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Ten Tips for Preventing Refrigerant Leaks in Supermarket Systems

Katrina Krites | Director of Strategic Marketing, Cold Chain

Emerson’s Commercial and Residential Solutions Business

Refrigerant leaks are a universal challenge for U.S. supermarket operators. These leaks are not only costly from an operational perspective, but emissions of hydrofluorocarbon (HFC) refrigerants also contribute to global warming. Today, commercial refrigeration contractors play a significant role in helping operators to implement best practices to reduce and even prevent refrigerant leaks. I recently contributed to an ACHR The NEWS article where I discussed strategies for leak detection and mitigation best practices for supermarket refrigeration systems.

The Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) recently reported that numerous U.S. supermarket chains were leaking significant amounts of HFC refrigerants. These findings were consistent with a report by the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) GreenChill program, which stated that the typical supermarket has an annual leak rate of about 25%, which equates to about 1,000 pounds of leaked refrigerant every year.

Understand root causes

Although refrigerant leaks are much more common in large, centralized systems, it’s not as if contractors or operators simply accept leaks as a design limitation. On the contrary, when a refrigeration system is first installed and commissioned, it operates at peak performance. But over time, systems inevitably drift from their commissioned performance baseline, contractors perform repairs to keep systems running, and the potential for leaks can start to rise if a system is not properly maintained and managed.

For a contractor’s perspective on refrigerant leaks, the NEWS also interviewed Todd Ernest, CEO and founder of Climate Pros, a comprehensive commercial refrigeration and HVAC firm with offices in more than 40 states. Ernest agreed that while leaks are a common problem, nearly half of the stores serviced by Climate Pros do not have refrigerant leaks. One common problem that they discovered is that many stores still use the same copper lines and systems that were installed decades ago. Though durable, copper isn’t intended to last forever — and original insulation and mounting hardware will often eventually wear down.

Similarly, mechanical room cleanliness is also essential for helping contractors to identify leaks. Compressor racks, air-cooled condensers, remote headers, walk-in evaporator coils and other components should be kept free of oil and dirt. Corroded steel components should be removed and/or painted with a rust-inhibiting paint to help prevent future corrosion.

Check for leaks

As I explained in the article, service technicians should conduct refrigerant leak checks at regular intervals, depending on the system size or type. For large, centralized systems, this should usually be approximately every 30–60 days. An effective leak detection program should include three key elements:

  1. Accurate detection methods
  2. Reliable notifications
  3. Continuous monitoring for system leaks

Contractors should recommend the installation of a refrigerant leak monitoring, notification and alarm system to ensure the detection of any leaks between regular leak inspections. Detection devices should also be installed in leak-prone locations, such as refrigeration racks and display cases, to monitor the concentration of refrigerants in the air.

By integrating these devices into Emerson’s Lumity™ supervisory control platform, designated store staff and/or service technicians can be alerted when a leak occurs. This powerful facility management system enables continuous monitoring of refrigeration data to help retailers correlate the leaks with respect to different sections of the system or specific maintenance events.

Ernest added that it’s standard protocol for his technicians to perform a leak check every time they go into a store — regardless of the purpose of the actual service call.

Promptly repair leaks

Today’s leak detection devices make it easier to pinpoint leak sources, but it’s important to remember that in many cases, the first refrigerant leak found in a system may not be the only one — or even the largest.

A quick response is most important after detecting a leak to mitigate its impact upon system performance and minimize the associated economic costs. Supermarkets should establish proper leak detection response protocols and institute proactive measures.

If persistent leaks continue, even at lower leak rates of 20%, supermarkets could lose approximately 700 pounds of R-404A annually. At $7 per pound, that equates to a yearly expense of nearly $5,000 — in addition to any potential costs associated with compliance, environmental consequences and overall deterioration of system performance.

A methodical approach can help to achieve all-important early detection and an overall reduction in refrigerant leaks. The NEWS article concluded with these 10 tips:

  1. Perform a leak check on every service call. Conduct refrigerant leak checks at regular intervals, ideally every 30–60 days for large centralized systems.
  2. Periodically replace copper lines as well as insulation and mounting hardware.
  3. Keep refrigeration racks and mechanical rooms as clean as possible in order to spot leaks more easily.
  4. If one leak is found, it may not be the only one, so check the entire system thoroughly.
  5. Once all leaks have been repaired, confirm that refrigerant levels have stabilized, indicating there are no additional leaks elsewhere in the system.
  6. Install a refrigerant leak monitoring, notification and alarm system to detect leaks between regular leak inspections.
  7. During refrigeration system installation, use proper securing mechanisms for piping and the correct piping techniques.
  8. Perform a nitrogen purge and pressure test with every new installation to ensure no leaks are present.
  9. Establish leak detection response protocols and proactive measures to minimize or eliminate leaks altogether.
  10. Implement a refrigerant tracking system to identify significant leaks.

 

Supermarket Food Safety: Emerson Cold Chain Solutions

Katrina Krites | Marketing and Business Development

Manager, Food Retail

Emerson’s Commercial and Residential Solutions Business

Providing consistently safe and high-quality food in supermarkets is important to each stakeholder in the food retail supply chain. From farm to fork, grocers depend on their cold chain suppliers to collect, share and report on the handling and shipping practices that contribute to food safety. In the first blog based on an article in PerishableNews.com, we examined food retail market trends and risk factors impacting food safety and quality. In this companion blog, we will explore how Emerson is helping food retailers and stakeholders address these challenges at nearly every step of the food supply chain.

Harvest and processing

The potential decay of perishable produce starts the moment it is picked, but this can be stunted by controlling temperatures and the ambient environment via: flash cooling/freezing; temporary staging in storage coolers; and pre-cooling shipping containers. Shipping containers may be modified with ripening agents, and processors often measure the levels of ethylene, a natural gas that can accelerate ripening.

Emerson provides temperature-probing devices that can be used to measure internal “pulp” temperatures prior to and during the staging and loading processes. Our real-time temperature monitoring and tracking devices can be activated inside a shipping container to immediately begin monitoring location, temperatures and other environmental conditions of in-transit perishable shipments.

Transportation

Food’s journey to supermarket shelves can last anywhere from days to weeks — by truck, sea and/or air — and grocers rely on their shippers to provide an unbroken chain of temperature certainty. Loading best practices promote airflow and shipments to be “load locked” in order to limit excess vibration. Transport containers must be able to maintain temperatures and provide visibility into container conditions. Mixed-load cargos may have different refrigerated temperature zones within the same shipment.

Emerson’s field-tested, proven compression technologies can withstand the rigors of the road while helping operators to ensure that their transport refrigeration systems preserve product at specified temperature ranges. Temperature monitoring, logging and tracking devices — combined with our cloud-based software portal — can provide real-time temperature and location conditions of product in-transit. The software enables live remote monitoring and issues alerts to stakeholders based on user-defined parameters, such as: temperature excursions; changes to shipping atmosphere; vibration; security breaches; and shipping delays.

Cold storage distribution centers

Upon receipt of food at a cold storage facility, handlers must inspect product temperatures and conditions, including pulp temperatures with probing devices, and trip data from logging and tracking devices. Relying on only the ambient air temperature of the shipping container is not an accurate measure, as some carriers may turn off the refrigeration system during shipping to preserve fuel. After inspection, handlers must promptly transfer perishable cargo into a designated cold storage temperature zone. The entire process must adhere to each facility’s established Hazardous Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) and/or Hazard Analysis and Risk-based Preventative Controls (HARPC) plans.

Emerson’s logging and tracking devices give end-users the ability to maintain live, remote visibility for monitoring the temperatures and locations of their in-transit shipping containers. In cold storage facilities, our compression and refrigeration technologies help operators to establish and maintain proper temperatures in various cold storage zones. Robust facility monitoring solutions help operators to remotely oversee conditions, ensure proper temperatures, and automatically record temperatures for use in HACCP reporting.

Grocery stores

From the moments perishable shipments are unloaded in supermarkets, operators take ownership of food quality and safety. This starts with inspection — checking pulp temperatures and trip data logs — and continues with the prompt transfer of perishables into designated cold storage coolers or freezers. Once in cold storage, control platforms help retailers to monitor perishable temperatures and optimize food quality.

Refrigerated storage and staging coolers for click-and-collect fulfillment must have sufficient capacity to handle fluctuations in order volumes and frequent opening/closing of walk-in doors. Order-picking processes and customer pick-ups and deliveries must be optimized to ensure safe handling and proper temperatures. Supermarket food preparation introduces hot-side complexities as consumers look to grocers for home meal replacements. Staff must be trained in safe cooking best practices — such as those provided by the U.S. National Restaurant Association’s (NRA’s) ServSafe® certification course — and cook-and-hold procedures should also follow established HACCP/HARPC plans.

In addition to our proven compression and refrigeration technologies, Emerson solutions address a variety of modern supermarket requirements. These include condensing units with variable-capacity modulation to precisely match refrigeration load requirements and flexible distributed architectures that can augment existing refrigeration systems. We also offer a suite of temperature-probing devices to help grocers automate the recording of prepared food temperatures and assist grocers with food safety and process compliance concerns.

Our powerful facility management, monitoring and control platforms address both existing and emerging food retail complexities. These tools provide near real-time access to critical information to help retailers track, triage and respond to issues pertaining to food quality and safety compliance — in individual stores and across their multi-site networks. In addition, these control platforms utilize alarms, notifications and remote access to provide end-users with continuous building and refrigeration monitoring at any retail location.

Connectivity drives cold chain visibility

Modern food retailers are held to increasingly higher food safety and quality standards. Store operators, consumers and health inspectors all demand greater transparency into the food supply chain and improved visibility of food’s journey from farm to fork. With today’s connected internet of things (IoT) monitoring and tracking infrastructures, operators now have the potential for visibility into each step of food’s journey — and even the possibility for comprehensive cold chain traceability. Emerson provides the refrigeration technologies and IoT-enabled infrastructures to help stakeholders at each point monitor, control and track a variety of conditions necessary for preserving food safety and quality.

 

 

 

Refrigerant Transition Gains Momentum

Andre Patenaude | Director – Solutions Integration,

Emerson’s Commercial and Residential Solution’s Business

For over a decade, environmental advocates around the globe have recognized the need for the commercial refrigeration industry to make the transition from hydrofluorocarbon (HFC) refrigerants to lower-global warming potential (GWP) alternatives. An HFC phase-down is well underway in many countries and regions, and today conditions are favorable for these efforts to increase within the U.S. I recently contributed to an ACHR The NEWS article where we discussed how recent developments may accelerate this refrigerant transition.

Recent regulatory developments in the U.S. have increased the likelihood the HFC phase-down will become a higher priority for equipment manufacturers, contractors, and food retailers. Among the greatest contributing factors include:

  • The inclusion of HFC phase-down legislation in the recent Omnibus and COVID relief bill
  • A new presidential administration with a greater commitment to environmental stewardship
  • Continued regulatory activities taking place at the state levels

All eyes on California

For several years, the California Air Resources Board (CARB) has been proposing regulations targeting HFC emissions reductions in commercial refrigeration equipment used within grocery stores. In 2019, CARB banned the use of R-404A in new or retrofit centralized systems. Last December, CARB finalized those regulations and established an enforcement date, beginning January 1, 2022. Details of the rulemaking impact new (or remodeled) and existing facilities:

  • A limit of 150 GWP for new or fully remodeled facilities in California that utilize commercial refrigeration equipment containing more than 50 pounds of refrigerant.
  • Existing food retail facilities with refrigeration systems charged with more than 50 pounds must collectively meet a 1,400 weighted average GWP or 55 percent greenhouse gas potential (GHGp) reduction relative to a 2019 baseline by 2030.

As a result (in California, at least), natural refrigerant-based systems — such as CO2 transcritical boosters — are often considered leading options for compliance in new facilities.

California’s new regulations, along with new developments in federal refrigerant regulations, will present opportunities for manufacturers who already developed lower-GWP solutions. To support these efforts, Emerson has been qualifying its compressor lines to use a variety of lower-GWP refrigerants for more than a decade. Also, we are developing full-system strategies — such as CO2-based technologies and our distributed scroll booster architecture — that leverage new refrigerant alternatives and enable the implementation of lower-GWP systems. In addition, for retailers in California, we developed smart tools to help them evaluate their store fleets and calculate how they can achieve CARB compliance.

Elsewhere, a growing coalition of states — the U.S. Climate Alliance — has vowed to follow California’s lead. These member states are also continuing to develop their own legislation to enforce HFC phase-down commitments.

New federal legislation could provide industry-wide consistency

While state-level regulations have pushed forward, the status of refrigerant rulemaking at the federal level has been stagnant for several years — particularly after a 2017 court ruling determining the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) did not have the authority to regulate HFCs under the Clean Air Act. But with the recent passage of the American Innovation and Manufacturing Act of 2020 (AIM Act) as part of the Omnibus and COVID relief bill, that may all soon change. The AIM Act restores the EPA’s authority to phase down the consumption and production of HFC refrigerants and establish sector-based limits.

As importantly, the new federal mandate will hopefully simplify the growing complexity of managing a multitude of state-led HFC phase-down initiatives. Ultimately, a federally-led refrigerant compliance program would provide much-needed guidance to the industry and remove the burden facing individual states. In addition, the industry could even see the adoption of new rulemaking from the EPA’s Significant New Alternatives Policy (SNAP) program.

This uptick in regulatory activity will likely result in a busy period for HVACR contractors and food retailers around the country — particularly those in California who will be preparing for the CARB regulations to take effect next year. Emerson is committed to helping commercial refrigeration stakeholders in the U.S. and throughout the world achieve their refrigeration goals and make the transition to lower-GWP refrigerant alternatives.

[E360 Webinar Wrap-up] Refrigerant Rulemaking Recap: Regulatory Uptick Expected for 2021

RajanRajendran2 Rajan Rajendran | V.P., System Innovation Center and Sustainability

Emerson’s Commercial & Residential Solutions Business

 

The commercial refrigeration and air conditioning sectors are currently experiencing an active period of refrigerant rulemaking. As we move through the first quarter of 2021, our industry is evaluating a variety of regulatory activities and climate initiatives — at both the state and federal levels — that govern the transition to lower global warming potential (GWP) refrigerants and the safe use of flammable alternatives. I recently co-hosted an E360 webinar with Jennifer Butsch, Emerson’s regulatory affairs director, to discuss current developments and explore their potential impacts on our industry. We were joined by Helen Walter-Terrinoni, vice president of regulatory affairs for the Air-Conditioning, Heating, and Refrigeration Institute (AHRI).

As global regulatory efforts to phase down the use of HFC refrigerants continue in earnest, the transition to alternatives with lower GWP is gaining momentum in the U.S. At the state level, California is preparing for its next phase of rulemaking, while more U.S. Climate Alliance states leverage the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Significant New Alternatives Policy (SNAP) Rules 20 and 21 as the bases for their own environmental initiatives. In addition, a new presidential administration and the passing of new federal legislation represent significant shifts in U.S. regulatory dynamics — resuming our global participation in combating climate change and giving the EPA authority to govern HFCs.

But the progression of refrigerant rulemaking along both state and federal lines continues to create complexity for an industry that seeks guidance in understanding and applying an ever-evolving, complex mix of regulations.

California Air Resources Board (CARB) Seeks to Finalize Proposals

In 2019, California was the first state to adopt EPA SNAP Rules 20 and 21 in their entirety. Since then, CARB has developed additional proposals to meet its stated 2030 emissions-reduction targets. For commercial refrigeration, these proposed refrigerant regulations target the installation of new refrigeration systems greater than 50lbs:

  • 150 GWP limit for systems installed in new facilities
  • In existing facilities, food retailers must choose from one of the following company-wide reduction targets:
    • Reduce their weighted average GWP below 1,400
    • Achieve a 55% or greater reduction in their greenhouse gas potential (GHGp) below 2019 baseline levels by 2030
  • Other GWP limits for systems in existing facilities include a 750 limit for ice rinks and a 1500 – 2000 limit for industrial refrigeration

In air conditioning applications, the CARB proposal targets a 750 GWP limit across multiple end uses in the coming years:

  • 2023: room AC and dehumidifiers
  • 2024: AC chillers (consistent with SNAP Rule 21)
  • 2025: residential and commercial AC
  • 2026: variable refrigerant flow (VRF) systems

CARB has also introduced its Refrigerant Recycle, Recovery and Reuse (R4) program, which proposes new air conditioning equipment in 2023 and 2024 to use reclaimed R-410A refrigerant in an amount equal to 10% of equipment operating charge in California. In addition, CARB has stated that it will expand its R4 program by introducing new rulemaking this year.

U.S. Climate Alliance States Adopt Legislation

Among the 25 member states that have joined the U.S. Climate Alliance, nine have finalized legislation for adopting SNAP Rules 20 and 21 into law. Like the original EPA rules, the timings of enforcement dates are end-use specific and designed to be phased in over several years. But because the start dates of these rules differ among the nine member states, our industry faces an increasingly complex patchwork of compliance schedules.

As Walter-Terrinoni pointed out in the webinar, the prospect of new federal legislation may give these and other states the option to pursue a consistent, nationwide approach to the refrigeration phase-down. States could place their focus on the local level, where they can further the advancement of building codes and safety standards.

Federal HFC Phase-down Takes AIM

Regulatory activity is also picking up at the federal level, starting with the EPA’s proposed SNAP Rule 23, which reaffirms its commitment to approve low-GWP refrigerants. The proposal lists several mildly flammable (A2L) refrigerants, including R-452B, R-454A, R-454B, R-454C, R-457 and R-32 as acceptable, subject to use conditions in new residential and light commercial air conditioners and heat pumps. For retail food refrigeration — medium-temperature, stand-alone units — SNAP Rule 23 lists A1 refrigerants R-448A, R-449A and R-449B as acceptable, subject to narrowed use limits. Emerson and other industry stakeholders have asked for further clarification on these restrictions, as these A1s have already been listed as acceptable without limitations in many other commercial refrigeration applications.

As part of major pandemic relief legislation, the American Innovation and Manufacturing (AIM) Act was passed and signed into law in late 2020. This legislation gives the EPA the authority to phase down HFC production and consumption limits in a manner consistent with the Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol within nine months. It also authorizes the EPA to regulate HFCs through sector based rulemaking and establish standards for HFC management — servicing, repair, recover, recycle and reclaim — similar to CARB’s R4 program. This is welcome news for our industry, as it paves the way for a federally guided, low-GWP refrigerant transition, which would minimize the complexities of differing state-led regulations.

Under the new Biden administration, the U.S. has rejoined the Paris Agreement and is taking steps to ratify the Kigali Amendment. These are among many early indications of this administration’s commitment to combat climate change at home and abroad.

A2L, A3 Standards and Codes Progress

With the industry moving toward the use of flammable A2L and A3 refrigerants to achieve lower-GWP goals, the technical committees and governing bodies who provide guidelines on how to safely use these refrigerants and related equipment are currently updating their safety standards. Among the updates that many are closely watching are the proposed changes to the Underwriter’s Laboratory (UL) 60335-2-89 standard, which would increase the charge limits in self-contained and remote refrigeration applications. While the industry expects this proposal potentially to be finalized by the end of the year, it’s important to remember that once established, these standards will take several years to make their way into the building codes and local standards needed to permit the widespread use of flammable refrigerants.

To learn more details about each of these important regulatory developments, please view our on-demand webinar.

[New E360 Webinar] Will Provide Regulatory Update on Refrigerant Rulemaking and Climate Initiatives

Jennifer Butsch | Regulatory Affairs Director

Emerson’s Commercial & Residential Solutions Business

The environmental regulations landscape continues to be a source of great uncertainty for the commercial refrigeration and AC industries. Sorting through the latest developments in an ever-evolving mix of global policy, federal and state rulemaking — for both refrigerant and energy efficiency regulations — is a complicated task. In our next E360 webinar, my colleague Dr. Rajan Rajendran, Emerson’s vice president of systems innovation center and sustainability, and I will explore recent regulatory activities and help you to understand their potential impacts on your business. The webinar will take place on Tuesday, Feb. 16 at 2 p.m. EST/11 a.m. PST.

From all indications, 2021 is shaping up to be a transitional year among the federal and state regulations governing commercial refrigeration and AC applications in the U.S. At the federal level, the recent enactment of the American Innovation and Manufacturing Act of 2020 (AIM Act) gives the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) the authority to phase down the consumption and production of hydrofluorocarbon (HFC) refrigerants and establish sector-based limits. In addition, the introduction of the EPA’s Significant New Alternatives Policy (SNAP) Rule 23 proposal in 2020 was an indication of the agency’s desire to approve certain mildly flammable (A2L) refrigerants as acceptable for use — subject to use conditions — in new residential and light commercial air conditioners and heat pumps.

For several years, the California Air Resources Board (CARB) has stepped up its efforts to phase down the use of HFC refrigerants. This started with the adoption of EPA SNAP Rules 20 and 21 and now continues with a proposal that calls for increased HFC and refrigerant global warming potential (GWP) reductions, which could take effect as soon as January 1, 2022. As a result, retailers in California may soon face the prospect of making significant changes to their refrigeration systems — in at least some of their stores — to achieve compliance.

While retailers outside of the state of California currently may not face an imminent regulatory mandate, member states of the U.S. Climate Alliance are moving forward with their own HFC phase-down initiatives, which include the adoption of EPA SNAP Rules 20 and 21. And with a new administration taking office, we are also likely to see a new tone and urgency with respect to broader climate initiatives, as well as the potential for greater participation in global environmental policies.

All these moving pieces set the stage for a potentially active period of regulatory developments in 2021 and beyond. The primary goals of our upcoming E360 webinar are to explore these developments in more detail, place them into their proper context, and offer insights to help you understand the impacts on your business.

Attendees will learn:

  • Status of CARB regulations/proposals and their potential impacts
  • Review of U.S. Climate Alliance state activities and adoption of EPA SNAP Rules 20 and 21
  • Overview of AIM Act and its potential impacts
  • Update on the codes and standards for flammable refrigerants, such as UL 60335-2-89 and ASHRAE 15
  • Impacts that a new administration may have on climate initiatives

Register now for this informative and free webinar.

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