Walmart Stores' James McClendon participated in NASRC's panel discussion on CO2 refrigerant supply at ATMO America 2023.
Walmart Stores' James McClendon participated in NASRC's panel discussion on CO2 refrigerant supply at ATMO America 2023.

ATMO America: NASRC Projects U.S. Demand for CO2 Refrigerant to Quadruple by 2027

To meet the growing demand for CO2, the sector must secure the supply of R744, address leak rates and come to a consensus on purity grades, says the North American Sustainable Refrigeration Council.

The demand for CO(R744) refrigerant in the U.S. is projected to reach 13 million lbs (5.9 million kg) by 2027, up from just 3 million lbs (1.4 million kg) in 2023, according to a survey conducted by the North American Sustainable Refrigeration Council (NASRC).

To meet this growing demand, issues affecting the supply of R744 must be addressed to ensure the retailers that are planning to invest in CO2-based refrigeration systems are able to proceed.

“[The demand for CO2] is expected to increase exponentially over the next five years,” said Danielle Wright, Executive Director of the NASRC. “We are about to see demand ramp up, but in order to realize this level of adoption, we need to secure the supply of CO2 and address the leak rates and other constraints to give retailers the confidence to move forward with their plans.”

“[The demand for CO2] is expected to increase exponentially over the next five years… but in order to realize this level of adoption, we need to secure the supply of CO2 and address the leak rates and other constraints to give retailers the confidence to move forward with their plans.”

Danielle Wright, NASRC

Wright delivered her remarks during a panel discussion she moderated at the ATMOsphere (ATMO) America Summit 2023 on natural refrigerants. The conference took place June 12–13 in Washington, D.C., and was organized by ATMOsphere, publisher of R744.com.

The NASRC’s Danielle Wright, presenting on CO2 refrigerant supply at ATMO America 2023
The NASRC’s Danielle Wright, presenting on CO2 refrigerant supply at ATMO America 2023

The session looked at the challenges and strategies associated with securing the supply of CO2 refrigerant, including purity-level requirements and minimizing leak rates.

The panel was made up of James McClendon, Director of Energy Efficiency at Walmart Stores; Scott Ercole, Vice President of Technical Sales at CoolSys; and Derek Gosselin, Director of Technical Product Support at Hillphoenix, which is part of Dover Food Retail.

A ‘perfect storm’

Over the last few years, there has been a “perfect storm” that has led to a shortage of COacross all business sectors, said McClendon.

This has resulted from issues on both the supply and demand side, the panel said.

Issues include the reduced production of CO(which is typically an industrial byproduct), purity requirements and testing limitations, cylinder availability, disparities between where CO2 is produced and where it is consumed, and high system leak rates.

Expanding the grade of R744

R744 classification requires specific purity and moisture content, which can limit the market, explained McClendon. Typically, R744 must have a purity of 99.99% and a moisture content of less than 10ppm.

Impurities, such as hydrocarbons, oxygen and nitrogen, can impact system operation, and moisture can lead to pipework’s freezing and corroding.

But according to data shared by McClendon during his presentation, CO2 grades with 99.9% purity and 20ppm moisture do not appear to offer increased risk of corrosive activity or freezing.

“If we can expand the commodity class of CO2, we can minimize volatility in the supply chain,” he said. “This will give users [more] leveraging power in a broader market.”

“If we can expand the commodity class of CO2, we can minimize volatility in the supply chain. This will give users [more] leveraging power in a broader market.”

James McClendon, Walmart Stores

“We need to open up the supply a little bit,” added Wright. “Getting out of this niche market is really important.”

To enable this, Ercole called on OEMs to develop a common CO2 purity standard for clearer guidance.

Reducing leak rates

The primary drivers of refrigerant leaks are power outages, relief valve issues, system start-ups, servicing and a lack of reclaim equipment, detailed Wright during her presentation.

“[Leak rates are] a major issue that needs to be addressed,” she said. “If we could contain the CO2 and not blow the charge, we could cut this need in half.”

According to Ercole, a large part of the problem is that during servicing, CO2 is “vented” – i.e., intentionally released into the atmosphere – rather than reclaimed due to a lack of suitable equipment.

In addition to requiring more CO2 to recharge the system, this has also created the misconception that COsystems have a higher leak rate than other system, he added.

Projecting CO2 refrigerant demand

To get a clearer understanding of where the domestic R744 market is going, the NASRC surveyed 13 retailers that represent 18,000 stores in the U.S.

The survey captured several data points, including existing CO2 systems, planned COsystems (both new-build and retrofit) and average charge per system.

Based on the data collected, the NASRC has forecasted that over the next five years, demand for R744 will grow exponentially.

“And this is just a drop in the bucket for overall CO2 demand,” said Wright.

More information gathered by NASRC during its survey will be shared in its upcoming CO2 Survey Report, she added.

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