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Low GWP 101: Q&A 

article Published on 2023-02-06

Grady McAdams, Director of Cold Storage Sales at Heatcraft has 35 years of experience helping lead cold storage and refrigeration projects all over the country. And now, as the technological and regulatory landscape around HFCs shifts, and low Global Warming Potential solutions continue to emerge, he’s become an expert in helping businesses transition to green tech. In this Q&A, we asked Grady five questions to essential to understanding low GWP.

What is Global Warming Potential and why is it important to know in the refrigeration industry?

In short, global warming potential is the measure the EPA uses to determine a refrigerant’s impact on global warming, and it’s a factor that can’t be ignored in our industry today. If you look at global warming or climate change, it’s dramatically changing the way we live. I live in the Pacific Northwest, and the record for consecutive 90-degree days in late summer was three. Last year it surpassed seven days in a row. Whether it’s high heat and drought, or storm intensity and flooding, it impacts people. And we have a responsibility to do everything we can to lower the impact in the future and certainly low GWP solutions are part of that equation.

From a business standpoint, the change to low GWP refrigerants is being driven by the regulatory environment we’re seeing in states like California, what we know is coming down the line from the Environmental Protection Agency and what we’re expecting the future to look like in U.S. Climate Alliance states and beyond. But even before that, we had customers looking into low GWP because they wanted to go green and knew it could benefit their business.

Why is it smart for businesses to adopt low GWP technology?

For most of the larger projects that we’re involved in, the stakeholders aren’t looking at 10-to-15-year lifecycle for equipment, they’re looking at 20-to-25-year lifecycles. They’re already thinking about how they’re going to support these systems down the road, and in the case of low GWP refrigerants, and specifically CO2 systems, they know they are going to be safe from any regulatory shift since CO2 carries a GWP of 1.

And I think though the broader equation, CO2 can be an incredibly efficient refrigerant. It’s a high-pressure refrigerant which means you get good free heat if you need to heat water for production facilities. If you need to heat an underfloor in a freezer you get that benefit. It has great energy efficiency which can help to reduce total cost of ownership over time, so it really is a versatile and smart way to go if you’re looking into low GWP systems.

How do you go about assessing total cost of ownership for a low GWP system?

There are several ways. One is we look at the up-front cost of the equipment, and yes, a CO2 system is going to cost a little more up front than a traditional HFC system, but over time the cost differential has continued to decrease as the availability of CO2 components has increased. Those margins have narrowed considerably. You can also have some savings on some of your material costs with CO2 as well.

But what we’re really looking at is the long-term efficiency with low GWP technology. Depending on the location – such as ambient locations which are ideal for CO2 – we’ve seen energy reductions as much as 50%. We can make those projections against an HFC system and give a reliable long-term energy savings outlook, which reduces cost over time.

Are there any safety concerns with going from an HFC system to a CO2 system?

Factors like flammability and toxicity can certainly be of concern depending on your application usage for other low GWP refrigerants like propane or ammonia, but not for CO2. It’s just another reason why it’s an ideal candidate for anyone considering making the transition to low GWP technology.

CO2 is non-flammable and non-toxic. Aside from fire hazard concerns, if toxic refrigerants leak, it can be dangerous for building occupants. If CO2 refrigerant leaks, the gas itself isn’t toxic for people who may come into contact with it. It can, however, displace oxygen if the building lacks proper ventilation so that would be something we’d address in the installation phase to eliminate any risks.

What is the learning curve as far as understanding the low GWP regulations and technology?

The regulatory environment is changing rapidly, and we expect that to continue in states across the U.S. over the next decade, so it’s important to investigate where your state stands and what’s on the horizon so you can best prepare for compliance. At Heatcraft we have our finger on the pulse of low GWP regulations are happy to help educate our customers on what is going to make the most sense for their business based on where they operate.

But also, there is quite a bit to learn about the technology, too! That’s another benefit of having a partner in the low GWP journey who is conducting the engineering, building the products and can take you step-by-step through what you’ll need for each application.

If you’re interested in learning more about low GWP, consult one of our experts at Heatcraft or download our brochure.