The 2011 ATMOsphere Europe conference was further proof of the advance in natural refrigerants, says organiser Marc Chasserot
From 11-12 October 2011, the ATMOsphere Europe 2011 workshop on natural refrigerants brought together 165 European policy-makers, major end-users of refrigeration technologies such as retailers and consumer goods brands, as well as component and system suppliers of cooling and heating equipment. During the two days several major trends emerged.
More awareness on naturals needed
Market figures are key; however, they are not available so far for natural refrigerant installations. A presentation by Nina Burhenne of shecco, entitled Natural Refrigerants in the European HVAC&R industry: market trends, summarised the results of a survey on natural refrigerants among 1,136 professionals in 92 countries.
Europe was clearly identified as the market with the greatest potential for natural refrigerants, with CO2 leading the charge, ammonia following closely behind and hydrocarbons a bit farther off in terms of positive policy and industry developments.
Training and know-how as well as technology and safety were identified as the strongest barriers to an uptake of natural refrigerants, followed by funding and costs, psychology and legislation.
The survey concluded that while information is key, the overall awareness among industry, policy and end-users is still low.
Retailers’ perspective: naturals in supermarkets
Carrefour assets director Jean-Michel Fleury highlighted that “the Executive Committee recognises that this [the increasing contribution to total GHG emissions of HFCs and HCFCs] is a major issue, and that we have to take action.”
The company has already reduced the volume of refrigerants used in the group, but aims to do more. Refrigerant leakage is still an issue – 22 per cent compared with the total gas charge.
Carrefour is testing 18 sites using natural refrigerants in France, Italy and Turkey, with two sites using 100 per cent natural working fluids CO2 and ammonia. The company is now preparing to roll- out hybrid CO2/R134a installations, until they feel 100 per cent natural refrigerant solutions have reached maturity.
The option of using hydrocarbons in hybrid systems was not considered due to safety regulations restricting their use in publicly accessible buildings in France, where the retailer operates a significant part of its stores.
Co-op Norway environmental manager Knut Lutnæs said: “We have decided that all new stores and stores requiring major refurbishment will be CO2 transcritical. By now we are looking at a 10 per cent reduction in investment costs compared with conventional systems.
“So there is no cost issue involved, more or less anymore, which is very appealing. As for the way forward, we need to improve the interaction of cooling, heating and recovering heat, and we would like to find a solution for CO2 for plug-in cabinets,” he pointed out.
Co-op Norway has 60 stores labelled with the Nordic Swan, and Co-op Extra is the only eco-labelled chain in Norway. Its first natural refrigeration system was installed in 2001, using CO2 and ammonia, and today Coop has 29 stores with transcritical CO2 refrigeration installations. These systems contribute a 15-20 per cent energy reduction.
Marks and Spencer is also moving forward with its is investment in the building of two ‘learning stores’ every year, where different technologies, including natural refrigerants, are evaluated.
The learning stores are part of the M&S Plan A strategy, adopted in 2007, which includes 180 sustainability commitments to be achieved by 2015.
“For me one of the biggest challenges is collaboration. It is new technology. There are a lot of individuals here with very specific knowledge, with a very specific understanding of what it is that we are trying to do. If there is no collaboration it is going to be a very painful transition into adopting this new technology,” said the company’s refrigeration technologist Bob Arthur.
“Working with one of the accreditation agencies involved in the petrochemical industry, we have now reached a point where the package has met all of the dictates required for the safe application of the equipment. That equipment can now be used in any built environment,” he added.
In his presentation, Urs Berger from Migros group shared the lessons the company learnt from installing more than 150 CO2 refrigeration systems. Migros group has more than 600 supermarkets across Switzerland. According to Mr Berger, the group’s refrigeration systems cause and release significant amounts of GHGs – the company still has a leakage rate above 5 per cent. This is a key reason behind the retailer’s decision to replace fluorinated refrigerants with CO2 as standard.
CO2 supermarket systems
Alternatives to fluorinated gases, namely natural refrigerants, are already gaining steady market share. “We have today more than 300 installations running in Europe using CO2 as the only refrigerant for food retail refrigeration, reducing the greenhouse gas emissions by 50 per cent,” said Philippe Delpech, president of Carrier Europe, Middle East, Africa “In 2012 close to 20 per cent of our European commercial refrigeration sales will be transcritical CO2.”
A presentation by Carrier highlighted that it intends to overcome what is called the “CO2 equator” going through south Europe and the Mediterranean. With the next-generation CO2 DX system, Carrier wants to prove that CO2 transcritical systems have at least the same energy performance than highly efficient HFC systems under every European climate condition. Pilot testing is planned for next year.
Danfoss R&D business development director Asbjorn Leth Vonsild noted: “What we see today is that CO2 systems are more energy-efficient, and we have reached the point where they have the lowest cost of ownership, at least in Denmark.
“CO2 supermarket systems today minimise both direct and indirect emissions. We have seen a tremendous improvement over the earlier CO2 systems. But since CO2 systems are still a young technology, I would actually estimate that if we look another 10 years into the future, we will see the energy efficiency of CO2 systems continuing to improve at a faster rate than HFC systems do.
“You will also see the ‘CO2 equator line’ in Europe, north of which CO2 is considered efficient, continuing moving southwards.”
CO2 heat pump water heaters for Europe
Sanden chief engineer of eco activities Georges Khoury presented the company’s CO2 heat pump water heater for the European market. Based on the Japanese Eco Cute design, the high-efficiency CO2 heat pump has been optimised for European countries and field-tested in 12 family homes.
More specifically, models had to be adapted in terms of electricity, supply voltage, change from outdoor to indoor unit, and change from a 370-litre water tank to small capacity water tanks (~150 litre).
In addition, they had to comply with European standards, change from constant heating capacity to variable heating capacity, as well as change from soft water to hard water.
The aim is to achieve an annual COP of 3.0, which would correspond to an energy use of only 25 per cent of the energy consumption of an electric boiler. Sanden is targeting initially the French market, where the CO2 heat pumps could be used to meet new strict thermal regulations, but also other European countries further down the line.
‘Precautionary principle favours naturals’
The precautionary principle favours natural refrigerants because they have been around for a very long time. This was part of the concluding remarks of a speech at the event by Theodoros Skylakakis, Member of the European Parliament (MEP) and author of a recently adopted motion for a resolution calling the EU to step up action on addressing HFC and other non-CO2 emissions.
“I don’t care what kind of refrigerants we use, as long as we have managed to internalise their environmental cost,” he said. “However, this is not the case between HFCs and natural refrigerants. We don’t yet have a policy in Europe that treats natural refrigerants fairly and the situation is even worse if one looks at the international scene.”
Coca-Cola chooses CO2
Day two of ATMOsphere Europe 2011 saw Coca-Cola’s global programme manager Antoine Azar (pictured) speak at the End-Users Panel, stating the company’s clear commitment to natural refrigerants – in 2009, the company’s CEO made a commitment to purchase only HFC-free cooling equipment by 2015.
“We are sure that both hydrocarbons and CO2 – but I will focus on CO2 – are reliable and energy-efficient,” he said, highlighting the company’s decision earlier this year to select CO2 as its preferred refrigerant.
To achieve the stated 2015 goal, Coca-Cola has signed a supply agreement with Sanden Japan, enabling them to significantly increase the purchase of CO2 compressors for their refrigeration equipment.
Furthermore, the agreement will allow Coca-Cola to triple HFC-free replacements over the next few years. By the end of 2011, the company will exceed 420,000 HFC-free vending machines using both CO2 and hydrocarbons placed globally, with no equipment failures to date.
The next step
During ATMOsphere, participants discussed concrete actions that industry could undertake ‘voluntarily’ to speed up market penetration of natural refrigerants.
Many were discussed; however, these were whittled down to 10 actions (see box on previous page) to move the agenda forward. They have the benefit of being both actionable and measurable and are wholly dependent on the natural refrigerant industry being proactive.
Over the coming months, this open call to action will spread across industry. Any organisation that supports this initiative can sign up. More information can be found on www.atmo.org.
ATMOsphere 2011’s 10 calls for action
1) Technician certification: Introduce a mandatory European quality certification for technicians handling natural working fluids. Created and surveyed by an independent expert group, this will help increase safety in the development, transportation, installation, maintenance and disposal of these systems.
2) Training network: Provide a platform for public and private training bodies to list available courses and facilitate access to training on natural refrigerants for individuals, other educational bodies and corporate end-users.
3) Safety guidelines: Compile peer-reviewed safety guidelines endorsed by authoritative bodies on how to handle, store and transport natural refrigerants and translate these into local languages.
4) Standards: Map all EU natural refrigerant installation standards and codes of practice. Harmonise these across the EU to facilitate adoption by end-users.
5) Ecolabels: Adapt current and upcoming product categories under the European Ecolabel – a voluntary scheme to market products and services kinder to the environment – to reflect the environmental benefits of natural refrigerant products.
6) Building codes: Reflect the environmental benefits of natural refrigerant HVAC&R applications in the EU Energy Performance of Buildings Directive, BREEAM, LEED and other national building schemes.
7) Funding sources: Provide a mapping tool with possible funding sources Europe-wide.
8) Warranties: Shape a voluntary industry agreement to provide longer warranties on systems and components using natural refrigerants, to prove the technology’s reliability.
9) Life cycle cost studies: Prove that installations based on natural refrigerant technologies can be operated at the same (or less) cost and that the energy efficiency of those installations is similar (or better) than standard technology. Disseminate this information through reliable sources.
10) Technology tour & awareness campaigns: Organise technology tours,endorsed by end-users, to educate management staff, installers and other relevant stakeholder groups per sub-sector. Work on public awareness-raising campaigns.