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Monday November 4, 2013 MYT 12:00:00 AM
Monday November 4, 2013 MYT 9:20:23 AM
Hydrofluoro-carbons (HFCs), a class of compounds used in commercial refrigeration and air-conditioning units, are potent greenhouse gases. - Reuters
There are ways to cool foods without frying the planet.
Banning the use of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) – super greenhouse gases used in refrigeration – in supermarkets would be one of the cheapest and most effective ways to reduce greenhouse gases.
The London-based non-profit Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) called on European Union member states to push for strong and ambitious measures in the current review of its F-Gas Regulation governing HFCs.
“It’s time to act. We know that banning HFCs from new commercial refrigeration equipment is not only possible but could be a boost for European industry. At the same time, the alternative technologies are demonstrating energy efficiency gains too, providing a double win for the climate,” said EIA senior campaigner Clare Perry.
Commercial refrigeration represents a significant proportion of HFC emissions, as the HFC chemicals are potent greenhouse gases which regularly leak from large refrigeration equipment.
Replacement technologies primarily relying on carbon dioxide and hydrocarbons are increasingly cost-effective, and upfront costs are expected to fall further as production volumes are increased.
“We have seen a few slightly hysterical comments from the chemical industry about how much moving away from their HFC products would cost – they are simply trying to protect their profits, nothing more,” said Perry.
Indeed, change is already happening. EIA’s latest survey of the supermarket sector – Chilling Facts V – revealed that supermarket chains across the EU, and particularly in Britain, were moving away from HFCs towards natural refrigerants.
It found a 24% rise in the past year in HFC-free or hybrid systems in British stores (a total of 428). Across Europe as a whole, the 21 supermarket chains surveyed had 589 hybrid cooling systems and more than 1,000 HFC-free stores.
EIA is calling on the EU member states to support measures to introduce a tight cap on the amount of HFCs which can be put on the market, and to ban their use in all areas where safe, energy-efficient alternatives are available, like commercial refrigeration.
The report also disclosed that the United States’ 12 largest supermarkets and retailers are failing to curb their HFC emissions, adding large amounts of greenhouse gases to the environment. EIA examined 12 retailers, including Costco, Whole Foods Markets, Target, Wal-Mart and the Delhaize Group.
“The results from the survey are not just disappointing but shocking, given that climate-friendly alternative technologies are available in the marketplace,” said EIA president Allan Thornton.
Some US retailers are taking steps to reduce their HFC emissions.
Whole Foods is opening an HFC-free store in Brooklyn later this year, and several stores have moved towards using a combination of HFCs and natural refrigerants in their cooling systems.
Wal-Mart has 125 outlets using the hybrid technology. But all 12 stores lag far behind their counterparts in Canada, Japan and the European Union, the EIA said.
The largest retailer in the US, Wal-Mart, says it’s taking steps to reduce its overall emissions.
“Eighty percent of our direct GHG (greenhouse gas) footprint comes from the energy used to power our buildings, including HVAC, lighting and refrigeration. By designing whole-system refrigeration solutions, we are working to address both the refrigerant gas pollution and the energy intensity of these systems,” said Christopher Schraeder, senior manager of sustainability communications.
Unlike refrigerants like chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs), HFCs don’t deplete the ozone layer, because they don’t include chlorine. But they are greenhouse gases with the potential to contribute to global warming, said Robert Rhew, an atmospheric scientist and professor at the University of California-Berkeley.
“HFCs rank sixth in terms of the human-produced greenhouse gases, after carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, HCFCs and CFCs,” Rhew said. “But they are rapidly increasing in the atmosphere, about 10% to 15% per year, and will therefore become an ever-greater greenhouse (force).”
The impact of HFCs on the environment depends on which type is emitted, as some HFCs are worse for the environment than others, Rhew said.
“If we can replace the current mix of HFCs with those with much shorter atmospheric lifetimes (they break down in the atmosphere more readily), then the impact can be minimised,” Rhew said.
The US Environmental Protection Agency estimates that leakage from an average supermarket refrigeration system is 1,556 tonnes of CO2 emissions a year, which is the equivalent of the greenhouse gas emissions of 324 passenger cars.
HFC is the fastest-growing greenhouse gas, and by 2050, will make up 9% of global CO2 emissions, according to EIA. — EIA/Capital News Service/McClatchy Tribune Information Services
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