Eliminating GHG emissions - Smart Energy Decisions

Commercial, Energy Efficiency, GHG Emissions  -  August 29, 2016

Whole Foods refrigeration system tackles emissions

Photo courtesy of Whole Foods.

A recently opened Whole Foods Market Inc. store in California showcases a new approach to grocery retail refrigeration, one the company claims is the most environmentally advanced in the country. 

The store in Santa Clara, Calif., uses a refrigeration system that Whole Foods says eliminates all greenhouse gas emissions from refrigeration, preventing the more than 7,000 metric tons of CO2 equivalent that a typical supermarket emits every year. The company has been looking for ways to address increasing concern over the environmental impact associated with the use of  hydrofluorocarbons in refrigeration systems for some time; this installation comes at a time when California is looking to significantly reduce emissions of all greenhouse gases, including hydrofluorocarbons used in refrigeration systems.

Whole Foods said the California store's "Hydrocarbon/CO2 Cascade System" reduces the environmental impacts of refrigerants to near zero and also improves energy efficiency. It uses propane, a natural refrigerant, to condense CO2 — which the company says it the most eco-friendly refrigerant available — with a climate impact that is thousands of times less than typical HFCs.

The company explained further:

The CO2 is then piped through refrigeration systems to keep products cool. With high heat carrying properties, the use of CO2 reduces both the amount of refrigerant needed and the energy required to run refrigeration systems. Simultaneously, a heat reclaim system captures the heat generated by the system, and uses it to preheat water or the store’s later use, while also supplementing space heating. This allows the store to greatly reduce the amount of natural gas burned to heat water.

"Ultimately, the system uses the least possible amount of the most climate-friendly refrigerants in a format that both reduces the energy it takes to operate it and re-uses the heat its operation generates,” said Tristam Coffin, Sustainable Facilities Coordinator for Whole Foods Market Northern California. "There is precedent for this type of system in North America and Europe, but this is the first installation of the technology in the U.S. It’s a natural fit for Whole Foods Market to help design and launch it in California because we’ve invested in environmental advancements as an ongoing business practice.”

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recently banned the use of some common refrigerants such as R-404A and R-507A for new installations and retrofits, due to their climate impact. Also, in July the parties to the Montreal Protocol met to negotiate a worldwide plan to eliminate the use of other harmful refrigerant gases over time.

In the U.S., California has been leading efforts to reduce refrigeration emissions, with rules in place that are being adopted nationally, and proposed efforts to further reduce emissions from these sources, in line with Gov. Jerry Brown’s directive for the state to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions 40% below 1990 levels by 2030.

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