The major Australian supermarket chains have focused on transitioning to new refrigeration technology and have preferred to refurbish stores directly with new transcritical CO2 (R744) racks, rather than perform retrofits and prolong the life of existing assets with HFO blends.

This assessment comes from “Cold Hard Facts 2021,” a review of the refrigeration and air-conditioning (RAC) industry in Australia by the national Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment. Released in December 2021, “Cold Hard Facts 2021” analyzes data from 2020 to identify key developments and emerging trends.

First published in 2007, “Cold Hard Facts” has been republished periodically, including in 2013, and annually since 2018.

“CO2 refrigerant is firmly entrenched in the mainstream supermarket sector with larger commercial refrigeration systems,” said the 2021 report.

Moreover, this trend is accelerating in larger supermarkets, with the focus primarily on transcritical systems, “largely because of the low GWP of the fluid being in line with corporate sustainability plans and the journey towards net zero,” the report noted.

Smaller CO2 condensing units up to 15 kW (4.3TR) in cooling capacity, which are suitable for small- format supermarkets, convenience stores, liquor outlets and fast-food chains, are also being developed in Australia, the report said.

In addition, the report noted, CO2 is increasingly employed in supermarket rack systems and food-processing applications in a number of “highly efficient options,” including cascade systems, CO2-only transcritical systems, CO2/ammonia [JSH2] chillers, CO2/brine chillers and other variations of two-stage cascade refrigeration systems.

Examples of Australian transcritical CO2 systems in commercial refrigeration have been put in the spotlight for their efficiency and sustainability.

Besides analyzing CO2 developments, the report also highlighted the rapid growth of hydrocarbon-based refrigerated display cabinets in Australian stores.

The report acknowledged that HFO blends, which make up the majority of f-gas imports to Australia, are used in new and retrofit stores, though drop-in retrofits have remained low because of the continued availability and low price of R404A.

Growth in NatRefs bank

The report estimated the bank of natural refrigerants (CO2, hydrocarbons and ammonia/NH3 [R717]) in commercial refrigeration and mobile applications in 2020 to be 1,500 metric tons, up considerably from 700 metric tons in 2016. The volume of CO2 refrigerant used, primarily in the supermarket sector, is estimated to be at around 230 metric tons in 2020. The report further estimated a bank of 5,000 metric tons of ammonia in use in the cold food chain.

The bank of regulated f-gas refrigerants experienced “no significant growth” in 2020 despite surprisingly strong equipment sales. That, combined with increasing use of lower-GWP refrigerants, resulted in the average GWP value of the overall Australian bank of refrigerants reaching its peak in 2019 – 20, with a steady decline expected in the years ahead.

In regard to energy consumption, the report says that in 2020 the Australian stock of RAC equipment – comprising 58.1 million pieces – is estimated to have consumed more than 67,750GWh of electricity, around 25% of all electricity produced in the country.

Total GHG emissions attributed to RAC in 2020 were estimated to be 61.3 million metric tons of CO2e, approximately 12% of Australia’s total GHG emissions. RAC emissions includes 3,300 metric tons of direct HFC emissions.

Continuing energy-efficiency improvements in RAC equipment could enable peak energy-related emissions to be reached in the decade ahead, the report said.

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