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European Vending Association Position Paper On Refrigerants

Posted On: 1/26/2010

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BRUSSELS, Belgium -- The European Vending Association has published a position paper on R-134a and carbon dioxide refrigerant gases. The association explained that a recent regulation banning the use of HFC (hydrofluorocarbon) gases in the automobile industry has made it desirable to review vending industry refrigeration technology.

According to EVA, there are 4.6 million vending machines and pure water dispensers equipped with refrigeration systems presently in use in the European Union. Their refrigeration systems use R-134a gas. Much of this equipment probably will remain in use through 2030, based on its typical life cycle.

While some tests have been conducted on machines fitted with refrigeration systems that use CO2 as the refrigerant gas, no such equipment presently is made for use in Europe, EVA reported. A difficulty with designing vending equipment cooled with CO2 is that the gas must be held at much higher pressures than the synthetic gases introduced in the first half of the 20th century.

The usual way to deal with the challenge this presents is to cool the CO2 with a separate refrigeration system. This increases the size of the machine substantially, EVA pointed out; and that would have consequences that must be anticipated.

"The first issue would be waste treatment, which would increase proportionally according to the size of the machine," the association explained. Vending machines in the European Union are regulated under the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) directive, which requires an infrastructure for recycling them.

Second, the supplementary cooling system would increase the machine's energy consumption, EVA observed. And, finally, current CO2 refrigeration systems cannot be installed in existing equipment as replacements for the sealed HFC units now in universal use. The association noted, delicately, that "cost efficiency would not be optimal" if all existing refrigerated equipment had to be replaced.

The European Vending Association is committed to the environment, the position paper emphasizes, and the industry would not be opposed to adopting alternative refrigerants if they were safe and economically viable.

The association represents the vending industry in the European Union and its member nations.

A Moving Target

Mechanical refrigeration systems became practical early in the 20th century, and found widespread use in food storage and transportation. Ammonia and carbon dioxide found favor as refrigerants, and gaseous hydrocarbons like methane also were used.

There were objections to all of them -- toxicity, flammability and the need for very high pressures -- and the invention of chlorofluorocarbon gas (CFC) in the 1920s was hailed as a great breakthrough in convenience and safety. CFCs came under fire three decades ago, when it was found that they tend to attack the ozone layer that protects the earth's surface from excess ultraviolet radiation.

New formulations -- first the hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs), then hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), which break down in the lower atmosphere and so do not attack ozone -- were adopted.

The alarm currently felt in some circles over the probability that humans are contributing to a warmer climate by increasing the atmospheric concentration of "greenhouse" gases (which trap the heat of the sun) is leading to another round of regulation. HFCs are greenhouse gases. So, too, are the hydrocarbons (like propane and methane), and so is carbon dioxide; but it is felt in some circles that "natural" refrigerants are more benign than engineered substances like HFC gases.