Development of refrigerants

The retail market is in an important transition period on a number of levels. Consumers and shopping behaviour are changing markedly under the influence of online shopping, product transparency, the growing need for fresh and convenience products and desire to maintain quality with minimal food spoilage. This results in the appearance of new shop concepts, while both in Europe and worldwide harmonized directives are being introduced which, in addition to product safety, are aimed at creating a sustainable future. For refrigeration technology, this is the F-Gas Regulation.

The F-Gas Regulation

The refrigerants used in our display appliances are subject to the European F-Gas Regulation for synthetic refrigerants. The most important measure is the introduction of a quota system for the total GWP value (Global Warming Potential) of refrigerants, measured in tonnes of CO2.

The figure below shows the phase-down schedule for the average GWP value. This is the product of the total quantity of refrigerants used and the GWP per refrigerant. With this initiative the European Commission aims to ensure that the sale of traditional refrigerants with a high GWP is reduced and replaced by low-GWP refrigerants.

The commonly used refrigerants R404a and R507a, which both have a GWP value of nearly 4000, must therefore be replaced with a low-GWP alternative after repair of a leak or changes to existing installations. Preferably, this high-GWP refrigerant should also no longer be used in new installations. Their use has therefore been banned for use in newly built small hermetic refrigeration units from 2020 and for larger refrigeration systems from 2022.

The alternatives for synthetic refrigerants

Drop-in replacement refrigerants, with a GWP of around 1300, can be used for existing installations. These new low-GWP refrigerants, such as R449A as well as the familiar R134a with a GWP of 1430, are ultimately a temporary solution. As can be seen in the phase-down schedule, the average GWP of the total quota of refrigerants must be reduced to around 900 by 2022 and even further, to around 400, by 2030.

Smeva test chambers

For testing of the refrigeration appliances, the machine room contains three VFD-controlled refrigeration compressors that are suitable for testing all synthetic and natural refrigerants. For evaluation of the appliances a compressor installation pre-charged with R404a was converted to the new, alternative refrigerant R449A in late 2017. We also have an indirect system that allows us to test glycol and other cooling fluids in the refrigerated display cases.

Frans Houben, Refrigeration Engineer Smeva:

“Promoting the use of natural refrigerants is part of our corporate social responsibility strategy.”

Future-proof refrigerated retail display appliances

When developing our products we choose to design and select components suitable for ‘natural’ refrigerants. These do not fall under the F-Gas Regulation and have very low GWP values of 1 for CO2 (R744) and 3 for propaene (R443a).

During the development of new refrigerated display cases and the current product range, Smeva employs the following strategy:

Connection-ready refrigerated appliances fitted with integral hermetic compressor systems pre-charged with propaene (R433A). Combined with an air- or water-cooled* condenser.
* Water-cooled for a water loop heat recovery system

Remotely refrigerated appliances constructed with a CO2-ready® refrigeration circuit so they can be connected to a refrigeration system charged with synthetic HFC/HFO refrigerant or CO2 (R744), either straight away or in the future.
Large, central CO2 installations are commonly used by supermarkets in Northern, Western and Central Europe. New developments now make energy-efficient implementation possible as well as use in the warmer climate of Southern Europe.

The safety aspects, such as the higher operating pressures for CO2 and the flammability of propaene, necessitate additional measures during product design, material and component selection and final testing. Smeva already has many years of experience with the use of natural refrigerants in the market.

The new development of safety standards for flammable refrigerants, such as propaene, makes wider use of the larger refrigerated professional storage and display appliances possible, while the small CO2 installations allow this solution to be used for smaller retailers, such as butchers.