Italian vending machine manufacturer FAS International has replaced R134a with CO2 (R744) in its entire portfolio of vending machines, completing the switch in October.
FAS has tested the CO2 technology since 2012 and started a limited production of units using R744 compressors from Japanese manufacturer Panasonic for customers specifically requesting this environmentally friendly technology in 2018, according to Marco Baron, Business Development Director at FAS.
Currently FAS is the only manufacturer to offer this solution in Europe, according to Baron. “As far as we know, at the moment we are the only European manufacturer that is proposing CO2 as a choice on the full product range, but we are hearing rumors that maybe another couple of providers are thinking about it.”
Notably, most vending machines using a natural refrigerant, including many installed by beverage giants PepsiCo and Coca-Cola, employ propane (R290) as the refrigerant rather than CO2.
FAS specializes in spiral- and drum-type vending machines with minimum temperatures of 2°C (35.6°F) for perishable food items. “Of course, the inside of the machines can have volumes at different temperature, so also beverages and/or non-perishable food can be sold at the same time,” Baron explained. The machines are typically bought by “professional operators,” which supply and restock the machines on location.
FAS manufactures around 15,000 units each year. The company is present in more than 50 markets worldwide and is planning to expand further, Baron said, adding that sales are going well and increasing.
The switch to CO2 technology has not been without challenges, however. European Union Regulation 517/2014 has been “very challenging because all players must change their own ‘historical’ technologies and knowledge,” Baron noted.
Panasonic started promoting its CO2 compressors to the vending machine industry in 2015. Currently FAS is its only customer in this industry, but Panasonic has another potential customer that it is working with on some projects, according to Davide Ripani, Senior Key Account Manager, Panasonic Industry Italia, though he is not ready to disclose who the customer is.
CO2 vs. R290
Other vending machine manufacturers have also moved away from f-gases in the last few years to hydrocarbons instead.
In 2017, SandenVendo America, based in Dallas, Texas, introduced a series of vending machines on the U.S. market using R290.
In 2018, Italian OEM Epta’s Marketing Manager Davide Bargero told hydrocarbons21.com that 90% of his firm’s vending range uses hydrocarbons, with R290 being the primary choice, although some models use isobutane (R600a).
FAS also looked into using hydrocarbons for its products but decided against it after a thorough assessment.
“We decided to go with CO2 because it is completely natural, it is safe, and it is performing with the right technological choices,” said Baron.
On the advantages of using CO2 as refrigerant in vending machines rather than hydrocarbons like R290, Ripani highlighted the fact that CO2 is nonflammable and non-explosive, meaning that customers in airports, hospitals and similar locations may “prefer” this option.
“We decided to go with CO2 because it is completely natural, it is safe, and it is performing with the right technological choices,”Marco Baron, FAS
In addition, CO2 offers the opportunity to retrofit. “It’s not necessary to modify the machine structure or to change any other components outside the refrigeration circuit,” Ripani explained. “R290 needs some ATEX or special components, for example the motors for the machine automation.”
These benefits mean that the cost of a complete CO2 machine is not “so much higher,” Ripani noted.
When asked if CO2 vending machines would start taking market share from R290, Baron said, “The real market orientation is made on a higher level, and it seems that at the moment R744 doesn’t have many friends yet.”
“We achieved our goal because we struggled for it, but we don’t know how many other companies would have done the same,” he added. “Sometimes it seems that choices are not made because they are good, but mainly because they are easy.”
Want to find out more, or have something to say about this story? Join the ATMO Connect network to meet and engage with like-minded stakeholders in the clean cooling and natural refrigerant arena.