Last week, I attended the Food Industry Association’s Energy & Store Development Conference – better known as “E&SD” – in Orlando, Florida. 

The conference, which has not been held in person for three years, offered grocery retailers and HVAC&R leaders an opportunity to come together to talk and learn about issues and trends impacting the industry. While attending expert-led, in-person education sessions and engaging in conversations with attendees, several important themes related to refrigerant use were evident:

  1. Technician shortages and readiness have a real impact on refrigeration system maintenance. The gap between technicians leaving the field and those entering the profession is widening. Finding qualified technicians is a growing concern, particularly for retailers with newer and more complicated CO2-based systems. Paul Anderson, VP of Design for H-E-B, told us in an interview earlier this year: By increasing the complexity of the refrigeration equipment, the system becomes more vulnerable to breakdowns… I recommend that before you install a transcritical CO2 system, make sure you have the contractors, technicians, and internal teams in place to support it. Read more.
  2. CO2-based systems have significant limitations. Several breakout sessions focused on the low-GWP benefits of CO2. But, when attendees asked about the practical considerations of installing a CO2-based system, it became obvious that transitioning to CO2 is far from painless. One speaker even acknowledged that converting from an HFC system to a CO2-based system requires “changing out all the parts” and that “the process can take more than two years.” For more about the limitations of CO2, check out this explainer video.
  3. EPA regulatory priorities and positions continue to evolve. The EPA’s Chief of Alternatives and Emissions Reduction provided an update on the AIM Act and its implementation. In response to a question about PFAS and the toxicity risks of TFA, she clarified that “chemicals classified as PFAS have very different profiles and toxicity risks.” That is why, for purposes of regulation, it is critical to draw distinctions between PFAS with environmentally persistent properties and those without them – such as low-GWP HFCs and HFOs. Peer-reviewed research published last year shows that TFA from HFO refrigerants poses a negligible risk to human and ecosystem health.
  4. The HVAC&R industry has embraced – and led – the transition to lower-GWP refrigerants. There was much discussion during panel presentations and among attendees about newer, lower-GWP refrigerant options. And, just as the conference was concluding, the U.S. Senate ratified the Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol. With this action, the U.S. has joined more than 130 other nations in advancing the global phase down of HFCs. From what I heard on the ground at E&SD, it is clear that the industry shares the same commitment to building a more sustainable future with innovative, new-generation solutions.