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Regulations boost switch to CO2 refrigeration

BELGIUM: An estimated 68,500 stores, or nearly 25% of all European food stores, are now using CO2 refrigeration technology, according to a new report.

The growth of CO2 and other “natural” refrigerants in Europe, North America and Japan is charted in the latest market report from market development company ATMOsphere. 

The 2023 edition reports “exceptional” growth for transcritical CO2 installations in both stores and industrial sites throughout the world. In Europe, the leading market, the technology now accounts for 22.9% of all European food stores. 

Of the estimated 68,500 stores now using CO2, 60,000 are centralised system of one or more racks, and 8,500 use condensing units.

While the number of stores using CO2 rack systems grew by 20% last year, the use of CO2 condensing units is said to have grown by 70%. In the industrial sector the number of sites with CO2 systems increased by an equally impressive 65% in 2022 to 3,300. 

Most of this switch away from HFC refrigerants in Europe has undoubtedly been driven by the F-gas regulations. Similar effects are now being witnessed in the US, where the AIM Act, with its restrictions on refrigerants with a GWP over 150, is said to have led to comparable growth, albeit from a smaller base. 

ATMOsphere reports that the number of stores in North America using transcritical CO2 shot up 80% to 2,930, while the number of industrial sites hit 498, a sizeable 71% increase.

In Japan, growth was 26% for stores (8,385 this year) and 21% for industrial sites (400).

Technology improvements

The switch is also being aided by technological improvements which continue to make transcritical CO2 applicable in all climates. These improvements have also led to a lowering of charge levels in ammonia systems and boosted the efficiency of hydrocarbon cases. Changes to the charge limits for hydrocarbons are also opening new opportunities for self-contained cases using propane. 

As of December 2023, ATMOsphere estimates there are 3,360 industrial sites using low-charge – below 1.3kg/kW or 10.1lbs/TR – ammonia systems in Europe, based on production numbers from leading OEMs. This represents an 18% growth from 12 months ago. In addition, the report estimates there are a further 5,000 industrial sites with hydrocarbon-based chillers in Europe.

The race to low GWP refrigerants, coupled with European plans to decarbonise the heating market, is also seeing widespread adoption of propane heat pumps. The report estimates there were approximately 2.8 million new air-to-water propane heat pumps sold in Europe in 2023, following sales of 2.5 million in 2022. 

This in-depth, 127-page report – Natural Refrigerants: State of the Industry – is available for free download here.

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