A U.S. grocery store's eggs and dairy section. The CEO of Axiom Cloud believes grocery stores and others in the U.S. will inevitably move to natural refrigerants.
Photo via Sorbis for Shutterstock.

Transition to Natural Refrigerants in the U.S. Is ‘Inevitable,’ Says Axiom Cloud CEO

According to Amrit Robbins, in addition to HFC phase-down regulations, a new SEC rule is also driving the transition.

The transition to natural refrigerants in the U.S. food retail and cold storage sectors is “inevitable” as businesses face tightening regulation of HFC refrigerants and growing pressure to cut emissions, Amrit Robbins, CEO of California-based refrigeration management software provider Axiom Cloud, told NaturalRefrigerants.com in a recent interview.

Amrit Robbins, CEO of Axiom Cloud
Amrit Robbins, CEO of Axiom Cloud

“There seems to be a growing acceptance among industry stakeholders that we are on an inevitable path toward natural refrigerants,” he said. “Many U.S. companies tend to resist change in refrigeration practices, but I think that natural refrigerants are now overcoming this initial industry resistance.”

According to Robbins, in the U.S. alone some 40,000 retail and cold storage facilities will need to be converted to low-GWP refrigerants over the coming decades as the country works to phase down the consumption of HFCs under the American Innovation and Manufacturing (AIM) Act.

Additionally, a new rule from the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) will require publicly traded companies to disclose Scope 1 and Scope 2 emissions they deem “material” to their businesses starting in 2026.

“HFC leaks drive a large amount of Scope 1 [direct] emissions, which cause these companies to have an outsized climate impact,” he said. “Companies in our industry will look bad if they do not get [HFC] leak rates under control before SEC reporting. This may negatively impact ESG [Environmental, Social and Governance] metrics, damage shareholder perception and increase regulator scrutiny.”

On a federal level, the Envrionmental Protection Agency (EPA) has proposed a rule requiring operators of HFC refrigeration equipment to repair and report leaks. At the state level, a recently enacted law requires operators in Washington to do the same, with New York proposing a similar rule as part of its revised HFC regulations.

With negligible GWPs, natural refrigerants offer a future-proof alternative to HFCs.

Additional regulation needed

While the sector is set to move in the direction of natural refrigerants, the shift will be a gradual one, Robbins noted, with end users unlikely to adopt them until regulation requires them to do so.

“Rather than leapfrogging directly to natural refrigerants, many [end users] are deploying ‘stepping stone’ refrigerants – such as HFC-HFO blends – in the near-term,” he said. “I anticipate that this trend will continue until the stepping stone refrigerants are more heavily regulated also.”

In Europe, five countries – Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands, Norway and Sweden – are working to restrict the use of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) under REACH (Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals), the EU’s chemicals regulation, which would limit the use of some HFCs and HFOs.

Enhancing NatRef systems

“End user stakeholders disagree on the merits and drawbacks of natural refrigerants, especially related to energy efficiency and reliability,” said Robbins.

However, with the use of Axiom Cloud’s services, operators of natural refrigerant-based systems can enhance the performance of their refrigeration equipment, he added.

“When our software constructs a model of a facility, it autonomously identifies systems using natural refrigerants and focuses on capturing the critical data specific to those systems,” he explained. “This process allows our software services, including predictive maintenance and energy efficiency modules, to accurately reflect the system’s characteristics and provide valuable system insights.”

Axiom released its Early Leak Detection (ELD) software for HFC refrigerants in 2023 after testing it in more than 200 locations in the U.S., including Sprouts Farmers Market, Grocery Outlet and HelloFresh. Robbins noted that the company is currently rolling out a version of the software in multiple facilities with natural refrigerant-based systems and has plans for a “formal release” in the coming year.

Axiom recently announced that it secured $5 million (€4.58 million) in funding to support an accelerated rollout of its ELD software.

While its cloud-based software is currently only installed in North America, Axiom has some “big announcements” for end users outside the region “coming soon,” he added.

“Many U.S. companies tend to resist change in refrigeration practices, but I think that natural refrigerants are now overcoming this initial industry resistance.”

Amrit Robbins, CEO of Axiom Cloud

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