Guest blog by the North American Sustainable Refrigeration Council
Our Cooling Needs Are Warming The Planet
As the climate warms, the demand for cooling technologies around the world is on the rise. What most people don’t realize is that the refrigerants we use to keep our food fresh and our homes comfortable are actually major contributors to rising global temperatures. In 2017, Project Drawdown named refrigerant management the number one climate solution.
Hydrofluorocarbon (HFC) refrigerants, the refrigerants we commonly use today, are extremely potent greenhouse gases with thousands of times more heat-trapping power than carbon dioxide (CO2). And with a growing demand for cooling technologies, HFCs have been named the fastest growing source of greenhouse gas emissions globally, growing at a rate of 10% to 15% annually. Scientists have estimated that without regulations, emissions from HFC refrigerants alone could contribute to a rise in global temperatures between 0.1°C and 0.5°C.
Supermarkets: A Critical Component of HFC Mitigation
HFC refrigerants pose a threat to the climate when they are released into the atmosphere, which only happens when they leak from equipment or are not properly disposed of.
Roughly 60% of HFC emissions are a result of leaks from refrigeration and air conditioning systems. Commercial refrigeration (e.g., supermarkets and grocery stores) contributes more HFC emissions than any other source due to complex refrigeration systems that are prone to high leak rates. The average supermarket leaks about 25% of its total refrigerant load annually, and together, the roughly 38,000 supermarket locations in the United States emit over 130 million pounds (70 million tons) of CO2 equivalent emissions annually solely from refrigeration leaks.
Regulations: A Driver for Sustainable Refrigeration?
Due to the tremendous climate impact of HFCs, there has been a global rise in HFC refrigerant regulations in recent years. This is not the first time that the world has seen a major phase-out of commonly used refrigerants. In 1987, the Montreal Protocol initiated a global phase down of the production and use of Chlorofluorocarbon (CFC) refrigerants, which were contributing to the depletion of the ozone layer. This agreement is regarded as one of the most successful international treaties of all time.
As CFCs were phased out, HFC refrigerants became widely adopted because they had no impact on the ozone layer. But by the end of the 20th century, scientists had discovered the impact of these new refrigerants on the climate. As a result, the Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol was developed in 2016, which set a timeline for the mandated phase-down of HFCs by over 80% by 2047. The United States is one of just a few nations who has not yet ratified the Kigali Amendment. What’s more, the federal HFC regulations established by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in 2015, which classified HFCs as “unacceptable” substitutes to CFC refrigerants, were vacated in a 2017 court case, leaving the United States with a lack of HFC regulations.
In the absence of federal HFC regulations, the U.S. market has not kept pace with other nations in the transition to climate-friendly refrigeration technologies. But in 2018, a coalition of states came together to form the US Climate Alliance and committed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in accordance with the Paris Agreement. As part of these commitments, a growing number of states have announced intentions to regulate HFCs at the state level, raising the demand for climate-friendly cooling technologies in the United States.
A Natural Solution
With the rise in regulations, more supermarkets are seeking climate-friendly refrigerant alternatives. Natural refrigerants, including ammonia, carbon dioxide, and hydrocarbons, are climate-friendly alternatives to HFC refrigerants, with negligible GWP values and no ozone-depleting potential. They have a long history of use, and their environmental impact is well-understood.
However, these climate-friendly refrigerants have not-yet been widely adopted due to a unique set of market barriers, such as significant upfront cost premiums, a shortage of trained service contractors, and uncertainties around lifecycle costs.
The North American Sustainable Refrigeration Council (NASRC), is a 501c3 nonprofit focused on eliminating the barriers slowing the adoption of natural refrigerants in supermarkets to create a more climate-friendly future for refrigeration. The organization works with over 120 organizations who represent virtually every sector of the supermarket refrigeration industry, including over 24,000 supermarket locations, to drive forward actionable solutions and accelerate the adoption of natural refrigerants.
Examples of NASRC initiatives include deploying incentive programs to offset upfront costs, accelerating training for contractors and service technicians, facilitating connections between experts to make solutions possible, advising state and federal agencies on policies and solutions, and leading educational events and workshops.
Be A Part Of The Solution
The problem is not a lack of willingness from supermarkets to use climate-friendly refrigerants. The barriers to adoption must be addressed for change to be possible on a large-scale. A lack of public awareness around this topic has led to a shortage of resources to aid supermarkets in the transition to climate-friendly refrigerants. To allow groups like the NASRC to accelerate their impact, this issue needs to be brought into the public spotlight.
Refrigeration is the most important and overlooked opportunity to combat climate change. The single most important thing you can do is help spread awareness around this topic and broaden public support for climate-friendly refrigerants.