As the world’s largest producer of ice cream, we will accelerate our roll-out of freezer cabinets that use climate-friendly (hydrocarbon) refrigerants. We have already purchased over 1 million units with the new refrigerant. Our target is to purchase 1.3 million by 2015.
A deliciously cool ice cream or a refreshing cold drink on a hot day might not seem like threats to the environment, but many refrigerants used in cold cabinets and other cold storage facilities have a high global warming potential (GWP).
Global warming is largely caused by carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere as a by-product of use of fossil fuels to generate electricity. Other gases cause similar effects, and their GWP is measured by comparing it with CO2 which has a GWP of 1. For example, the hydrofluorocarbons (HFC) often used as refrigerants have a GWP of more than 1,000.
Finding environmentally-friendly alternatives to such refrigerants is therefore an important priority in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. This is particularly the case for Unilever, being the global market leader in ice cream with around two million freezer cabinets at the point-of-sale. We have committed to using natural refrigerants, such as hydrocarbons (HC) (which have a GWP of less than 3), CO2, ammonia, water and air. All can be used as cooling agents in refrigerators and freezers; they don’t harm the ozone layer and have little or no impact on the environment.
Already, almost all our production facilities and cold stores use ammonia in their refrigeration systems. It has the added benefit of being very energy efficient for large-scale use, which helps reduce our environmental impact further. In 2011, we started a programme to accelerate the application of packaged water and glycol chillers using ammonia as refrigerant instead of HFC, together with key suppliers.
Our main target however focuses on our point-of-sale ice cream freezer cabinets. Cabinets are available in both horizontal and vertical formats, and we are focusing on replacing the refrigerant in the most common type, the horizontal cabinet, with new HC technology. It’s not as simple as just buying a new refrigerant and putting it in an existing cabinet, however. We have done a lot of work developing the technology, and are now implementing the roll-out. HC cabinets have the added benefit of being about 10% more energy efficient than traditional cabinets.
For technical and legislative reasons, we can’t replace all our cabinets with HC technology, however. We are therefore working with stakeholders, such as governments and NGOs, to bring about regulatory change such that new, greener technologies can be introduced. Moreover we are also looking at developing other alternatives.
In 2000, we committed to stop buying new HFC cabinets by 2005. Having proved the HC technology, we began replacing cabinets with this technology in 2004. By 2011 we had introduced over 1 million HC cabinets globally.
In 2008 Ben & Jerry’s made a Significant New Alternatives Policy (SNAP) application for the use of the climate-friendly refrigerant in ice cream cabinets in the US. The introduction of new refrigerants there is highly regulated, requiring formal approval by the Environmental Protection Agency through the SNAP programme.
In 2011, the US EPA approved the use of HC for our application up to a refrigerant charge of 150 grams. Almost all of our cabinets contain less than 150 grams. Our intention is to roll out HC cabinets as fast as possible into the US, pending appropriate training of the service personnel.
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