Spicing up industrial sector with CO2 transcritical  

“One of the things that helped us make the decision to go CO2 was looking at the bigger picture. Cost-wise if we were just looking at that initial cost then you can get caught out because the initial cost might be slightly higher (than HFC systems) but no one buys a giant freezer for one year, you install it for the long run,” HOS Chicago facility manager Justin Joy said. 

HOS’s newest warehouse opened on May 8, 2015 in Elk Grove Village, Chicago. The 130,000 sq. ft. (39,624 m2)warehouse is now the largest operated by any South Asian distributor in the United States.  Few industrial facilities worldwide house a CO2 transcritical refrigeration system, let alone in the U.S., where there are known to be 2-3 such installations. Traditional ammonia, and increasingly, packaged ammonia systems, are more common in such applications. Transcritical CO2 is more frequently used in commercial applications – warehouse facilities less so. As such employees flew from all over the country for the system’s unveiling at the new facility, where the 15,000 sq. ft. refrigerated section chills produce, and soon, HOS’s very own line of ice cream and ghee. In contrast, the old system used hydrofluorocarbon (HFC) and was housed in a significantly smaller warehouse at 28,000 square feet. Manufacturer Hillphoenix supplied the transcritical rack for the new refrigerated section, which can hold 1,200 palettes (each containing 2,200 pounds or 998 kg) of produce or 2.2-million pounds (998,000 kg) in total. 

TC or not TC – CO2 vs HFCs 

R744 is the environmentally sustainable alternative to traditional HFC refrigerants typically utilised in commercial refrigeration systems. Now, facilities like HOS’s are showing the wide application scope of the natural refrigerant. Joy admitted he knew little about CO2 as a refrigerant when the company conducted preliminary research, but is now glad he scratched beneath the surface. Cost, longevity, ease of installation and environmental impact were all factors that convinced HOS to steer away from HFCs towards the final destination: CO2. The starting point for HOS was HFCs – synthetic refrigerants are still used in all 10 of the companies other facilities. Although the latest generation of fluorinated refrigerants, HFOs, were considered for the new warehouse HOS was far from convinced about their environmental impact and safety. “When we found out about CO2, cost-wise, even though the units are slightly more expensive, the installation is much cheaper because the pipes and everything else is much more compact,” he said. 

“And actually the cost per pound of CO2 compared to freon is drastically different – much less. We’re not going to replace the freezer in five or 10 years; I’m going to keep it for 15 or 20 years so when you add up that amount of time and all the maintenance involved we think there will be significant savings.” 

In terms of the total cost of installation, including labour, a ponderous Joy admitted there was little discernable difference.   “All things considered it really wasn’t much of a difference at all, if I remove all the common expenses: the floor work, the building panels – the final cost becomes extremely close. The CO2 system was less than 5% more to install.” 

Carbon footprint and policy evolution major drivers for CO2 adoption 

As part of the Environmental Protection Agencies’ (EPA) Significant New Alternatives Policy (SNAP) program, HFCs with high global warming potential (GWP), such as the most commonly abundant R134a, are being phased out in favour of low-GWP alternatives like CO2.  

“When you look at it that way the initial cost is negligible,” Joy said. If you go the other way (HFCs) then you’re going to have more problems down the line, unlike with CO2, which because of its very low environmental impact, is not going to have any issues or problems, so you’re actually saving yourself a lot of headaches and a lot of money, in the long run.” 

Another major factor for HOS was its sustainable philosophy, which meant the company wanted to move away from refrigerants with high GWP (global warming potential) – many HFCs have a GWP thousands of times higher than that of CO2. “When we actually started doing the research on this, the difference in just the environmental impact of HFCs vs CO2, was very drastic. Our local community is very pleased that we opted for CO2.” 

A company-wide CO2 empire? 

HOS projects huge growth in 2015 with plans already in place to expand and renovate at least three of the company’s warehouses. “We’re in the process of doing the same for other warehouses – two in California, one in New York and another in Maryland, where we’re growing substantially and need to move to bigger warehouses.” “After we run this freezer/cooler at our Chicago warehouse for a while, if it actually works for us how we’re hoping and expecting it does, then there’s a very high chance that we’ll implement the same system in our other warehouses.” 

About the House of Spices 

From one store (out the back of a small garage) in Jackson Heights, New York, to an empire that spans various industrial sectors, incorporating 11 warehouses throughout the U.S. and Canada, HOS has continued to strive for excellence since its inception in 1970.  Today, HOS has warehouses in New York, Houston, Chicago, California, San Francisco, Orlando, Boston, Maryland and Toronto, spanning the importing, exporting, manufacturing, hospitality, and logistics sectors – HOS even manufactures and distributes its very own Laxmi food product brand. The company has exclusive partnerships with several popular Indian food brands and employs approximately 350 employees.

About Hillphoenix 

Hillphoenix Inc. is a leading designer and manufacturer of commercial and industrial refrigeration systems, including integrated power systems, display cases, specialty products, walk-in coolers and freezers and ice rinks. Based in Dover, Georgia, Hillphoenix is the first American manufacturer of CO2 equipment. The story of Hillphoenix is built on creativity and customer-centric innovation with a commitment to delivering responsible solutions that are efficient, sustainable and comply with the latest industry regulatory standards. 


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Author jamesranson