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Cold-chain chemistry: Chemours advances sustainable TRU refrigerant technology

May 17, 2022
Chemours advances sustainable TRU refrigerant technology with new low-GWP solutions

Refrigerated fleets seeking to reduce their carbon footprint now can do so whether they’re running Thermo King or Carrier Transicold transport refrigeration units (TRUs). Carrier Transicold began offering R-452A, a next-generation refrigerant with a low global warming potential (GWP), in December 2020 as a North American option for new and existing reefer equipment, and Thermo King said in January the refrigerant will be standard in all of its truck and trailer units by mid-year.

But who is behind this new refrigerant technology? Well, two companies in fact—Chemours and Honeywell, who have worked together to develop and produce hydrofluoroolefin (HFO) refrigerants like R-452A, the low-GWP alternative to R-404A for transport refrigeration equipment, and R-1234yf, which is a widely accepted global replacement for R134A in automotive air conditioning systems.

Honeywell, founded in 1906, is well-known in cold chain circles. Chemours, founded in 2015, is less recognizable—but its cold-chain heritage runs equally as deep. That’s because the company was spun off from DuPont—which was founded back in 1802—with sustainability as its top priority the same year in which DuPont merged with Dow Chemical to form DuPont de Nemours.

“We’re the business that effectively invented the refrigeration category, and we continue to be a leading innovator in the space across many applications,” said Alisha Bellezza, president of Chemours’ Thermal & Specialized Solutions business, who recently spoke to Refrigerated Transporter about Chemours’ legacy, the evolution of more sustainable refrigerants, and how it’s helping manufacturers and fleets go green.

Evolving technology

The company’s efforts date to the 1930s, when DuPont and General Motors combined their considerable resources to develop Freon as a fluorocarbon refrigerant that was safer and more effective than that era’s more toxic alternatives. And Bellezza says they’ve been working hard to improve and perfect the technology ever since. “The technology has evolved as the world learns more about the impacts of the chemistry, and how to get better chemistry that is just as effective, as far as cooling solutions, but with a much lower impact on the environment,” she said.

“So we went from CFC chemistry, or chlorofluorocarbons, to hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), and now, with our Opteon portfolio—a spin off from Freon—we’re focused on HFO technology. It features no ozone depletion and a lower global warming potential, and yet still achieves the efficiency and the effectiveness that is required in many different kinds of AC systems and insulated systems.”

Opteon XP44 is the trade name for Chemours’ R-452A refrigerant (Honeywell calls it Solstice 452A), which was developed in the company’s Newark, Del., Chemours Discovery Hub, where a staff of more than 400 scientists are dedicated to designing and testing advanced refrigeration technology.

According to Bellezza, equipping vehicles with Opteon refrigerants kept 100 million tons of CO2 from reaching the atmosphere between 2015 and 2020—the equivalent of taking 20 million cars off the road each year. “We all want to be good stewards of our world, so we can go outside and enjoy a green planet that isn’t overheated,” she said. “And that’s going to take the contributions of every person and company that can make an impact.

“That’s why there is growing visibility and scrutiny on each company’s CO2 footprint.”

Cold-chain concern

In addition to California Air Resources Board (CARB) standards, which require TRUs operating in California to use refrigerants with a GWP of 2200 or less—the GWP of R452A is 2140—starting in 2023, Bellezza pointed to the American Innovation and Manufacturing Act, which directs the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) HFC phasedown, and the European Union’s F-gas regulations as transition motivators.

“We’re pleased with the way the current administration is supporting climate policy, and getting the U.S. back in alignment on the global stage with the Kigali phasedown schedule for HFCs (under the 2016 Montreal Protocol),” Bellezza said. “That will have a dramatic impact across the space—and in this sector in particular.

“We need to be able to keep food fresh, we need our vaccines to stay cold, and we need other pharmaceuticals to be in temperature-controlled environments. But the amount of that traffic has increased over the decades. So it’s about being mindful of how each little step in the chain can end up resulting in an accumulation.

“But if we use the right solutions, we can minimize that environmental footprint, and show this sector can really make an impact.”

Chemours primarily partners with equipment manufacturers to promote its low GWP solutions, but Bellezza said the company also will work directly with fleet managers who want to improve the sustainability of existing refrigeration equipment. “We’re always open to having conversations about how we can help them retrofit,” she said, adding that XP44 is a good replacement option for certain older TRU models.

The chemical company isn't done advancing its technology either. Bellezza said Chemours’ Thermal & Specialized Solutions unit remains committed to developing ever more sustainable refrigerant solutions going forward. “We’re not resting on XP44,” she said. “We have the next-gen Opteon XL line, which we believe is the next opportunity to get GWP even lower—while still keeping the performance attributes required.

“Beyond that, we continue to look for innovation and opportunities that further enhance the technology.”

About the Author

Jason McDaniel

Jason McDaniel, based in the Houston TX area, has nearly 20 years of experience as a journalist. He spent 15 writing and editing for daily newspapers, including the Houston Chronicle, and began covering the commercial vehicle industry in 2018. He was named editor of Bulk Transporter and Refrigerated Transporter magazines in July 2020.

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