Retail Report on HFC Phase-Down in Europe

A new report from the University of Birmingham, commissioned by Emerson to coincide with the one year anniversary of the Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol, has highlighted the significant challenge facing the European retail industry as it transitions from damaging HFCs to natural refrigerants.

The retail sector is key to the transition away from HFCs, as an average supermarket refrigeration system can leak up to 25 percent of its refrigerant charge annually, resulting in approximately 1,556 metric tons of CO2 equivalent emissions — producing the same environmental impact as the annual energy used by 165 homes.

However, the report authored by Professor Toby Peters, highlights industry analysis that indicates the European retail sector has already fallen behind schedule in phasing out HFCs and replacing them with natural refrigerants. As a result, the report raises concerns that growing environmental and societal pressure, coupled with increasingly stringent regulations, must not drive retailers to focus on solutions which eliminate HFCs but fail to maximise the wider energy efficiency, operational and cost benefits available from industry leading refrigeration technologies.

Discussing his report, Professor Peters said: “The report released today highlights the need for the refrigeration industry, and retailers in particular, to consider the holistic, long term impact of their technology choices. The phase out of HFCs provide a unique opportunity to look beyond the choice of refrigerant, and to fundamentally rethink store and system architectures to ensure that they maximise environmental and operational benefits. Refrigeration systems introduced today could still be operating in 15 years’ time and it is imperative that we grasp the once in a generation chance to deliver genuinely clean cold. Given the size of heating and cooling demands within our society, this is essential as we transition to sustainable energy.” 

The report, Retail Refrigeration: Making the Transition to Clean Cold, examines what the move to natural refrigerants means for retailers and offers recommendations for the path forward. The conclusions and recommendations include:

  • Although progress is being made, retailers are not transitioning from HFCs to natural refrigerants quickly enough to meet phase-down targets
  • As retailers make the transition it is important to consider the whole system impacts of refrigeration, not just the need to meet refrigerant targets
  • In particular, the long term energy efficiency of the wider system must be considered to ensure that any refrigeration technology selected maximises the overall environmental benefits and economic opportunities
  • Other factors should also be considered, including the complexity of installation and long term maintenance requirements of different technologies, which can have a significant impact upon operations and cost

The report also makes recommendations for Governments across Europe:

  • Governments have a critical role to play in encouraging retailers to transition to natural refrigerants and to ensure that the solutions adopted deliver maximum long term benefit
  • Governments should invest significantly more into research and development into sustainable refrigeration and integration into energy systems
  • They should support the development of a clear pathway for sustainable refrigeration, not just low GWP refrigerants
  • Governments also need to provide incentives, not just penalties, for end-users to accelerate transition to low-impact systems. They should, for example, consider increasing depreciation allowances for investments in new refrigeration systems that are both low-GWP and demonstrably produce the best energy efficiency outcome for the proposed location
  • Invest in the skills required to support the long term transition to natural refrigerants, recognising that an expanded workforce, with new competencies and certifications, is going to be required

As alternatives to HFCs are considered, there are two primary solutions available – CO2 and hydrocarbons.  The report noted that although CO2 systems are most commonly being installed across Europe, some major retailers have selected integrated display cases, which operate more like domestic fridges, and use propane as their refrigerant. 

To access the full report visit




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