The EPA took action this week to dramatically reduce the use of hydrofluorocarbons, an action that will transform the grocery industry.
This week the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) took the first step to reduce the use of hydrofluorocarbons, or HFCs, common refrigerant products, which are thousands of times more powerful greenhouse gases than carbon dioxide. The U.S. Innovation and Manufacturing Act of 2020 is a significant step towards reducing HFCs’ imports and production by 85 percent over the next decade.
“The first thing to get out of the news this week is, hey, this is really happening,” said Mark McLinton, a chemical engineer at the National Standards and Technology Institute for Refrigeration Studies. “EPA is about defining how we’ve got there.”
This is not the first time air conditioners have been replaced as they are bad for the environment. The first widely used refrigerant, chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), commonly known by the name Brian, and hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs), were later found to be depleted of ozone. In 1987, the United States and 196 other countries agreed to expel them as part of the Montreal Protocol, an international commodity treaty designed to protect the ozone layer. CFCs have been illegal in the country since 2005, and the HCFCs are expected to be banned by 2030 before a full ban is imposed.
Although HFCs are used in a variety of applications such as air conditioners, supermarkets are one of the worst culprits when these gases leak into the atmosphere.
But as an alternative to the CFCs and HCFCs, the HFCs proved their own shortcomings, with thousands of times more global warming energy (GWP) than carbon dioxide. The Montreal Protocol was amended in 2016 with an amendment to reduce CFCs by about 80 percent by 2045. Although the United States has not yet approved the Kigali amendment, President Biden has announced his intention to do so. The rule proposed this week from the EPA sets the United States to achieve that goal.
Although HFCs are used in a variety of applications such as air conditioners, supermarkets are one of the worst culprits when these gases leak into the atmosphere. McLinton explained that air conditioners should generally be distributed around a store — milk cases, freezer aisles, etc. — which adds many opportunities for miles of piping, lots of joints and leaks to form.
As announced by The Counter in 2019, Southeast Grocery Inc. (Vin Dixie, the parent company of Iru-Low and several supermarket chains) slapped the $ 4.2 million bill as part of a deal with the judiciary and the EPA. Address continuous cooling leaks. In that case, the air conditioners are ozone depleting.
The Nonprofit Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) believes this is a serious, industry-wide issue. In 2019, the EIA visited 45 food retailers in the Washington, D.C. area, and, using small leak detectors, detected refrigeration leaks in 60 percent of Walmart stores. And 55 percent of all other companies visited.
Some supermarkets are already beginning to replace HFCs. As part of the EIA program, ALDI US exemplifies the efforts of chains, including whole foods, targets and sprouts, to expel climate-friendly supermarkets and HFCs.
“At the end of the day, creating new stores in the United States is a bad business decision, and it still uses HFCs.”
It is not necessary to replace HFCs for grocery stores. Refrigeration systems are often designed with one particular air conditioner in mind and another will not work efficiently. But the use of climate-friendly alternatives in new construction should not be a brainstorm right now.
“Every new store being built from today should not use HFCs, it is not difficult at all,” Avipcha Mahabatra, who works at EAA, told The Counter. This makes sense not only from a climate perspective, but also from a business perspective. Part of the EPA rule announced this week is a payment schedule that limits the amount of HFCs that can be used and allows them to trade between companies. It will eventually be expensive. “At the end of the day, creating new stores in the United States is a bad business decision, and it still uses HFCs.”
Charlie Zahrada, vice president of the North American Food Equipment Manufacturers Association, which includes commercial walking air conditioners and freezers, says the rule helps iron out some of the uncertainties that have arisen since 2016. Controlling the HFCs in their own hands — the Trump administration is largely unresolved. Chaudhry said that while federal guidelines speak to soften-up those patchwork regulations, practice still needs to figure out what the rule is for the membership platform.
Once alternative air conditioners have become so widely used, the next question is, what will happen to those currently in use? Mahabatra said the average lifespan of a commercial refrigerator is about 20 years. “We don’t want stores to put out a good refrigerator before its life is over,” Mahabatra said. “Then it becomes more complicated: how do you review it? How do you change it? What do you do at the end of life?”
These will be questionable in future EPA regulation preparation.
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