US : increasing use of CO2 and propane in commercial refrigeration

As a result of regulations aimed at limiting the use of HFCs, the use of CO2 and propane as refrigerants in supermarkets in the United States is experiencing a steady growth. 

Following a trend that is already well underway in Europe, the use of CO2 and propane is developing in the US commercial refrigeration sector. 


CO2 (R744) 


Although the US has increasingly embraced CO2 in recent years, it has not yet experienced the acceptance taking place in Europe. But, according to Emerson (1), that appears to be changing. The global HFC refrigerant phase-down and subsequent environmental regulations have sparked renewed interest in CO2 refrigeration and set the stage for its wider adoption in the US. 

The passing of the American Innovation and Manufacturing (AIM) Act in 2020 restored the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) authority to enforce HFC legislations and establish sector-based guidelines. Since supplies are reduced, the industry can expect a rise in HFC prices. 

CO2 refrigeration has been widely used in Europe for over a decade. Today, this trend continues with steadily increasing adoption in the US and other countries. According to recent industry data, nearly 46,500 CO2 transcritical booster systems are currently installed worldwide : 900 in the US (1,400 in North America with the inclusion of Canada), 40,000 in the EU and 5,000 in Japan. 

In the U.S., Emerson expects CO2 adoption to increase up to 50% by 2025. This growth trend is expected to continue on a similar trajectory throughout the next decade, with the possibility of the US. reaching EU adoption levels. 


Propane (R290) 


In October 2021, Underwriters Laboratories (UL), a US safety-certification company that publishes appliance standards for the U.S., approved higher charge limits for hydrocarbon and A2L (lower flamability) refrigerants used in commercial refrigeration appliances and ice makers. The new UL standard raises the charge limit in commercial plug-in display cases without doors to 500g for propane (R290) and 300g for closed appliances with doors and/or drawers. The prior limit for flammable refrigerants in commercial display cases was 150g. (2) 

These higher charge limits have yet to be approved by the EPA and adopted into state and local building codes. Nevertheless, this move is an opportunity for retail outlets as propane has a low GWP (<1) and very good energy efficiency. 

Globally, an estimated 2.5 million R290 refrigerated display cases have been installed in supermarkets since 2019. Europe has been the leader in this trend, but major retail chains in the U.S., such as Target and Whole Foods Markets are increasingly following suit. (3) 




(3) JARN, February 2022