installed a transcritical rack in the machine room and direct expansion evaporators in the freezer and cooler.

In all three applications CRT Design engineered the systems. “Campbell’s commitment to the environment and natural refrigerants, coupled with some very challenging applications, lead to innovative solutions utilizing CO2 as the refrigerant,” Taylor said. “Campbell Soup Co. is very happy with the results.”


Star Refrigeration installed five aircooled ammonia chiller packages for a data center in Denmark in 2018-2019. “Two chillers were supplied for office cooling 190kW(54TR) each at 14/7C water temperatures,” said Alan Walkinshaw, special projects sales manager for Star Refrigeration. “Three chillers were supplied for electrical room cooling 610kW (173kW) each also at 14/7C fluid temperatures.”

Walkinshaw said natural refrigerants are strongly favored in Denmark, and ammonia offered an efficient, futureproof solution for the project.

Azane, Inc. installed an Azanechiller (300 TR) at a Campbell’s Soup facility in Napoleon, Ohio. “This was also providing chilled water for air-conditioning at their plant. ,” said Caleb Nelson, vice president of business development for Azane Inc.

Nelson said Azane built three more Azanechillers (900 TR total) for a similar application for a large bakery in Portland, Oregon. “That application was primarily AC with a bit of industrial process,” he said.

As part of the Portland project, a third-party engineering consulting group studied the air-cooled Azanechiller packages and determined that they exceeded the efficiency requirements for watercooled chillers of the Oregon Energy Efficiency Specialty Code, Nelson said. “The additional benefit of air-cooled packages is that they reduce the total running costs significantly because they eliminate water usage and sewage costs as well as chemical water treatment and maintenance costs for cooling towers or evaporative condensers,” he added.

Scantec Refrigeration Technologies installed the first ammonia-based air conditioning retrofit in a public administration building in Queensland, Australia, about eight years ago. The ammonia-based air conditioning system replaced two R22-based air conditioning systems. The secondary refrigerant was reticulated chilled water.

The system was expected to save $100,000 (Australian) annually due to energy savings. Stefan Jensen, managing director for Scantec, said the payback period was around six years, less than the original estimate of 8.5 years.

Jensen said the project was able to prove that, despite all the negativity from the HFC proponents within the local HVACR industry, the use of ammonia for air conditioning of buildings fitted with a chilled water reticulation type AC system is very viable and future-proof.

The same type of technology could be used in several other applications. “There is little, if any, technical difference between the reticulated chilled water system in a hotel and that of a multi-story administration building,” Jensen said.

Despite the benefits of ammonia refrigeration, however, Jensen said the Queensland project wasn’t the game changer he had hoped to see. “There is much inertia in the traditional way of doing HVACR with HFC refrigerants and changing that is a bit like changing the direction of the Titanic,” he said.