The federal rules governing the use of refrigerants are in a transition period, leaving food retailers with a number of unanswered questions, according to an industry refrigerant expert.
For example, it is well known that as of Jan. 1, 2010, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, in keeping with its commitment to the Montreal Protocol, is permitting production and import of HCFC refrigerants (notably R-22) only for equipment manufactured prior to that date. This is intended to reduce use of ozone-depleting HCFCs by 75%.
But there are some lingering issues, such as defining equipment manufactured before 2010. “What if you're building a store and new R-22 was not yet put in the refrigeration system and it's December. Does that mean you can't use it next year?” asked Ted Gartland, partner, Allied Representatives, Buffalo, N.Y., a refrigerant consultant and creator of Carbonissues.com., which covers environmental issues pertaining to refrigerants. He discussed upcoming refrigerant regulations at the Food Marketing Institute's Energy & Technical Services Conference in Indian Wells, Calif., last month, and more recently with SN.
Reclaimed R-22 can be used in new equipment next year, “but what is the definition of reclaimed?” noted Gartland. “Can you have 1,000 pounds of refrigerant of which 30 pounds are reclaimed?” He also wondered about whether pieces of refrigeration equipment, like expansion valves, that were produced before 2010 with R-22, can be used next year.
The answers to these and other questions have been addressed by the EPA and sent to the Office of Management and Budget for review. They should be available “by the end of the year,” said Gartland.
In the meantime, he advised, retailers should not rely on using virgin R-22 in new equipment. “If you have new stores [not opening] until next year, use HFC refrigerants or reclaimed R-22,” he said. “And you want to control reclaimed refrigerant because it could end up being more valuable than virgin product.”
Unlike R-22, HFCs do not deplete the ozone layer. However, HFCs do contribute significantly to global warming, and are among the six greenhouse gases targeted for reduction by the Kyoto Protocol.
The U.S. was not a party to the Kyoto Protocol but the Obama administration is eager to control greenhouse gases. Already the Waxman-Markey bill, which would establish a cap-and-trade system, has passed in the House of Representatives and is before the Senate, where another bill, Kerry-Boxer, has been introduced.
“This is a perfect storm,” said Gartland. “We have an industry where we use a lot of HFC and a lot of energy and we have to be good neighbors. So we have a big challenge ahead of us.”
Gartland pointed out that the Waxman-Markey bill does not include HFC gases in its general carbon cap, but breaks them out under a separate cap. The HFC cap would establish a phase-down process for HFC usage, reducing it to about 20% of 2010 levels by 2035, though that could be mitigated with substitute refrigerants that have a lower global warming potential (GWP).
The cap would also levy a tax starting at $1 per metric ton that manufacturers would probably “pass along to retailers,” said Gartland. Established manufacturers would get the first crack at HFC production but it would gradually open up to new players.
But Gartland cautioned that “we don't know if the Waxman-Markey bill is going to pass.”
Another twist in the HFC story is that in the EPA will propose in November that HFCs be included in the Montreal Protocol. “The EPA will propose putting a cap on HFCs and a phase-down under the Montreal Protocol, similar to HCFCs,” said Gartland. “This has the most likely chance of happening.” The U.S. could meet that target through new legislation, though “it remains to be seen how it would work out.”
His advice regarding HFCs: “Use as little as you can and use the ones with the smallest GWP.” Food Lion, for example, recently announced it will employ R-407A , which has a GWP of 2,100, low for an HFC.
Late last month, on another front, the EPA announced that, rather than wait for new legislation, it was moving forward under the Clean Air Act on new rules to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from hundreds of power plants and large industrial facilities that emit at least 25,000 tons of carbon dioxide annually. That would not affect individual supermarkets, though the EPA could be forced by litigation to regulate facilities emitting as little as 250 metric tons annually, he noted.
While much uncertainty remains, “we do know the cost of refrigerants will go up, based on their GWP, and we do know HFCs are definitely a part of the carbon footprint and will get a lot of scrutiny,” said Gartland.