Recent court rulings and legislation involving the banning of hydrofluorocarbon (HFC) refrigerant use in future and new refrigeration equipment has created uncertainty in the refrigerant market. To accommodate these developments and comply with future standards, supermarket chains nationwide are beginning to move toward the use of natural refrigerants, and are becoming more sustainable, environmentally friendly companies in the process.

To adapt, contractors need to build a foundation of knowledge on natural refrigerants sooner rather than later. With this phasing out of HFCs, hydrocarbon-based refrigerants are becoming more popular, and sustainable solutions are becoming more mainstream. Using natural refrigerants gives food retailers peace of mind when it comes to running their stores, knowing that over the next decade and beyond, they’ll be able to meet regulation standards. Likewise, contractors can feel at ease knowing they’re fully equipped and up to speed on this developing trend.

To combine high energy efficiency, reduced maintenance costs, space optimization and improved food preservation, food retailers are best served by transitioning their current refrigeration systems to a cooling solution that uses Propane R290 natural refrigerant. Hydrocarbons like Propane R290 represent the best solution for light commercial applications both in low and medium pressure applications, and making this switch can help improve shopper satisfaction and increase the store’s bottom line.

The use of Propane R290 helps to preserve the environment by having very low direct emissions thanks to its low global warming potential (GWP) and significantly lower indirect emissions.

R290 boosts the compressor’s energy efficiency, resulting in a significant gain in system efficiency. This helps to meet U.S. energy standards, enables significant energy cost reductions and brings lower noise levels. Simply put, it helps make refrigeration more quiet, efficient and cost effective.

Furthermore, natural refrigerants provide an easier evaporator design because they lack any refrigerant glide. They are perfect for self-contained equipment that allows for in-store design and layout flexibility, cabinet mobility, quicker installation time and easier maintenance for refrigerator applications.

Compressors using these refrigerants also have a lower operating temperature and pressure than those used with R404A, a high GWP HFC refrigerant blend, resulting in an increase of compressor and system reliability due to the lower mechanical and thermal stress. This ultimately leads to a longer system life.

Propane R290 also reduces CO2 emissions to total equivalent warming impact (TEWI), which measures the emissions during the lifespan of equipment. This also allows end-users to operate in line with GreenChill, an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) partnership with food retailers that aims to reduce refrigerating systems environmental impact.

The use of R290 also has the power to lower maintenance time and costs. With R290, service contractors can vent the refrigerant to the atmosphere instead of wasting time recovering the refrigerant during servicing. This leads to increased worker and shopper safety. While hydrocarbons are flammable, the risk of flammability is extremely low—the refrigerant charge in many domestic and light commercial applications is equal to a few pocket lighters, between 40-150 grams for commercial systems. The entire electric circuit of compressors using this refrigerant is designed to prevent generating sparks and the possibility of refrigerant gas leakages with self-contained equipment is extremely low.

Lastly, because it is a refrigerant that works well in low-to-medium temperature applications, R290 offers opportunities for OEMs to reduce SKUs and provide solutions that offer operational excellence.

The best alternative for the environment is naturally occurring substances circulating in in the biosphere, and with the U.S. light commercial refrigeration market already migrating to natural refrigerants, sustainable solutions are solidifying their place in the marketplace. Versatility and flexibility are key requirements retailers should look for when choosing new equipment, and reducing the total cost of ownership in refrigeration can mean larger gains for the entire value chain.