Refrigerant management and the fight against climate change
On January 27, 2021, newly-elected President Joseph R. Biden signed several climate-related executive orders, aptly labeling the occasion ‘Climate Day.’ From taking action on fossil fuel subsidies to re-establishing the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, these orders represent a monumental — and needed — shift in federal climate priorities. Given these new priorities, President Biden has stated a goal of creating a carbon-neutral United States by 2050, leading to several calls for legislative action. One priority among these is the reduction of refrigerant emissions.
President Biden’s executive orders and potential legislation could lead to a complete overhaul of emissions regulations, resulting in notable changes for the commercial cold chain ecosystem. With the Biden administration’s regulatory actions targeting a reduction in refrigerant emissions (the super-heating compounds that make refrigeration systems work), companies across the cold chain will soon need to innovate.
How refrigerant greenhouse gas emissions contribute to climate change
Refrigerant emissions are a largely unknown yet significant contributor to global carbon emissions. Cooling devices, such as refrigerators and air conditioners (HVAC) utilize compressed, fluorinated gases to control ambient air conditions. These chemicals help provide thermal comfort and ensure the quality of perishable products like food and pharmaceuticals. The venting of these gases into the ozone has created a problem known as the cooling crisis.
In the 20th century, refrigerants with high global warming potential, or high-GWP refrigerants, such as chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs), were the primary refrigerants used in cooling devices. These chemicals later discovered had a profound, unintended effect: ozone layer depletion. That realization led to the creation and global ratification of the Montreal Protocol in 1987. Widespread adoption of this accord ended the era of these ozone-depleting substances (ODS) with mandatory retrofits and refrigerant reclamation. However, this successful phase-out was short-lived as the substitute refrigerant, hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), became widespread.
Although HFC refrigerants do not deplete the ozone layer, they contribute to emissions at 1,000 to 9,000 times the rate of ozone-depleting carbon dioxide. These effects have generated concern in the scientific community about global warming potential. Compounding this issue is the massive growth in “cooling capacity” anticipated in the years ahead. Global cold storage has increased by 16.7% since 2018, while air conditioning ownership and accessibility are projected to increase by four billion units in the next three decades.
Another area of concern, according to a recent eye-opening Washington Post piece, lies in supermarkets’ use of refrigeration equipment. In the US, the supermarket industry estimates they have a 25% annual discharge rate of refrigerants. However, new findings from the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) have indicated that the problem may be worse. An undercover EIA investigation discovered through leak inspections that ~55% of the 45 surveyed supermarkets have refrigerant leakage issues. Indeed, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) concluded that greenhouse emissions from a single supermarket needing leak repair were equal to that of 300 cars. The industry’s refrigerant leaks are the equivalent of burning 49 billion tons of coal.
How the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has responded
According to Project Drawdown, a leading research group studying climate change, addressing refrigerant emissions is one of the most critical aspects of the phasedown needed for industry-driven emissions. As such, the Biden administration is calling for action.
In an executive order titled “Tackling The Climate Crisis at Home and Abroad,” President Biden instructed the State Department to ‘prepare… a transmittal package’ to the Senate to ratify the Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol. The Kigali Amendment calls on countries to reduce HFC usage by 80% over the next few decades. If implemented, this agreement could have substantial implications: scientists estimate that this agreement could halt an increase in atmospheric temperatures by one degree Fahrenheit.
The American Innovation and Manufacturing Act, passed in December 2020, mandates that the EPA reduce HFCs’ production and importation by 85 percent over the next 15 years. Paired with other climate initiatives, the American Innovation and Manufacturing Act reflects the Biden administration’s aggressive refrigerant management regulations.
How a refrigerant management program reduces emissions and helps your business
The cooling industry can increase profits through innovation while simultaneously reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Real-time temperature and humidity monitoring is one crucial innovation, offering companies critical data insights to prevent equipment failures. Since 90% of refrigerant emissions occur at the equipment’s end of life, leak detection and identifying refrigeration failures are especially vital for reducing leak rate and refrigerant emissions. Refrigerant emissions are also a significant financial priority for companies, given that cooling equipment is expensive and effective repairs can extend asset life and reduce capital expenses.
At Therma°, we’re building technology to reduce refrigerant emissions while promoting the cooling industry. We offer real-time temperature and humidity sensors that can analyze commercial refrigeration efficiency. Our innovative technology allows clients to identify costly equipment malfunctions before they occur. Through predictive analytics and record-keeping, Therma° is creating a cold chain that actively solves the cooling industry's most prominent pain points and cost drivers.
With the Biden administration’s calls for reduced emissions in the cold chain, now is the time for our government and businesses to work together for global sustainability.
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