Washington — The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will officially launch the GreenChill Advanced Refrigeration Partnership next week as it hopes to build on a growing relationship with the food retail industry aimed at curbing the effect of commercial refrigeration on the environment.
The GreenChill program, in which food retailers as well as refrigeration equipment and refrigerant manufacturers voluntarily provide data on refrigeration practices to the EPA in return for data analysis and consulting help, was informally unveiled at the Food Marketing Institute Energy & Technical Services Conference in September 2006. But it will be given an official stamp on Nov. 27, with the hope of driving further participation from food retailers, said Julius Banks, the EPA's acting branch chief, Alternatives and Emissions Reduction Branch.
“We're hoping this will be a springboard for other grocers who might have thought the EPA was not quite serious about this,” Banks told SN. “We also want to recognize the founding members of the program for stepping up to the plate.” Those members are Food Lion, Hannaford Bros., Giant Eagle, Publix Super Markets and Whole Foods Market, along with equipment manufacturers Hill Phoenix, Kysor/Warren and Honeywell.
Through GreenChill, the EPA specifically aims to work with retailers on reducing leaks from refrigeration equipment of ozone-depleting HCFC (hydrochlorofluorocarbon) refrigerants, as well as newer HFC (hydrofluorocarbon) refrigerants that are still considered potent greenhouse gases contributing to global warming. Refrigeration leaks are regulated by the EPA, which enforces a 35% annual leak rate cap on food retailers.
GreenChill is also intended to help retailers phase out use of HCFCs in favor of HFCs. Production of HCFCs for new equipment will cease in 2010, and all HCFC production will terminate in 2020. The EPA recommends switching to non-ozone-depleting refrigerants when remodeling or building a new store. The program will also help retailers assess new refrigeration technology designed to reduce refrigerant charge as well as energy consumption.
Retailers who participate in GreenChill agree to provide data on ozone-depleting refrigerant emissions and inventories; commit to using only non-ozone-depleting refrigerants in new and remodeled stores; and share data on any new refrigeration technologies being explored.
Participating retailers agree to reduce refrigerant emissions each year, though they are not required to meet any specific level of reduction. EPA will work with participants on a refrigerant management plan. “We're committed to helping them reduce emissions and prepare for the [HCFC] phaseout,” said Banks.
Publix, Lakeland, Fla., which joined GreenChill in June, hopes its participation will “further reduce emissions of ozone-depleting gases and increase energy efficiency,” said Dwaine Stevens, spokesman for Publix. “It's just getting started, but we definitely expect to benefit from sharing best practices.”
In January, Food Lion, Salisbury, N.C., became one of the first U.S. food retailers to join the GreenChill partnership, in a signing event at its Montpelier, Va., store. As part of the program, the chain agreed to participate in research to assess the performance of the low-temperature secondary-loop refrigeration system being tested at the store, as well as other systems. The chain has begun sharing leakage and energy data with the EPA. “We're a wide-open book for them,” Susan Sollenberger, Food Lion's director of equipment purchasing, maintenance and energy, told SN earlier this year.
The early GreenChill retail participants have departed from the closed-lip stance that many food retailers take with the EPA because of its traditional regulatory role in regard to refrigerants. “Some retailers won't answer our phone calls,” said Banks. “But these retailers are providing data — something I would not have thought possible when I started attending the FMI Energy Conference five years ago.”
Banks explained that not all data provided to the EPA by participants will be shared with other participants. “We won't share information on leak rates and energy consumption — what could be a competitive advantage,” he said. “But we will share information like the percentage of emissions a company has agreed to reduce annually.”
The EPA is seeking to collect as much information as possible about refrigeration practices through GreenChill. “We want anyone who will allow us to gather data from their operations,” he said. “This is not a sales pitch for one technology. We want an array of information.”
In return for the data, the EPA promises to “scrub the data and do the background work for retailers” that will enable them to make informed choices about refrigerants and technology as they phase out old chemicals and equipment, Banks said.
Retailers may be hesitant to upgrade their refrigerants or systems due to a lack of familiarity with new options. “So we're saying, work with us and discuss it, and let's see the conclusions we come up with,” said Banks. “We won't dictate any path, but will give them options. And they don't have to take [an equipment or refrigerant] manufacturer's word for it.”
Retailers who participate in GreenChill have typically invested in new refrigeration technology, if only on a test basis, though that is not a requirement. The EPA is interested in knowing “why they made the investment and what they see for the future,” Banks said. The EPA plans to package data on technology and refrigerants and “provide it to the entire industry.”
In 2008, the EPA plans to release a “theoretical study” comparing traditional direct-expansion refrigeration systems with secondary-loop and distributed systems.
Though retailers are being encouraged to migrate to HFC refrigerants, Banks acknowledged that over the next few years, possible new federal legislation concerning climate change could impact the use of HFCs. “But if a retailer takes part in GreenChill and reduces their emissions, they will be prepared regardless of what legislation comes down.”
Banks pointed out that another benefit of upgrading refrigeration technology is that it results in less shrinkage and improved freshness of perishables.