According to data presented in October 2020 by sheccoBASE (the research arm of shecco, publisher of this website), Europe leads the world in transcritical CO2 installations with 29,000. It is followed by Japan (5,000), U.S. (650), Canada (340), South Africa (220+), New Zealand (100), Australia (95) and South America (75), and scattered installations elsewhere.

How will this picture change in 2021?

Armin Hafner, professor in refrigeration in the Department of Energy and Process Engineering at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU), and a longtime expert in CO2 refrigeration, is bullish on its prospects.

“We will see more commercial refrigeration systems applying CO2 in 2021 across the world as this technology outperforms the previous technology both regarding energy efficiency and total investment costs,” Hafner said. “The end users are aware of the advantages of the CO₂ technology globally and are pushing the local suppliers to deliver this technology whenever ready and possible.” The main bottleneck: “training and knowledge transfer.”

One major end user, Australian retail giant Woolworths, has made great strides since installing its first transcritical CO₂ system in 2017, reaching 20 stores (all but one new) with transcritical CO2 by the end of 2020, double its original goal, said Dario Ferlin, its National Sustainable Engineering Manager Format & Network Development.

Of the 20, 19 are large-footprint supermarkets (averaging 3,200m2/34,445ft2 in trading area) that use two large booster systems. A number of the stores have space heating managed by the refrigeration systems and three feature full space-heating and space-cooling integration. “We expect this trend to continue into 2021 and beyond,” with plans to increase the number of integrated systems “where it’s feasible to do so,” Ferlin said.

Large supermarket chains in Australia like Woolworths have engaged in a large uptake of CO2 systems by “overcoming some of the challenges posed by our high ambient temperatures,” said Tony Gleeson, CEO and Company Secretary, Australian Institute of Refrigeration, Air conditioning and Heating (AIRAH).

According to the latest edition of “Cold Hard Facts,” a report on Australia’s refrigerant bank, the volume of CO2 refrigerant was estimated at about 215 metric tons in 2019. “We expect this trend to continue as CO2 solutions are further rolled out by the large supermarket chains and equipment is developed for smaller applications,” said Gleeson.

European retailers will continue to lead the world in CO2 installations and development in 2021.

All of the 22 supermarkets Delhaize Belgium will be equipping with transcritical CO2 systems in 2021 – 17 existing stores and five new – will be getting integrated systems combining refrigeration, air conditioning and heating, said David Schalenbourg, Director Architecture, Construction & Maintenance, Delhaize Belgium.

Integration, said Wynand Groenewald, Founder of Future Green Now, a South Africa consultancy, “decreases the initial CAPEX requirement, decreases the operational cost of a facility, and reduces the heating and cooling waste of equipment drastically.”

German wholesale giant Metro AG, which has installed 114 transcritical CO2 systems, will “accelerate” its rollout in 2021 in furtherance of its F-Gas Elimination Program (FEP), said Olaf Schulze Metro AG’s Director for Energy, Facility and Resource Management. The only caveat is the general economic state of the hospitality sector, Metro’s target customer, which has been hammered by the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.

In Europe, CO2 is becoming “more and more a commodity in refrigeration,” said Andreas Meier, Managing Director, German OEM Teko. He expects strong growth in 2021 in retail and industrial applications.

“In industrial applications, we see that CO2 will substitute [for] some ammonia market share.” Teko is planning to roll out CO2 condensing units for commercial applications between 1kW (0.3TR) and 8kW (2.3TR) “in order to provide the lower end of the capacity range applications with nonflammable, but natural, solutions,” said Meier.

Teko is also working to bring a portfolio of commercial CO2 chillers to market as an alternative to R290 chillers. “For some applications, flammable refrigerants like R290 cannot be used, or the end user does not want to use it,” Meier said. In addition, the energy efficiency (SEER value) in some applications with CO2 is higher than for other refrigerants.

Progress in U.S.

In the U.S., Weis Markets has decided to install a transcritical CO2 refrigeration system in two new stores next year, based on the energy savings and overall performance of its initial transcritical system  at a store in Randolph, New Jersey (U.S.).

Weis’s 54,000ft2 (5,017m2) store in Randolph opened in July 2018, with an Advansor transcritical CO2 rack from Hillphoenix, and two adiabatic gas coolers from Baltimore Aircoil (BAC). The two new stores will use transcritical racks from Zero Zone, and BAC adiabatic gas coolers, noted Paul Burd, Manager, refrigeration engineering for Weis.

After acquiring U.S. refrigeration manufacturer Kysor Warren, Italian OEM Epta has been supplying transcritical CO2 (R744) systems incorporating efficiency-enhancing FTE (Full Transcritical Efficiency) technology in the U.S.

Now, following “very good acceptance of FTE,” Epta plans to launch its ETE (Extreme Temperature Efficiency) system, recommended for very warm climates, even over 40°C (104°F), in the U.S., said Francesco Matrapasqua, Epta’s Advocacy & Regulatory Affairs Manager.

In general, Epta will also aim its CO2 technology at small stores, “proximity stores,” and city stores, said Matrapasqua. “In this market segment we feel there is still a need for new solutions to cover some specific gaps, such as space constraints, cost and reliability.”

But Joe Kokinda, President/CEO, Professional HVAC/R Services, a U.S. contractor for food retailers, believes that major OEM’s and their larger supermarket clients in the U.S. “are only dangling a toe in the ocean at this point, so I do not believe that 2021 will be a breakout year for larger CO2 or cascade type systems.”

On the industrial side, Hillsboro, Oregon (U.S.)-based Henningsen Cold Storage, acquired this year by Lineage Logistics, has installed transcritical CO₂ systems at two facilities, and is “exploring transcritical CO2 further as a possible replacement for existing aged NH3 systems,” said Pete Lepschat, Henningsen’s longtime Director – Engineering.

In Canada, CO2 installations in stores are increasing, said Ady Vyas, Vice President of Energy and Digital Services for Neelands Group, an Ontario contractor.

“We continue to push CO2 as the primary refrigeration, even when RFPs [requests for proposals] call out for HFCs.”

Canadian industrial contractor Cimco is also seeing a rise in CO2 installations, said Benoit Rodier, its Director of Business Development. “We still are largely promoting ammonia and CO2 system over synthetic.”

Arneg Central America, based in Panama City, has found a way to market transcritical CO2 refrigeration in warm climates like Central America and the Caribbean, as well as Ecuador in South America,  which the earth’s Equator cuts through. The secret is that its transcritical CO2 systems typically include parallel compression and often ejectors as well.

In 2021, Arneg Central America plans to install transcritical CO2 systems in numerous stores, said Pablo Buchko, its Regional Manager. These include 10 new Riba Smith and eight new Marche Service convenience stores, all with parallel compression and integrated AC; two refurbished Riba Smith stores in Panama with parallel compression; and a Carrefour Marina in Guadeloupe with parallel compression and ejectors.

Arneg Central America expects to complete a CO2 training facility in Panama before January 2021 and “hopefully begin training soon after that, at least with local technicians,” said Rolando Bissot, its Engineering and Maintenance Manager. “It all depends on [COVID-19] travel and meeting restrictions.”

In South Africa, “the swing towards CO2 installations in the commercial sector is on the increase,” said John Ackermann, South Africa-based Owner, Jack Agencies, and former Publisher/Editor of The COLD LINK newspaper. But due to the sluggish market during 2020, “installations in 2021 will show a slight increase on that during 2019.”

Changes in China

The prospects for transcritical CO2 in China appear to be more limited.

German OEM Metro AG installed the first transcritical CO2 system in China, at a new store in Beijing in January 2018, and then two others at existing stores in Beijing and Chongqing in June 2019.

However, since October 2019, those stores have been 80% owned by Chinese retailer Wumart and 20% owned by Metro AG. The combined entity, Metro Wumart, has no plans currently to install transcritical systems at other stores,” said Alan Lin, Head of Facility Management.

With the smaller presence of Metro and the departure of other overseas retailers, the use of natural refrigerants in China “will be seriously affected in the retail industry,” said David Zhang, Owner of Shanghai Fute Refrigeration & Electrical Engineering Co, Ltd, adding, “I hope that Sam’s Club and Costco will help promote the use of natural refrigerants in the near future.”

Also, the availability of components and trained technicians in China, although improved, “will continue to hinder the use of natural refrigerants,” Zhang said.

Robert Jiang, GM-Sales/Marketing/Service, Jiangsu Cryotek Refrigeration Equipment Co., Ltd., agreed that foreign retailers have been the technology leaders in China while local players “focus more on profitability and survival.” But Cryotek will do some “basic work” in 2021, including building natural refrigerant systems for educational purposes in schools, and continuing to offer “proposals” to customers.

CSF Market, a Beijing, China-based chain, installed a transcritical CO2 system in 2018, but does not plan to install another, said Du Li Li, Overseas Sales Director, Panasonic Appliances Refrigeration System (Dalian) Co., Ltd.

“We want to find another supermarket to install a CO2 system,” said Du. “We want to continue to push this technology development in China.”

The obstacles to adoption of CO2 systems in China remain high initial cost, and lack of government subsidies, said Du. Long delivery time for some components imported from overseas is also a challenge to development, she noted.

But Panasonic plans to continue making transcritical systems in China for export. The company manufactured 20 CO2 units this year that were exported to Japan, and expects to exceed 30 units next year, said Du. 

“Our company will be committed to pushing CO2 systems all over the world,” she said. “We have mature technology in booster, parallel [compression] and ejector CO2 systems. We will design [a] cold-hot integrated comprehensive utilization CO2 system next year.”

Japan has been a world leader in the installation of CO2 condensing units in convenience stores and in the uptake of CO2 residential heat pump water heaters.

Over the past few years, the competition in the Japanese industrial sector between transcritical CO2 systems and low-charge ammonia (R717) systems has increased, and this is expected to continue in 2021.

For example, in October, Japanese OEM Panasonic shipped its first 80HP transcritical CO2 rack systems in Japan. The racks will be installed by Benirei Logistics, a Japanese cold-storage warehouse operator and logistics company.

In addition, Italian CO2 refrigeration system manufacturer SCM Frigo (a subsidiary of Swedish manufacturer Beijer Ref) recently confirmed that it has signed a sales partnership agreement with a Japanese company (that has not been named) to ship three industrial CO2 transcritical refrigeration systems to Japan.

In a statement released on December 1, Japanese OEM Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Air-Conditioning and Refrigeration (MHI) announced the addition of an 80HP model to its lineup of C-Puzzle CO2 (R744) condensing units, targeting the food manufacturing industry. The unit will go on sale only in Japan in the summer of 2021.

“The end users are aware of the advantages of the CO₂ technology globally and are pushing the local suppliers to deliver this technology whenever ready and possible.”

Armin Hafner, NTNU

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