Europe – leading the world

Tracing the growth of natural refrigerants through the first 100 issues of Accelerate magazines from around the world.

Olaf Schulze, director of energy management at METRO AG — one of the biggest Eurpean retailers helping to accelerate the adoption of natural refrigerant technology in Europe and around the world

This is Part 2 of a six-part series detailing how the use of natural refrigerants has grown around the world, taken from the cover story of the June 2019 edition of Accelerate Magazine.

Europe has long been a major source of natural refrigerant innovation in the HVAC&R sector. It can be said that Norwegian scientist Gustav Lorentzen created the modern age of natural refrigerants in the late 1980s when he developed the modern transcritical cycle for CO2.

Following in Lorentzen’s footsteps, other Europeans have played a crucial role in extending the boundaries of what natural refrigerants can achieve and creating new markets for technologies that harness them.

Sergio Girotto, president of Italian OEM enEX (which he founded in 2004), has worked tirelessly to bring CO2 to new applications. Among his achievements, Girotto is perhaps best known for installing the first-ever CO2 transcritical system in a Bingo supermarket (now owned by Coop Group), in Cornuda, Italy, in 2001 – the culmination of a natural refrigerants adventure that began in 1996, when he asked Italian manufacturer Dorin to produce a CO2 compressor.

Girotto has patented a number of refrigeration products and system designs. Among his personal favorites is a liquid ejector for overfeeding evaporators produced in 2012. (See “The restless innovator,” Accelerate Italy, February 2018.) enEX developed its first systems with parallel compressors in 2008, and its first gas ejectors in 2013.

Another influential European, Menno van der Hoff, is one of the continent’s leading HVAC innovators. He was the driving force behind the development of the TripleAqua, an energy-efficient heat pump that employs propane (R290).

Van der Hoff is head of R&D and HVAC manager at Uniechemie, a division of Swedish HVAC&R distributor Beijer Ref, which is marketing TripleAqua.

According to Beijer Ref, TripleAqua can save up to 50% in heating and cooling costs in commercial buildings compared to traditional heat pumps, with a COP (coefficient of performance) between 4 and 10.

Europe’s natural refrigerant development took off in the wake of the EU’s F-Gas Regulation, first announced in 2006. The latest iteration, which took effect in 2015, aims to reduce the EU’s HFC use by 79% by 2030, compared to a baseline of average levels in 2009-2012. To help deliver this target, it is progressively banning the use of certain HFCs in different types of new equipment. In 2022, for example, bans on using certain HFCs (with GWPs greater than or equal to 150) in new centralized and plug-in commercial refrigeration equipment will come into effect.

In 2006 the EU also announced its MAC (mobile air conditioning) directive, which put a cap of 150 on the GWP of refrigerants allowed in new car air conditioning systems. This led to the adoption of CO2 MAC systems by Daimler and Volkswagen.

Spurred by the EU directives, European system manufacturers have been at the forefront of developing natural refrigerant technologies – and exporting them around the world.

In April, Carrier Commercial Refrigeration – part of UTC Climate, Controls & Security, a unit of United Technologies Corp., announced that it had delivered 10,000 CO2 systems to commercial and industrial customers worldwide. It achieved this largely thanks to the combined effort of the Carrier, Profroid, Green & Cool and Celsior brands in Europe.

Advansor, founded in 2007 (and sold to Hillphoenix in 2011), has been another market leader, with its website now reporting 4,815 CO2 installations. On its website, SCM Frigo says it has 2,303 CO2 installations. Other OEMs with more than 1,000 CO2installations include enEX, TEKO and Epta.

Retail Leaders

Some of Europe’s biggest retailers – including the Schwarz Group (which operates the Lidl and Kaufland brands), Sainsbury’s, Carrefour S.A., METRO AG and Ahold Delhaize – are turning to CO2 and hydrocarbon systems to comply with the F-Gas Regulation and to benefit from the efficiency savings these systems offer. According to shecco, publisher of Accelerate Magazine, there were about 16,000 supermarkets in Europe using transcritical CO2 systems as of last October, or 14% of the total number or outlets (about 115,000). The biggest Eurpean retailers are also helping to bring natural refrigerant technology to other parts of the world.

Germany-based METRO AG, an international wholesale and food retail company, has committed to reducing overall greenhouse gas emissions across the company by 50% by 2030 (vs. 2011 levels). The company’s F-Gas Exit Program is helping the company achieve this target. In place since 2013, the program aims to phase out f-gases in all METRO stores worldwide by 2030, replacing them with natural refrigerant systems where it is technically and economically feasible to do so. (See “An irreversible stand on natural refrigerants,” Accelerate Europe, winter 2015.)

METRO has a reputation for bringing natural refrigerant technology to different parts of the world. The company has opened three CO2 transcritical stores in Russia and three in China. In April 2019, it opened its first CO2 transcritical store in Croatia (in Dubrovnik). In total, the cash and carry giant operates 95 CO2 transcritical and 108 CO2 subcritical stores worldwide.

Carrefour, another Europe-headquartered multinational, is phasing out HFCs and replacing them with CO2 for commercial refrigeration. In smaller stores; it is also investing in hydrocarbons. As of September 2017, Carrefour operated about 418 stores using natural refrigerants, about 90% of which used CO2 (170 with transcritical CO2). Factors ultimately influencing the decision to go with CO2 vs. hydrocarbons include store size, equipment cost, and legislation in each country. (See “Crossing the CO2 equator: Carrefour leads the march south,” Accelerate Europe, summer 2016.)

Amsterdam-headquartered retail group Ahold Delhaize is aiming to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 40%-70% compared to 2010 levels. By the end of 2017, 13% of the group’s sites were already using natural refrigerant based installations worldwide. In Europe the figure was 33%, with the Netherlands’ Albert Heijn, which has 346 transcritical CO2 stores, showing an impressive commitment. (See “All the fun of the playground,” Accelerate Europe, spring 2017.)

Other major European natural refrigerant retailers include German retailer ALDI Sud, which was running 1,496 transcritical stores by the end of 2017, including 1,324 in Germany. The Swiss retailer Migros operates 302 transcritical and 149 subcritical CO2 stores and about 20 using an R290 water-loop system (in total, 66% of all stores), while U.K. retailer Sainsbury has 244 supermarkets and 30 convenience stores using transcritical CO2.

Several European chains, including Colruyt and Lidl, have rolled out large numbers of stores that use only R290-supported display cases. By the end of the 2019 calendar year, Colruyt will have 92 supermarkets using R290 compact chillers, and another 30 using compact chillers with heat recovery. In 2016, Lidl, based in Germany, said it planned to roll out R290 systems in all future European installations; its French division expects to have 250 R290 stores by February 2020 out of 1,500 outlets in total, and plans to retrofit 100 stores per year.

On the domestic front, Europe was also the first market to widely adopt another hydrocarbon refrigerant, isobutane (R600a), in home fridges – the so-called Greenfreeze system introduced by the NGO Greenpeace in 1992.

Roche Prescribes NatRefs

Europe is also a leader in other sectors. For example, F. Hoffmann-La Roche Ltd. (a multinational biotechnology company commonly referred to as Roche) understands the responsibility it shares to help put the world on a more sustainable environmental path.

The Roche Group is phasing out halogenated refrigerants across its cooling portfolio of laboratory refrigerators, cold-storage facilities, walk-in research coolers, stability chambers for product testing, cafeteria equipment, heating, air conditioning, centrifuges, freeze drying, fire suppression systems, packaging foam and data centers.

Roche applies the policy of adopting natural refrigerants where reasonably possible to all the above applications. (See “The natural refrigerant treatment” Accelerate Europe, spring 2019.) In so doing the company has become an incubator for new technologies – something it urges potential new suppliers to capitalize on. “When companies as big as Roche ask for something, they see that there is a clear incentive for them to develop it,” said Thomas Wolf, Roche’s chief environmental sustainability officer. Brewers are also getting in on the act. Convinced of the role that natural refrigerants can play in reducing its carbon footprint, Dutch multinational brewing giant Heineken is adopting hydrocarbons for all its new beer fridges worldwide. (See “Cheers to a greener world!,” Accelerate Europe, spring 2018.)

Targeting 50% lower emissions from fridges by 2020, Heineken provides “green” units whenever one needs replacing and tests fridges against the Heineken Energy Efficiency Index (HEEI).

The brewer defines green fridges according to the following four principles: the use of hydrocarbon refrigerant, LED illumination, an energy management system, and energy-efficient fans.

“We adopted hydrocarbons for two reasons – one, because they help to deliver the energy efficiency that we want; and two, because of their significantly lower GWP compared to the existing refrigerants we used in our fridges,” said Graeme Houghton, Global Category Leader – Commercial Equipment & Servicing, Heineken Global Procurement.

The company started to use fridges based on hydrocarbons in 2010. “We expect that by 2020, the majority if not all of our fridge population will be green, with natural refrigerants,” Houghton said.

Swiss multinational Nestlé began replacing its CFC and HCFC systems with natural refrigerants in 1986. Today, its commitment to adopting natural refrigerants for HVAC&R applications wherever possible is helping to bring the technology to new parts of the world.

With industrial refrigeration systems with NH3/CO2 at key production sites in Switzerland, ammonia-cooled data centers, and the worldwide deployment of hydrocarbons-based display cabinets, Nestlé’s commitment to natural refrigerants is consistent and firm.

This is Part 2 of a six-part series detailing how the use of natural refrigerants has grown around the world, taken from the cover story of the June 2019 edition of Accelerate Magazine.

Click here for Part 3: North America – Steady Growth, Despite Policy Setbacks

All posts in the series:

Part 1: NatRefs 101
Part 2: Europe – Leading the World
Part 3: North America – Steady Growth, Despite Policy Setbacks
Part 4: Australia & New Zealand – Cutting Costs Down Under
Part 5: Japan – Eco Cute and C-Stores Lead NatRefs Growth
Part 6: China – NatRef Opportunities Abound

By Andrew Williams

Jul 02, 2019, 09:09

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