ATMOsphere America 2014: Red Bull, McDonaldÂ’s and Coca-Cola talk HC cooling technology and future strategy

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At the most well received ATMOsphere America conference to date, 250 industry experts gathered to discuss the future of natural refrigerants in North America. Red Bull, McDonald’s and The Coca Cola Company shared their progress in the implementation of hydrocarbon refrigerants (HC) and highlighted what is needed in order for them to move forward: innovation at cost parity and building a cohesive and sustainable supply chain. Around 1.5 million pieces of refrigerated equipment used by McDonald’s, Red Bull, and The Coca Cola Company have been converted to natural refrigerants to date.

Red Bull’s presentation at ATMOsphere America 2014 highlighted the company’s ambitious target of 100% procurement of R600a coolers in its global fleet. As of May of 2014 Red Bull had already ordered 12,650 hydrocarbon coolers in the US, and the future order numbers are “aggressive.”

Red Bull’s 100% natural refrigerant goal

CSR and Sustainability Project Leader Paige Dunn reported, “The team is very serious about reaching the 100% goal.” Red Bull has placed an impressive 457,000 hydrocarbon ECO Coolers globally to date. The company’s global cooler fleet encompasses 985,000 units.

The ECO Cooler using R600a received approval by the US EPA in 2013. Although the SNAP approval of hydrocarbon refrigerants was a significant step forward for the Austrian-based company, R600a was initially not approved in stand-alone units, a missing piece of the puzzle for Red Bull to be able to roll-out natural refrigerant units.

It was not initially approved because no one specifically asked. We [the industry] want to be more proactive and make sure this doesn't happen again," said Dunn.

A year later, SNAP approval was granted in stand-alone units. “The energy consumption of our cooler fleet has been reduced by 10% by using hydrocarbons,” explained Dunn. Regarding the roll-out of ECO Coolers in North America, “they are coming,” she said.

In addition to reaching 100% procurement, Red Bull reports that the company will be focusing on other ways “to do more” such as focusing on the end of life process, looking into foam and how they can refurbish coolers for a more sustainable overall outcome.

McDonald’s: 13,000 pieces of natural refrigerant equipment and opportunities in green HVAC

In 2003 McDonald’s opened its first 100% natural refrigerant restaurant in Vejle, Denmark, which utilises a CO2 based HVAC system (transcritical), a CO2/ R290 system for low and medium temperature storage, as well as hydrocarbon-based equipment in the kitchen. The main driver behind the convertion from f-gases was energy efficiency, considered by the company to be the second largest area for sustainability improvements, after sustainable beef sourcing (30% of global carbon footprint compared to 20% allotted to energy efficiency).

Currently 13,000 pieces of natural refrigerant equipment have been deployed using R290, R600a and CO2, out of a total of 700,000 units of equipment used by McDonald’s worldwide.

Jeffrey Hogue, Senior Director of Global CSR & Sustainability, commented that much more is action is needed in the future. "We proved this was possible, but need to work on building the supply chain,” he said.

For Hogue, natural refrigerant HVAC equipment is the biggest opportunity for McDonald’s to switch to climate friendly refrigerants.

We need innovations that are at cost-parity with current solutions,” he said, stating that the company is looking for pricing within 10% of the HFC structure. “If we had all of our competitors side-by-side with us we could drive market innovation. We can’t do this alone.”

Besides cost, other considerations for McDonald’s include improved energy efficiency, and having a service infrastructure in place.

Coca-Cola places 1.1 million CO2 and HC coolers worldwide

The Coca-Cola Company has been a leader in HFC-free refrigeration, having set an ambitious goal in 2009 to phase-out HFCs in new cold drink equipment as of 2015. This goal is expected to take around 8 more years. To date around 1.1 million HFC-units have been placed globally, using CO2 and also hydrocarbons, including 162 UL certified CO2 vending machine models, representing around 80% of the purchase volume.

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