NRA Show: R290 mainly in America's R&D centres, not yet on the show floors

By Alexandra Maratou, May 09, 2012, 21:01 4 minute reading

While only very few propane bottle coolers, freezers or ice machines were actually displayed at the largest US restaurant trade show, a growing number of companies confirm market readiness for HFC-free solutions now or in the near future as interest from North American customers is rising quickly. has met America’s leading suppliers at the National Restaurant Association (NRA) trade show in Chicago to ask them about their plans to go “HFC-free”. + PHOTOS

At the NRA, meeting point of the restaurant and food & beverage industry, exhibitors from 100 countries showcased their solutions in more than 900 product categories. Of these only around 40 technology providers in the field of refrigeration equipment presented their ideas of how to preserve and present foodstuff in a safe, energy-efficient and appealing way. Some of those went public with their intention to help the North American market adopt the “green gas” or “natural refrigerant” R290 (propane), whereas others confirmed ongoing research activities driven by big customers’ demand for such solutions.

Leaders: R290 for iced drinks

true: The leading supplier of bottle coolers and freezer equipment showcased a complete hydrocarbon (HC) product range of freezers and bottle coolers at NRA, out of which it is currently field testing 10-12 units on the US-American market. The company confirmed that fast food chains such as Starbucks and McDonald’s are showing increased interest in the solutions. However, the dominant share for HFC-free solutions for now remains in Europe where “a lot” of units are currently sold to big consumer goods brands. As true's intention is to replace all R134a and R404A systems in the next 5 years with HC-based units, the company has started to convert those units to HFC-free that are sold the most and would therefore have the highest impact on transforming the markets. true confirmed that units are 15-20% more energy-efficient than HFC solutions, but that capital costs for the customer – also related to increased servicing costs due to a mandatory recovery of HCs – would still be higher.

Manitowoc: On 1 May 2012, Wisconsin-based Manitowoc released its new Indigo ice machine using R290 as a refrigerant. The unit displayed for the first time at the NRA is expected to consume 20-30% less energy than a comparable R404A system. Manitowoc will sell the units first in Europe where no legal restrictions apply and will then target Australia, South Africa and other countries, before returning to the US. Already this year, 10-20% of all ice machines sold in Europe are expected to be HFC-free ones; by 2015 Manitowoc aims for a 50-50 % split for the European market. As elsewhere, the push for R290 in the US has come from the biggest consumer goods brands, the company confirmed.

Electrolux: Major supplier of domestic and commercial refrigerators, Electrolux has a complete range of HC systems ready but struggles with the low charge limit set by the EPA SNAP approval which would make the adoption in large American-sized fridges challenging. Once the regulatory issues are solved, Electrolux will be proactively promoting these solutions, in line with its environmental stewardship that led to a listing on the Dow Jones Sustainability Index for several years in a row. Electrolux however did not display any HC systems at NRA.

UBC: Ukrainian supplier of bottle coolers / reach-in equipment UBC generates 30% of its business already with its “green gas” solution for major customers such as Heineken and Pepsi, but for now only on the European and Russian markets. The company tries to actively influence the market adoption of R290 systems and is now waiting for market demand from North America to expand its business. At this early stage, UBC did not bring any HC units to Chicago.

Followers: Hydrocarbon units under development

Infrico: Spanish provider of freezers Infrico confirms that a whole product range for R290 and R600a is currently being developed, with an expected launch in 2013. Infrico is mainly active in Europe, Middle East and Asia, with facilities in Miami and Chile.

Binzhou Sky Rainbow: The Chinese manufacturer of bottle coolers and small freezers only displayed HFC systems at NRA but confirmed current development activities for HC solutions with an expected launch date of August 2013. The products will then be sold on the European market first.

Mimet: Chilean producer of small freezers and coolers Mimet is ready for production of R290 units and hence waiting for interest from the US market. Mimet is also actively looking into CO2 as a natural refrigerant where tests have already started.

Beverage Air: US-based manufacturer of chillers, freezers and reach-in refrigeration equipment for now is still using only R134a and R404A in its systems. Following requests from various customers Beverage Air now has also started research into HC-based systems with no fixed launch date yet.

Hoshizaki: One of the world’s leading supplier of vending machines, dispensers and icemakers is now looking into both hydrocarbons and carbon dioxide as refrigerants – a trend mostly driven by large US fast food restaurants.

Master-Bilt: US manufacturer of ice cream freezers, walk-ins, display cases and refrigeration systems so far has no HC products on display but confirms to have “probably something in the future”.  


By Alexandra Maratou

May 09, 2012, 21:01

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