Retailers urged to speed up HFC phase-out

14th June 2017

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Eric Kidd

Supermarkets are at risk of higher costs from refrigeration systems using hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) as supply is slashed to meet new EU rules on the chemicals, which are potent greenhouse gases.

The warning comes from campaign groups the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA), which has been tracking retailers’ use of HFCs, and their uptake of more climate-friendly alternatives since 2008.

Since its last report in 2014, the EU F-gas regulation has come into force. This will cut HFC supply by around 48% in 2018, yet the take-up of HFC-free refrigeration is behind the pace needed to meet the EU’s HFC phase down, the EIA said.

HFC producers and suppliers are responding to anticipated shortages by significantly increasing the cost of the most harmful HFCs. HFC-404A, which is used by many retailers across the majority of their estates, has already seen a price hike of 62% in the first quarter of 2017, according to the EIA's report. The cost of HFC-134A and HFC-407A have increased by 32% in the same timeframe, it noted.

Although many supermarkets are adopting HFC-free technology, few are matching the level of uptake required to meet the phase-down, the EIA warned. A lack of understanding of the impact of this phase-down could leave retailers with ‘eye-wateringly high’ refrigerant bills, it said.

Clare Perry, head of EIA’s climate campaign, said: ‘European retailers stand out as global leaders in the adoption of HFC-free commercial refrigeration but, despite well-established and efficient HFC-free alternatives, the uptake across Europe is far short of the pace needed to meet the EU’s fast-acting HFC phase-down.’

In addition to soaring refrigerant bills, HFC shortages could lead to illegal trade in HFCs if there is still a heavy demand from retailers, she said. This was the case when hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs) were banned, she noted.

The HFC phase-out is also being driven by the 2016 Kigali Amendment on HFCs, an international accord under the Montreal Protocol committing signatories to reduce consumption and production of the chemicals, which are also used in air conditioning and aerosols.

The EIA has analysed use of HFC alternatives in refrigeration systems by 22 retailers based in EU member states, including in their global stores. Eight supermarkets, including Aldi-Süd (which operates in the UK), Tesco and Waitrose, have been identified as leading the field in rolling out alternatives to HFCs in their fridges.

Aldi-Süd had previously been criticised by the EIA for rolling out fridges that use CO2 instead of HFCs only in Germany, but is now installing CO2-based systems in all new stores in the UK and the Republic of Ireland, the campaign group noted.

However, the firm was chastised for not putting doors on its fridges to increase energy efficiency, as was Waitrose. Marks and Spencer has doors on fridges in less than one percent of stores. Tesco, however, has fridges with doors in much of its estate, including around 55% of those outside the UK.


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