New Association Spotlights Sustainable Refrigerants

The North American Sustainable Refrigeration Council — a newly formed 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization — is working to advance natural refrigerants such as ammonia or carbon dioxide and create a more sustainable future for supermarket refrigeration.

“Our focus is supermarkets because we see so much potential there,” said Liz Whiteley, executive director of NASRC, which is based in Santa Cruz, California. “The supermarket industry faces unique challenges — e.g. very small profit margins, huge opportunity cost if a store has to close for work on the refrigeration systems — so it’s a great subset of commercial refrigeration to focus on where we could see meaningful benefits for the climate.”

An appealing aspect of natural refrigerants is that they are not going to be subject to future phasedowns or restrictions like HFC refrigerants, so they offer a solution to the seemingly endless cycle of refrigerant transitions: chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) to hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs) to hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) to lowerglobal-warming-potential (GWP) HFCs, Whiteley said.

Whether you’re talking about standalone units using hydrocarbon refrigerants or transcritical CO2 , there’s an opportunity to install systems with substantially smaller climate footprints through lower GWP refrigerants, energy efficiency improvements and decreased system maintenance,” Whiteley said.

The technology, best practices and manpower exist to reduce the impact that supermarket refrigeration has on the environment, but Whiteley said there are hurdles in the way. “Right now in the U.S., when supermarkets look at natural refrigerant options, for the most part they see systems that are expensive, that are different that the rest of their installed base, and that require service technicians who are trained in natural refrigerants,” she explained.

Whiteley said it is important to note that NASRC is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, which means it exists to advance natural refrigerants specifically because natural refrigerants are better for the environment. “If we can create a world where natural refrigerants are the affordable, logical choice for new store construction, we can lock in technology that’s best for the planet, and that offers a lot of security and cost savings to supermarkets in the long run,” she added.

Dave Rule, president of IIAR, said there may be several ways the two groups can work together, given that both support the use of natural refrigerants such as ammonia or carbon dioxide. “With R-22 being phased out, a lot of people are turning to natural refrigerants. That is drawing more commercial refrigeration people to IIAR,” Rule said, adding that IIAR has platforms in place to communicate with those in the industry, such as its website, magazine and annual conference.

“We’ve extended the offer for their board members and their members in general to participate in the programs and networking events at the conference,” Rule said. “I’d like to invite them in next year to develop papers and add a second track of papers more focused on the commercial market. We could do the same thing on the workshops and panels.”

Rule said including NASRC members in IIAR workshops and committees could increase the focus on commercial issues. “We can develop new committees to be more specifically focused on the issues for the commercial market.”