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Navigating the New Refrigerant Landscape

RajanRajendran Rajan Rajendran | V.P., System Innovation Center and Sustainability

Emerson Commercial & Residential Solutions

This blog summarizes an article in our most recent E360 Outlook, entitled Navigating the New Refrigerant Landscape.” Click here to read it in its entirety.

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The EPA’s phase-down of hydrofluorocarbon (HFC) refrigerants is underway. Over the next several years, these high-global warming potential (GWP) substances will no longer be permitted in a variety of commercial refrigeration equipment. As part of its Significant New Alternatives Policy (SNAP) program, the EPA has also listed new synthetic blends and natural refrigerants as suitable alternatives.

These new alternatives have different performance, servicing and handling requirements than their predecessors. To govern their safe use, the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) has designated safety classifications that denote varying degrees of toxicity and flammability:

  • A1: lower toxicity; no flame propagation
  • A2L: lower toxicity; lower flammability
  • A3: lower toxicity; higher flammability
  • B2L: higher toxicity, lower flammability

The performance (pressure and capacity) characteristics of common A1 HFCs are used as a baseline for the development of new lower-GWP alternatives. For example, R-448A/449A and R-449B are among the “R-404A like” (medium-pressure) options, while R-513A and R-450A are “HFC-134a like” (low-pressure) substitutes. These all have relatively lower GWPs than their HFC counterparts (350 to 1,300 GWP) and are EPA listed as acceptable for use in specific applications.

Several “future proof” options are currently undergoing the EPA’s SNAP approval process. To achieve very low-GWP levels below 150, these HFO blends all fall under the A2L (mildly flammable) classification. Among the medium-pressure alternatives include R-455A, R-454C and R-457A, while HFO-1234yf/ze and ARM-42 comprise the low-pressure options. Look for future SNAP ruling updates to verify their specific use parameters.

There are also a few very low-GWP, high-performance natural refrigerant alternatives that have been EPA listed as acceptable for use. Ammonia (refrigerant name R-717), propane (refrigerant name R-290) and carbon dioxide (CO2 or refrigerant name R-744) all occur naturally in the environment and have a long history of commercial use.

  • Ammonia — as a B2L, R-717 use requires careful adherence to safe use procedures. Its suitability in low-temperature applications has made it a mainstay in industrial, process cooling, cold storage and ice rink applications. Today, some supermarkets are trialing it in CO2 cascade systems to significantly reduce their carbon footprints.
  • Propane — R-290 is a high-capacity, energy-efficient refrigerant with superior performance characteristics. R-290 adoption has increased significantly as an alternative to HFCs R-404A and HFC-134a. Applications typically have a charge limit of 150 grams, making it well-suited for self-contained, reach-in display cases.
  • CO2 — Non-flammable and non-toxic, CO2 has proved a very effective alternative in both low- and medium-temperature applications, especially in regions with lower ambient temperatures. Its unique operating characteristics have led to the development of cascade, secondary and transcritical booster system architectures — all of which have been successfully deployed in commercial and industrial applications in both Europe and the U.S.

This blog summarizes an article in our most recent E360 Outlook, entitled Navigating the New Refrigerant Landscape.” Click here to read it in its entirety.

[E360 Webinar Recap] R-290 and CO2 Are Natural Choices for Small-Format Refrigeration

AndrePatenaude_Blog_Image Andre Patenaude | Director, CO2 Business Development

Emerson Commercial & Residential Solutions

VIEW our latest E360 Webinar on demand, Opportunities for Natural Refrigerants in Small-Format Applications.

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Today’s small-format retail and foodservice operators face difficult decisions about which refrigeration architectures — and refrigerants — will be the bases of their next generation of refrigeration platforms. Whether they’re motivated by global regulatory actions to reduce the use of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) with high global warming potential (GWP), or simply stating sustainability objectives to improve energy efficiencies and minimize their carbon footprints, operators have a variety of lower-GWP refrigerant options at their disposal.

Natural refrigerants carbon dioxide (CO2, or refrigerant name R-744) and propane (R-290) are currently the only true “future proof” options that hold the potential to take compliance and sustainability concerns out of the equation. But their unique characteristics also introduce new safety and servicing considerations with which operators must become familiar.

In our most recent E360 Webinar, my colleague Allen Wicher, director or refrigeration marketing, and I explored the many factors small-format operators must consider when selecting a natural refrigerant system. I kicked off the presentation by reviewing the long history of natural refrigerants in commercial refrigeration and discussed the market and regulatory forces that are now driving their broad global resurgence.

In particular, I explained how the global F-gas reduction strategy to protect the environment, in combination with voluntary efforts of private industry organizations, were driving the transition away from HFC refrigerants toward lower-GWP options like CO2 and R-290. At the same time, the trend for smaller retail formats in urban areas persists, while the millennial generation continues to shape the consumer desire for convenience and more importantly, fresh, natural and organic food offerings from local, sustainable sources.

Making this decision even more complicated is an increasingly wide variety of equipment and system architectures at play. For CO2 options, I explained how smaller-format systems were scaled down versions of larger-format retail refrigeration architectures. For example, CO2 cascade and transcritical booster architectures can be effectively scaled for use as smaller, centralized systems. And for even smaller convenience store or restaurant applications — such as walk-in freezers and coolers — OEMs are now manufacturing CO2 remote condensing units.

While higher first costs can be a barrier to entry for small-format CO2 refrigeration, I demonstrated how the total cost of ownership is reduced with improved energy efficiencies, performance and lower maintenance.

Allen provided an update on the active regulatory landscape, including:

  • Safety (ASHRAE/UL) and charge limit standards (UL 427) currently underway for flammable refrigerants classified as A3 (R-290) and A2L (synthetic blends)
  • Summary of EPA refrigerant listings (currently no A2Ls are listed as acceptable for use)
  • California Air Resource Board’s aggressive stance on HFC phase-down

Allen then talked about the architectures where R-290 is currently being utilized, including: stand-alone, integrated cases and micro-distributed systems. To learn more about the use of natural refrigerants in small-format retail, click here to view this webinar in its entirety.

Mobilizing the Industry to Address the Technician Shortage

RajanRajendran Rajan Rajendran | V.P., System Innovation Center and Sustainability

Emerson Commercial & Residential Solutions

This blog originally appeared in our recent edition of E360 Outlook. Click here to read the issue in its entirety.

With all the talk about the regulatory challenges facing the commercial refrigeration industry today, it’s sometimes easy to overlook the elephant in the room — namely, its growing shortage of qualified HVACR technicians. While we’ve all been justifiably focused on understanding system design changes to reduce energy consumption and new refrigerants to lower our carbon footprint, no one in our industry has stepped forward to lead the charge on solving the technician shortage in a holistic manner.

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At Emerson’s annual contractor roundtable, the lack of qualified technicians was cited as the number one challenge facing contracting business owners. I would argue that it is perhaps our industry’s most pressing issue.

There is no quick fix to this situation. Finding a solution will take months, if not years, and require the commitment of a dedicated organization to drive this effort forward. Through our E360 platform, Emerson is committing to lead this important initiative.

At our E360 Forum in Tucson, Ariz., we took our first steps toward defining the framework of this effort. The event assembled industry stakeholders and vocational school educators for a half-day, E360 Industry Challenge session to examine the current state of the HVACR technician profession. Areas of focus included:

  • Awareness — Do we understand what’s at stake and agree on the problem?
  • Recruitment — How can we attract individuals with aptitude?
  • Training — How can these individuals receive training, and what should those programs look like?
  • Certification — Which types of certification should be made available?
  • Retention — How can we keep individuals engaged throughout their careers?

In 2017, E360 will host a larger Forum focused solely on addressing the technician shortage. This multi-day event will feature an interdisciplinary team dedicated to understanding the problem, defining a working road map for meeting the challenge, and assigning specific actions to solve it.

In addition to industry stakeholders, we will seek insights from previously untapped resources. We will also seek the expertise of educators who have experience in developing curriculum and recruiting candidates. Our technical colleges, vocational schools and trade associations will all play key roles in shaping this piece of the puzzle. We may also benefit from government representatives and/or agencies who may be able to affect policy changes that can further our cause.

Certainly, the current regulatory climate is a dynamic situation that will continue to impact us for years to come, and our E360 platform will remain dedicated to helping you navigate this changing landscape. But without qualified technicians to service the next generation of refrigeration equipment, our industry will have an even bigger challenge.

If you want to contribute to this effort or have ideas that may help, please reach out to us at E360. Stay tuned for updates on this topic.

When the Regulatory Push Comes to Shove

donnewlon Don Newlon | V.P./G.M., Refrigeration Marketing

Emerson Commercial & Residential Solutions

This blog originally appeared in one of our E360 Outlook edition. Click here to read the issue in its entirety.

It’s been than more than two years since the Department of Energy (DOE) announced its final rule on energy conservation standards for commercial refrigeration equipment. At the time of its 2014 announcement, many industry stakeholders expressed their objections to this standard, claiming that it was founded on insufficient premises and nearly impossible to meet.

The industry’s most substantial objection resulted in a formal petition submitted to federal court— one that consolidated the opinions of the American Heating and Refrigeration Institute, some of its member companies and the North American Association of Food Equipment Manufacturers. In August, the Appeals Court ruled in the DOE’s favor, effectively quashing any hopes that the ruling would be amended or delayed. Any lingering questions about the implementation of the DOE’s new efficiency standard have been laid to rest.

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All stand-alone commercial refrigeration equipment released after March 27, 2017, will need to achieve up to 30–50 percent reduction in energy consumption. Some OEMs have already cleared this hurdle. But, if you are an OEM who thought this deadline wouldn’t come to pass, and you have delayed research, design, development and testing of new products, you are no doubt feeling a new sense of urgency. The regulatory push has come to shove.

That’s why the “Countdown to Compliance” feature story in this issue is devoted to addressing this imminent deadline — not only what it means to OEMs, but also evaluating its larger impacts on the industry. In our Helix Highlight article, we’re also introducing a new simulation model for ice machines that can help OEMs with rapid prototyping and allow them to virtually test the efficiency impacts of system design and component changes.

It’s important to remember that the March 2017 compliance date is just the first in a series of regulatory milestones in the journey that lies ahead. We know there will soon be changes in acceptable refrigerants, and we’re well aware of the subsequent energy minimums to be enforced on other classes of commercial refrigeration equipment. The next several years will be full of challenges. Each regulation will need to be approached with specific technologies and strategies to achieve compliance.

Our commitment to helping our partners prepare for each step along the path to compliance is stronger than ever. To Emerson, it’s about more than seeking fresh approaches to system designs; it’s about helping the industry confidently embrace a new era of refrigeration. Regardless of where your company may be on its journey toward compliance, we have the resources and the willingness to help.

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