Foodservice Equipment Reports
Editor's Take

SNAP Impacts Refrigerated Prep Tables

While researching refrigerated sandwich prep tables for our April Focus article, Senior Contributing Editor Mike Sherer heard a good amount from manufacturers about the impact of the new refrigeration rulings on product development in the near future, and I want to share what he learned. He wrote:

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced last August that as part of its Significant New Alternatives Policy (SNAP), refrigeration manufacturers have until Jan. 1, 2016, to transition from HFC refrigerants to low-global-warming-potential (GWP) alternatives. While it remains to be seen whether the EPA will hold to that date, the agency has finalized its approval of several alternative refrigerants. 

The objective of SNAP is to switch to refrigerants that have lower GWP. For example, GWP ratings on refrigerants commonly in use in foodservice currently are 1,430 for R-134a and 3,922 for R-404a. In late February, the EPA approved a list of hydrocarbon refrigerants; it also plans to approve a list of blends that are considered non-flammable, including CO2. The approved list included five (highly flammable) refrigerants, one of which is propane (R-290).

Long used in Europe, propane has distinct advantages as a refrigerant. Because it absorbs more heat than existing refrigerants, it’s about 30%-40% more efficient. And its GWP is a mere 3.3 vs. the 1,430 or 3,922 of traditional refrigerants. However, because it’s so flammable, the EPA set rules about how much can be used to charge a refrigerator: 150 grams, or a paltry 5.3 oz. That means it can be used only in units with short refrigeration lines, such as single-compressor reach-ins or refrigerated sandwich prep tables. 

In the case of prep tables, however, R-290 could be used only for forced-air or pumped-glycol units. Units that currently use mechanical refrigeration to proximity-cool food pans have refrigerant lines that are too long to use propane; they would have to use one of the new non-flammable refrigerants, which aren’t expected to be as energy efficient as propane. A combination of propane and glycol makes a highly efficient prep table, and several manufacturers are close to announcing new products, including refrigerated prep tables, that use R-290.

The EPA is likely a few years away from including refrigerated prep tables in its Energy Star program. But when it does, products using new refrigerants will be more energy efficient and environmentally friendly.

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