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Losing the Refrigeration Race

When it comes to environmental action, the U.S., which should be leading the world, is lagging behind Europe and parts of Asia. This is true, for example, of refrigeration technology, which was demonstrated today in a presentation at the FMI Energy & Store Development Conference by Brian Rees, group technical manager of New Zealand-based McAlpine Hussmann, and Ken Welter, manager of refrigeration engineering for Stop & Shop, Quincy, Mass.

One of the big differences between the U.S. and food retailers in other countries is the use of carbon dioxide-based refrigeration systems. Just a handful of progressive U.S. retailers (Price Chopper, Food Lion, Sprouts, with help from the EPA GreenChill program) have starting testing these systems, while in Europe, Australia and New Zealand they have far wider adoption. Why is CO2 better? Because conventional refrigerants have a huge impact on climate change and global warming (putting aside the effect on the ozone layer, which is being addressed with the phase-out of R-22 refrigerant), while CO2 used in refrigeration has a minimal effect. (This is not to be confused with the tons of CO2 spewed from power plants and cars, which is the main contributor to global warming).

Why did other countries switch to CO2 refrigeration? Their governments applied the pressure. Australia, for example, will be imposing a carbon tax next year, prompting retailers to get onboard with CO2 systems to save their bottom lines. Some European countries have regulated the use of HFC refrigerants. Moreover, as Welter noted, in Europe there is "greater consumer awareness of the effect supermarkets have on the environment."

As the US political process continues to stagnate around important environmental questions like global warming, we are being left behind by more enlightened competitors around the globe.