The refrigerant landscape is preparing for a regulatory makeover. By 2018, approximately 80 percent of commercial refrigerators and ice machines will have to go through a complete redesign to meet new U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) standards for efficiency; the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is proposing to delist R-404A and R-134a in many commercial refrigeration applications; and in California, Title 24 mandates the practice of floating head pressures down to 70°F or lower in supermarket refrigeration systems.

Amidst all this regulatory uncertainty, Emerson Climate Technologies Inc. strived to provide a look at refrigerated systems from every angle through its inaugural E360™ Forum. The event, held Nov. 13, 2014, in Columbus, Ohio, took a holistic approach that objectively accounts for energy efficiency, environmental protection, equipment reliability and safety, and economic considerations.

“This is a very interesting time for the refrigerant space. It seems like the wild, Wild West for refrigerants and energy-efficiency regulations,” said John Rhodes, president of refrigeration, Emerson Climate Technologies. “E360 examines all the dynamics and attempts to best balance this equation. None of us can do this by ourselves. We need to reach out across the entire industry and find a solution among all of us. That’s what we’re here to accomplish.”

Refrigerant Regulations

While the Montreal Protocol has proven to have a very positive impact on climate change — reducing 5.6 billion tons of CO2-equivalent emissions — the growth of developing nations and their use of high-global warming potential (GWP) and ozone depleting potential (ODP) refrigerants could dwarf such gains.

Rajan Rajendran, vice president, systems innovation center and sustainability, Emerson Climate Technologies, updated attendees on the EPA’s proposed refrigerant regulations and offered advice on behalf of Emerson through his “Refrigerant and Energy Regulations Update.”

In 2013 and early 2014, the EPA held stakeholder meetings to get input on which hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), if any, should be delisted. The notice of proposed rulemaking (NOPR) announced the EPA’s intention to delist several refrigerants from its Significant New Alternatives Policy (SNAP) program in January 2016. The proposal, if approved as is, would eliminate R-404A and -507A from new and retrofit supermarket, condensing unit, and vending machines; R-404A, -507A, -407A, -407F, and -134a from stand-alone self-contained equipment; and HFC-227ea, -407B, -421B, -422A, -422C, -422D, -428A, and -434A from direct and secondary supermarket applications.

Emerson was one of more than 120 stakeholders that submitted letters providing feedback to the EPA’s findings. In its response, Emerson representatives requested the EPA delay the delisting of R-404A and -507A in condensing units and stand-alone self-contained commercial refrigeration equipment for six years. They also requested the EPA refrain from delisting R-407A, -470F, and -134a in stand-alone self-contained commercial refrigeration equipment.

“After Jan. 1 2016, according to the EPA, you cannot install new supermarket equipment in the U.S. with 404A as a refrigerant. I think, today, many supermarkets — more than 50 percent — use 407A, and a handful use 407F. Considering that, this may not be that onerous for grocery stores,” said Rajendran.

“The EPA says you can use 407A in supermarkets and condensing units, but you’re not supposed to use it as a replacement for 404A in self-contained commercial refrigeration equipment. That means, in supermarket applications, the options are very limited. What are the remaining choices? Propane or CO2,” asked Rajendran.“ Honestly, 404A’s days are numbered. Global production is likely to go down, but, don’t eliminate 407A and don’t eliminate -134a. R-134a only has a 1,400 GWP. It’s much lower than everything else and, in self-contained units, it’s low charge, and the efficiency is adequate.”

The EPA is currently reviewing all comments and intends to publish a final rule that includes responses to all comments from stakeholders. A final rule is expected sometime in the first six months of 2015.

Going forward, Rajendran predicted new, lower-GWP, nonflammable refrigerants will be available for R-404A retrofits; that cascade, transcritical, and secondary CO2 systems will continue to grow; and that training on all levels will be necessary to keep up with the regulatory and technological changes sweeping across the refrigerant landscape.

“If you’re a member of an organization, such as North American Association of Food Equipment Manufacturers (NAFEM), or others, I would suggest you encourage its leaders to contact the DOE and EPA and provide input because the assumption is, if you don’t speak up then you’re fine with the decisions being made. Our voices need to be heard.”

The Functionality of the Food Service Sector

According to Robin Ashton, publisher, Foodservice Equipment Reports (FER), the food service market in the U.S. is huge, complex, diverse, and relatively mature.

Ashton referenced a study from Chicago-based research firm Technomic Inc. that estimates the 2014 end-user U.S. market at $703 billion.

“The food service market in the U.S. is the most mature foodservice market in the world. It’s the third or fourth largest industry in America,” said Ashton. “At the purchasing level, it’s a $250 billion venture. Equipment accounts for 82 percent of the supplies market.”

After falling 7.5 percent during 2008-2010, total industry operator real sales have been positive. According to Ashton, 2012 was the best year for the food service industry since 2006. Technomic estimates in 2013 the market was up 3.1 percent in nominal sales and 1.1 percent in real sales. While 2014 sales endured a wintry first quarter, nominal sales finished up 3.3 percent, and real sales closed with a minimal 0.1 percent increase.

Ashton notes that Technomic’s preliminary forecasts call for 3.1 percent nominal and 1.2 real growth percentages for 2015.

“NAFEM has more than 600 members and most companies remain privately held,” said Ashton. “While big conglomerates dominate, many U.S. companies are in the $10 million to $20 million range, and the North American market makes up about 40 percent of the worldwide market.

“The stronger operator environment should combine with the rebound of the specification markets to boost growth,” he continued.

Supermarket foodservice continues to surge. In 2014, nominal sales were forecast to grow 6 percent, and real sales, 2.4 percent. Real sales are projected to rise 3.9 percent in 2015. These increases will be driven by renovation, replacement, menu rollouts, and repairs. There are hundreds of thousands of existing units and facilities that need constant renovation and re-equipping.”

Additional presentations at the inaugural E360 event covered refrigerant architecture trends, kitchen design and layout trends, communicating kitchens, and more. E360 will make its next stop Feb. 18, in Anaheim, California. For more information on Emerson’s E360 series, visit

Publication date: 1/26/2015 

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