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Blog 9: Why CO2 and Ammonia Are Trading Places

AndrePatenaude_Blog_Image Andre Patenaude | Director Food Retail, Growth Strategy

Emerson Commercial & Residential Solutions

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CO2 and ammonia (aka NH3) are two natural refrigerants that have historically played predictable roles in refrigeration. Ammonia has long been considered a workhorse in low-temperature, industrial refrigeration. More recently, CO2 has emerged as a leading alternative to hydrofluorocarbon (HFC) refrigerants, especially in commercial applications. Just as we became accustomed to their familiar roles, manufacturers are developing new refrigeration technologies that blur the lines between these traditional applications.

Driven by sustainability objectives and regulatory compliance, these natural refrigerant technologies are converging into competing market spaces — where CO2 is becoming a viable option in industrial applications and low-charge ammonia systems are making inroads into commercial applications.

CO2 has the global HFC phase-down to thank for gaining a foothold in commercial refrigeration. With near-zero global warming potential (GWP), it is one of the few ultra-low GWP refrigerants to be listed as acceptable by the Environmental Protection Agency’s Significant New Alternatives Policy. CO2 also has minimal safety or toxicity barriers to adoption with respect to building and fire codes.

On the other hand, ammonia has been the subject of increasing regulatory activity to address its potential toxicity concerns. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requires operators to provide documentation for systems charged with at least 10,000 pounds of ammonia.

Operators of these large-charge systems, which are typically found in industrial applications, must be prepared for rigorous inspections enforced by OSHA’s National Emphasis Program (NEP) on process safety management industries.

To mitigate safety and compliance concerns, a trend is emerging that favors lower-charge ammonia systems and moving the NH3 portion out of occupied spaces. This is enabling these systems to be deployed not only in industrial settings, but also in commercial applications. Likewise, adaptations of common CO2 architectures are making their way into what have historically been ammonia-based, industrial applications.

Regardless of potential installation caveats or market segment, many end users are primarily motivated by the desire to leave a smaller carbon footprint. Natural refrigerants like CO2 and ammonia are helping them meet this objective through the deployment of low-GWP, energy-efficient systems.

That’s why both commercial and industrial operators are turning to original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) to explore the potential of these natural refrigerant options. In turn, OEMs are responding with new innovations and system technologies that borrow from traditional architectures and cross over into competing market spaces.

In my next blog, I’ll look at some innovations that are indicative of this convergence.

Read the full Accelerate America article on the roles of CO2 and ammonia [pg.16].

Behind Whole Foods’ Exploration of Natural Refrigerants

TristanCoffin_Blog_Image Tristan Coffin | Director of Sustainability & Facilities

Whole Foods Market’s Northern California Division

This blog is based on the recent E360 Webinar, “Pioneering Natural Refrigerants: A Grocery Case Study.”

Those who follow commercial refrigeration trends in the U.S. are probably aware of Whole Foods Market’s exploration of natural refrigerants. If there’s one thing that drives our unique approach to sustainable refrigeration, it’s a willingness to deploy new system architectures, both in centralized and stand-alone applications. In a recent E360 Webinar, I had the opportunity to discuss these natural refrigerant strategies in greater detail, in particular the R-290/CO2 cascade architecture deployed in our Santa Clara location and the wider adoption of self-contained, R-290 cases.

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With sustainability goals of reducing refrigerant charges and environmental impacts, improving energy efficiencies and lowering our total equivalent warming impact (TEWI), Whole Foods Market has embraced natural refrigerants in 25 stores — 15 of which utilize entirely all-natural refrigeration systems (like Santa Clara). Of course, every refrigeration decision is based on the imperative of maintaining operational uptime, regardless of the choice in refrigerant or architecture.

Santa Clara: R-290/CO2 cascade case study

Whole Foods Market Santa Clara is an example of where we deployed a first-of-its-kind system architecture to achieve an all-natural, sustainable refrigeration solution. The centralized system features a state-of-the art, R-290/ CO2 cascade architecture with seven sealed R-290 chillers located on the rooftop. These chillers are each charged with 30–40 pounds of R-290 and are responsible for cooling the high-temperature CO2. The CO2 portion of the system is located within the mechanical space of the store itself.

To ensure system safety and comply with local authorities having jurisdiction (AHJ), the system was designed with extensive safety measures. Venting considerations are especially important when dealing with R-290, which is classified as a flammable A3 refrigerant. In the event of a leak (or purposeful venting), the rooftop chillers are mounted on 8-inch stands and an open base frame construction to elevate them off the roof level and allow gas to safely disperse.

The system also utilizes other measures to ensure pressure safeguards in the R-290 chillers, including compressor de-energization, system bypass and relief valves. In this particular installation, a flare stack was added months after the installation was completed, per the request of the local AHJ. This tied the high-pressure relief to smoke and heat sensors below the roof deck. Any detection of fire triggers the automatic release and flare of the R-290 charge.

In addition, the R-290 chillers have built-in leak detection to comply with Section 606 of the California Fire Code, including a system shutdown mechanism. With all these safety measures in place, it’s important to note that there have been zero leaks of R-290 to date.

This R-290/CO2 cascade system represents the application of R-290 in larger-charge systems. Not only is it an example of a successful Significant New Alternatives Policy (SNAP) test market application, it serves as both a good case study for us and a proving ground for our industry.

Self-contained, R-290 cases

The Santa Clara store also features the use of R-290 in self-contained cases, now present in more than 100 Whole Foods stores. We find these cases to be both aligned with our sustainability goals while also offering many benefits, including: very low refrigerant charge, very low leak rates, merchandising flexibility, reduced installation and maintenance costs, and energy savings from 30–50 percent over industry baseline averages. And, compared to R-404A’s global warming potential (GWP) of 3,800, R-290 has a GWP of 3.

As Whole Foods Market continues to explore the use of natural refrigerants, we find ourselves focusing less on a ‘one size fits all’ approach to solve some of the challenges in refrigeration. Instead, we consider different climate zones and building types as key factors to deploying best-fit solutions, as we continue to forge a path in long term sustainability.





Using Facility Controls to Modernize the Consumer Experience

This blog summarizes an article from ACR News, entitled “Advances in Facility Controls Keeps Food Fresher, Consumers Safe and Comfortable.” Click here to read the article in its entirety (pg 42).

Reggie O'Donoghue_Blog Reggie O’Donoghue | Director of Electronics, Product Management
Emerson Commercial & Residential Solutions

We’ve noted that technology continues to evolve and expand its role in the commercial refrigeration market. In the food retail and foodservice sectors, this is inherently true for facility controls. Due to an ever-expanding network of shopping and dining options available to consumers, stores have struggled to determine how they can distinguish themselves from the pack and attract customers for not just one visit, but recurring visits.

Using Facility Controls to modernize the consumer experience

This struggle has shifted stores toward a concept called experiential retail, a mix of traditional shopping with entertainment features that provide consumers with a more engaging and unique experience. Offering an inviting, comfortable and safe environment is now just as essential as maintaining productivity and profitability, meaning advanced facility management and supervisory controls are necessary tools for any retailer who wants to stay relevant in the minds of consumers.

Formerly, facility controls were primarily used for energy management. While that is still incredibly beneficial (even the slightest energy reduction can greatly improve a supermarket’s profit margins), modern facility controls can be used for much more to help diversify business without risking food safety or quality.

For example, an emerging theme in the modern supermarket is the availability of freshly prepared foods and full meals to entice customers, bringing food safety even higher on the priority list. The latest control technologies implement the power of internet of things (IoT) connectivity, granting managers greater control and real-time monitoring of their entire facility, which decreases risk.

While energy efficiency and food safety are standard priorities for any retailer, consumer comfort and engagement factor greatly into experiential retail. Modern facility controls allow operators to manage the more aesthetic factors of their stores, helping to create more comfortable experiences for customers. Air quality controls allow for the control of fresh and recirculated air to maximize comfort levels, while lighting controls allow for more ambience in different areas of the store.

Modern facility controls offer behind-the-scenes benefits that allow managers to mine data from their stores, while smart alarms allow for quick action on faults and provide high-level explanations for future prevention. Comparing this data with historic records allows both facility managers to optimize store performances and enterprise managers to determine which stores are operating well and which have room for improvement. All a facility manager needs are a phone, tablet or laptop, and a Wi-Fi connection to access these operational insights.

As consumer wants and needs continue to become more complex, it is necessary for food retailers to optimize their stores to remain profitable from a business perspective and desirable from a consumer perspective. Modern facility controls are one of the best ways to leverage the power of data and IoT control to maintain a competitive edge.

Dynamic Market Needs Continue to Drive Cold Chain Innovation

AndrePatenaude_Blog_Image Andre Patenaude | Director, Food Retail Marketing & Growth Strategy, Cold Chain

Emerson Commercial & Residential Solutions

This blog is based on Emerson’s recent participation at AHR Expo 2018 and my interview with Shecco publications, which you can watch here.

Dynamic Market needs continue to drive cold chain innovation

Emerson’s participation at the International Air-Conditioning, Heating, Refrigeration Exposition (AHR Expo) serves as an annual performance benchmark to some degree — a way to highlight what we’ve accomplished and highlight growth areas in the coming year. But with the announcement of Emerson’s new cold chain organization in late 2017, the 2018 AHR Expo in Chicago was especially noteworthy.

This year’s AHR show gave us a chance to demonstrate how this shift toward a more holistic cold chain focus benefits our customers via specialization in the food retail, foodservice, transportation and aftermarket sectors. In a dynamic market environment that continues to be defined by transition and uncertainty, we have a tremendous amount of expertise that allows us to be extremely helpful and responsive to our customers’ challenges than we previously have been.

Continuing to be at the forefront of these challenges is the refrigerant landscape and the increasing number of natural and low-GWP (global warming potential) options that are available. For several years, we’ve worked with our diverse customer base to address their multitude of concerns and organizational goals. From low capital costs, improved serviceability and operational efficiency to safety, environmental sustainability and energy reduction, OEMs and end customers alike are looking at the impact of refrigerants differently than they did even five years ago — and their decisions are based on any combination of these common drivers.

Some of the products we showcased at AHR Expo were the culmination of our efforts to help customers respond to their unique challenges. For example, our R-290 condensing units deliver ultra-low environmental impact, plug-and-play usability and energy-efficient performance for stand-alone refrigeration units — an increasingly popular option for those who place a premium on sustainability.

An emerging trend in the industrial refrigeration and cold storage space is the use of low-charge ammonia/CO2 cascade or all-CO2 refrigeration architectures. These systems help operators avoid both the risks associated with large-charge ammonia systems and the documentation requirements of using them.

For these emerging cold storage architectures, we’re borrowing from our experience with transcritical and subcritical CO2 compression technology — such as those more commonly used in commercial refrigeration systems — and innovating the development of new large-capacity, high-pressure, subcritical reciprocating and screw compressors for these applications. For an all-CO2 industrial option, we’re even testing a high-pressure, low-displacement, single-screw compressor for transcritical CO2 applications, where a single compressor could potentially take the place of more than a dozen CO2 compressors.

These examples are just further evidence of the degree to which markets are changing, and how having a cold chain focus is helping us better respond to our customers’ challenges.

Consumer-driven Trends Reshape Food Retail

Dean Landeche_Blog Dean Landeche | Vice President of Marketing, Cold Chain
Emerson Commercial & Residential Solutions

This blog summarizes an article from Chain Store Age, entitled “Food Everywhere!” Click here to read the article in its entirety.


We’ve covered the recent shift in focus for food retailers: many are increasingly leaning toward experiential retail and offering fresh, made-to-order food offerings in traditional, new and sometimes unconventional ways. While new and engaging tactics to improve consumer shopping experiences offer many benefits, there are operational considerations to be made. Here are four emerging trends that have developed as food retail has evolved.

Blurred lines in retail roles

The made-to-order food preparation model has changed what consumers expect to see from restaurants, grocers and, occasionally, non-food retailers. Supermarket operators can no longer get by with sandwiches and a “hot bar” in the deli section; consumers expect more. Enter the “grocerant,” a place where consumers can buy their groceries, eat a freshly prepared meal or take one home with them.

Restaurant brands are extending their reaches by deploying temporary kiosks, food trucks and other mobile formats, allowing them to participate in public events and expand their offerings for consumers. Convenience stores are also dipping into this trend, toying with the idea of c-store dining, while non-food retailers are latching onto the trend through seasonal promotions and in-store cooking demonstrations.

Experiential retail is here to stay

The made-to-order food trend is not a flash in the pan and continues to keep consumers coming back. Experiential retail has not only transformed the consumer experience in traditional food retailers, but also food courts/halls. Rather than traditional fast food offerings and a focus on convenience, food courts/halls have shifted toward higher-end, artisan dining options to present a more upscale dining experience. This trend lies in the studies that show Americans spending more money dining out than on groceries. Experiential retail is using those numbers to the advantage of retailers.

Utilizing new technology to keep food safe

As food retailer offerings become increasingly more complex, so does ensuring the safety of that food. Rather than focusing solely on meeting regulations and achieving compliance with food codes, equal emphasis is now being put on maintaining food safety to preserve the consumer experience. New hand-held thermometers, advanced sensors, and automated temperature monitoring and management systems are granting retailers the opportunities to deliver more consistent temperature control and simultaneously protect both their consumers and brand reputations.

Facility optimization improves consumer experience and sustainability

Aside from providing premium dining options, creating an inviting, comfortable and safe environment for consumers is key to experiential retail. The next generation of facility management and building automation systems helps ensure the reliable performance of coolers, freezers, HVAC and lighting services. This allows operators to highlight featured areas of the facility, control temperature in traditionally cold or warm aisles, and create ideal dining areas. This new technology also addresses sustainability goals by improving energy efficiencies and reclaiming heat for reuse and/or waste stream reduction.

According to a recent report from Cushman and Wakefield, food-related retail is responsible for the most aggressive retail growth within the past few years. That growth does not seem to be slowing down any time soon. It is crucial for food retailers, traditional and non-traditional alike, to remain up to date on current trends and adjust their service offerings to maximize the consumer shopping experience and ensure food safety.

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