“In the last twelve months, we’ve stepped to our efforts on ejectors, which bring big improvements to transcritical CO2 systems for warmer climates. This is why it’s a good idea to bring this technology to China now and to promote it here, because China has a warmer climate than Europe,” said Hans Ole Matthiesen, Global Segment Director, Danfoss Refrigeration and Air Conditioning.
February’s CO2 roadshow on ‘Developing a sustainable future together – CO2 in Food Retail’ comprised three seminars held in Beijing (22 February), Shanghai (24 February) and Guangzhou (27 February) respectively.
In recent years, the retail food market in China has seen increased competition, falling prices and thinner margins – sparking interest in energy efficiency and sustainable operations.
”We’ve seen a lot of subcritical CO2 systems in China, but we believe that the transcritical CO2 system is much simpler,” said Matthiesen, adding that, “we can achieve higher efficiencies with transcritical systems than subcritical ones”.
By adding ejectors and applying parallel compression to CO2 transcritical racks, “we’ve seen an improvement compared to state-of-the-art R404A systems in all regions of China. We’re at least 5% [more efficient] in all regions of China with transcritical CO2 technology,” Matthiesen said.
“The important thing with transcritical CO2, no matter where we go in the world, is that we need to make it simple. It’s like a BMW – a complex machine, but simple to drive.”Hans Ole Matthiesen, Danfoss
Government supporting natural refrigerant adoption
Government policy is also directly influencing refrigerant choice in the Chinese HVAC&R sector, particularly in the context of last year’s Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol on phasing down HFCs worldwide.
“We see an increasing intention from the Foreign Economic Cooperation Office (FECO) to push forward on natural refrigerants,” said Stephen Zhu, sales director, Energy Management Solutions & Services (Supermarket & Food Retail Industry) at Danfoss Automatic Controls Management (Shanghai) Co., Ltd.
Danfoss installed its first CO2 system in China in 2011, in a Tesco supermarket. At that time, only two contractors were capable of managing CO2. Fast-forward to 2017, and times have changed. Five contractors are capable of delivering CO2. And China now has 32 cascade systems, mostly operated by the METRO Group – 27 of which are supported by Danfoss.
“Nowadays, we also see METRO becoming a leading retailer in CO2. More HVAC&R companies are launching CO2 products. Today, the market is starting to accelerate,” Zhu said.
Local retailers are beginning to pilot CO2 systems in their stores too. “Today we’re on the right track. Of course, most people are still working on cascade systems. We’re not yet working on CO2 transcritical systems in China, but looking at the policies, the competence level, and the intention from the market, I personally believe it will come very soon,” Zhu said.
CO2 transcritical becoming price-competitive
In the early stages of CO2 transcritical development, the rack systems tended to be more expensive than their HFC or HFO-based counterparts. But Zhu believes this is changing.
“Today, if we ask retailers in Europe what is cheaper between an R404A or a CO2 system, many of them would come back and say CO2 systems are cheaper – or at least at the same level as an HFC system,” Zhu said.
“Once you have a technology whose cost is better or at the same level, but its efficiency is higher, there is no barrier to go through,” he argues. He believes this threshold has already been reached in Europe but admits that there is still some way to go in China.
Training technicians to operate CO2 systems continues to pose challenges but Zhu is confident that this can be overcome. “It’s something we’re working on. You only need a few retailers – like Lawson in Japan or METRO in China – to go out and start the market, and then others will follow because you have a base of trained technicians,” he said.
Worldwide, Danfoss has already installed over 10,000 transcritical CO2 racks. It recently fitted its first in Russia, in a Magnit supermarket in Moscow. “The project manager is expecting energy savings of 20% energy over the R404A systems he has been using until now,” said Matthiesen.
Last summer saw the ‘pre-series release’ of its electronically controlled multi-ejector design for CO2 systems in commercial refrigeration applications, providing energy savings in warm climate conditions.
“We’ve delivered nearly 60 multi-ejectors to the market,” said Matthiesen. “We tried to limit distribution to make sure we had a successful launch of the product, and to make sure that our customers have a good experience,” he explained.
Soon, the company will be ready to rollout the ejector on a much wider scale, once it has put in place the necessary support, documentation and a simple controller.
Bringing CO2 transcritical to China
Opinions vary as when the CO2 transcritical wave that is sweeping Europe – and making progress in the United States – will reach China.
“Personally, I think that at least in the short term, large and mainstream applications will be with cascade, because you need some time to master the technology compared to HFCs,” Zhu said.
Nonetheless, he is confident that the energy savings delivered by CO2 transcritical systems will encourage retailers in China to adopt the technology.
“Of course, there will be some challenges regarding level of know-how. We still need to bring the infrastructure to the market,” said Zhu, citing availability and understanding of components as well as training levels among contractors and technicians among the issues to address.
“The biggest challenge is that we’re promoting something different from what people are used to working with. To train people, you need the right infrastructure, the right training materials, and the right equipment in place in China,” Zhu explained.
Describing the Chinese refrigeration market as having been “conservative for years”, the Danfoss representative warns that accelerating the CO2 transcritical rollout will be a steep learning curve – for industry associations, government agencies and refrigerant suppliers alike.
Zhu expects 100 CO2 cascade systems and perhaps one or two CO2 transcritical systems to be installed in China within the next five years. As a developing country in which the commercial refrigeration market is yet to mature, he believes China has an opportunity to transition from HFCs straight to natural refrigerants.
“We should work together to promote CO2 because this is the endgame for the whole industry. We need to make people step out of their comfort zones,” he said.
With this is mind, Danfoss is touring China to communicate the benefits of using innovations like electronic controls, case controls and expansion valves to deliver energy savings to the tune of 15-30%, helping retailers to reduce their operating costs.
“We need to change the mindset,” Zhu said.