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To understand the future of commercial refrigeration, look to CO2’s past

By Published On: December 31, 2021

By Derek Gosselin
Hillphoenix Systems Product Manager

Using carbon dioxide as a refrigerant seems like a new solution to today’s challenge of lowering the global warming potential of commercial refrigeration systems. But, as industry researcher James M. Calm has documented, the use of CO2 as a refrigerant actually stretches back to 1866.

In subsequent decades CO2, ammonia and other early refrigerants took a backseat to organic fluoride-based cooling compounds. The first among them was synthesized dichlorodifluoromethane, or R-12, developed in the late 1920s. In 1930, fluorocarbon refrigerants were introduced to the market and quickly became the standard. It took us more than half a century to fully understand their environmental downside.

In 1987, the Montreal Protocol, an international environmental agreement, established the phaseout of chlorofluorocarbons. Scientists had determined that CFCs were contributing to the depletion of the ozone layer, which shields us from harmful solar radiation.

Additional international environmental agreements followed, resulting in mandated reductions of chlorofluorocarbons, hydrofluorocarbons and hydrochlorofluorocarbons to curb both ozone depletion and the global-warming effects of CFCs, HFCs and HCFCs. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has continuously tightened restrictions on HCFC production and use. By 2030, it will completely ban HCFC production and importation.

Hillphoenix got ahead of the changes. In the mid-1990s, we introduced one of the first cooling technologies to reduce global-warming emissions, and we continue to move sustainable technologies from the lab to the marketplace. Our environmental improvements in alternative refrigerants and energy efficiency have helped take more than 2 billion pounds of harmful emissions out of the atmosphere since 1996. Today, about a quarter of our business comes from our Second Nature line of alternative refrigeration systems.

CO2 is a key part of our alternative refrigerants strategy, in part because of its history. It is a proven refrigerant that works efficiently and safely with very little impact on the environment. It has a global-warming potential rating of 1, compared to some hydrofluorocarbons that yield a GWP rating higher than 9,000. CO2 is not toxic or flammable, and it has a high cooling capacity.

What’s more, the cost of CO2 refrigeration continues to decrease as these systems become more widely adopted. That improves a buyer’s short-term return-on-investment calculation and makes a longer-term ROI calculation even more attractive. At current costs, CO2 is an obvious choice for supermarkets, convenience stores and other retailers aiming to future-proof their business against continued regulation and phaseout of fluorocarbon-based refrigerants.

To see the future of commercial refrigeration, take a look at the past. CO2 isn’t new, but it is enabling newfound solutions to our environmental challenges.

Learn more about Hillphoenix Second Nature CO2 technology at www.SecondNatureNow.com