I just returned from my biannual visit to the Food Marketing Institute Food Retail Show, called FMI 2012.

This is for all things in supermarkets and convenience stores. For me it means the latest in refrigeration equipment and — more and more these days — the refrigerants used in that equipment.

The supermarket was the bellwether years ago of the phaseout of CFCs and moving directly to HFCs. Many supermarkets bypassed HCFCs, although many did not. But supermarkets were certainly the testing ground for the eventual successful embrace of HFCs in refrigeration, opening the door for HFC-410A to be now widely used in air conditioning.

One of the things I discovered at FMI this past May in Dallas was that the global warming issue of HFCs is causing supermarkets to look more and more to natural refrigerants such as ammonia, CO2, and, on smaller equipment, HCs.

Throughout the show floor, refrigeration equipment manufacturers were showing products running on CO2. I also learned at the show that there will be a supermarket in the United States coming on-line in 2012 that will be using CO2 in a transcritical approach. That has been done in Europe for years, but this will be a first in the United States.

And I learned that there will also be a U.S. supermarket using ammonia as a refrigerant. Again, this would seem to be a first.

A representative from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Keilly Witman, was on hand to talk about all things regulatory and about the EPA’s GreenChill partnership with the supermarket industry. She said she thought the topic of natural refrigerants would dominate refrigerant conversation in the United States for the foreseeable future.

In the months ahead, I will be sorting out these matters and trying to help readers determine what it means to them. For now, it means continuing to work with HCFCs and HFCs and making sure installations and service work are done properly, including as leaktight as possible.

But is also means better understanding ammonia, HCs, and CO2 as to how those refrigerants work and how you might find yourself using them in the future.

Publication date: 05/28/2012