How Does Refrigerant Management Help Save the Environment?

The COVID pandemic and ambitious drive to vaccinate the global population made the capacity and integrity of the cold chain as part of supply chain management even more important.

Every day, billions of tons of cargo move around the world by sea, air, rail and road. Much of this cargo is food, beverages and pharmaceuticals that require temperature-controlled transportation to prevent spoilage.

A temperature-controlled supply chain is often called the “cold chain,” a series of refrigerated production, transportation, storage and distribution activities that maintain and monitor a consistent and correct temperature appropriate to the item being transported. For example, fish products must be transported at -18°C, meat and fresh dairy products at + 6 °C while fresh fruit and vegetables need temperatures between 0°C to 16°C depending on the type. Any deviation, however minor, can destabilize the safety of the goods, force an expensive recall and/or result in spoilage and waste. It is estimated that over 1.3 billion tons of food products are wasted every year with a carbon footprint of around 3.3 billion tons of CO2.

The COVID pandemic and ambitious drive to vaccinate the global population made the capacity and integrity of the cold chain even more important. (Read People, Processes, and Tools: How Industrial Scientific and Intelex are Securing the Vaccine Cold Supply Chain.”)

mRNA-based vaccines carry significant temperature constraints during transportation in order to maintain their effectiveness. The Moderna vaccine needs a temperature of -20°C for storage and transportation, but the Pfizer vaccine requires a temperature of -70°C, chillier than the cold chain is accustomed to handling. The low temperature requirements for the logistics of these life-saving vaccines required significant alterations to the cold chain, which contributed to the delay of vaccine distribution in many counties.

The Cold Chain’s “Triple-Whammy” Effect on the Environment

Moving cargo around the world by sea, air, rail and road accounts for more than 6% of global green-house gas emissions. Even, ships at sea, the most popular and efficient mode of cargo transport emit over 1 billion tons of CO2 every year, almost 3% of total global CO2 emissions. And direct carbon emissions due to transportation are not the whole story: More than 90% of fruits and vegetables, 100% of meat and poultry products as well as 80% of pharmaceuticals require temperature-controlled logistics which creates an additional burden on the environment.

Refrigeration and air conditioning during transportation and storage relies on chemical compounds that destroy the ozone layer, and/or have extremely high Global Warming Potential (GWP). The GWP of hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs) and hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) compounds most used as refrigerants is 1,000 to 9,000 times greater than carbon dioxide. Carbon generation from transport, ozone depletion and high-GWP refrigerants in the cold chain are the “triple whammy” effect on the environment. In response, almost every country around the world is creating aggressive regulations to limit the use of HCFC’s and HFC’s while fast tracking the approval of low-GWP replacements such as ammonia, hydrocarbons, carbon dioxide, HFOs and HFC blends.

Growth in Regulations for the Cold Chain

There are different types of regulations affecting the cold chain. First, almost every country, state or operating jurisdiction has their own set of rules and regulations for the transportation and storage of perishable food, beverages and drugs. Most cold chain food regulations in the United States come from the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) of 2017. Failure to comply with FSMA rules can result in imprisonment, fines up to $250,000 for individuals or $500,000 for organizations. Internationally, the ISO 23412:2020 standard regulates the refrigerated delivery of all temperature-sensitive goods from source to destination, whether it’s by land, sea or air. Another example are the specific regulations for the handling and storage of temperature sensitive drugs and life science products as laid out by the FDA in 21 CFR 203.32.

The other type of cold chain regulation focuses on the environmental. Their goal is to monitor and reduce industry’s use of high-GWP refrigerants until more sustainable solutions become available. In 1987, an important multilateral environmental agreement – the Montreal Protocol – proposed the global phaseout of HCFC’s to prevent ozone depletion. Many countries quickly passed legislation to limit the use of HCFC’s in favor of HFC’s within their jurisdiction.

Then in 2016, the Kigali Amendment proposed the phaseout of HFC’s and the introduction of low-GWP alternatives. In 2015, the European Union set strict limits on the production and application of high-GWP hydrofluorocarbon (HFC) refrigerants, while in 2019, the United States passed the American Innovation and Manufacturing Act (AIM Act), which establishes a timetable for the phasing out of HFCs by 2036. The regulations surrounding cold chain logistics and refrigerants has driven many organizations that provide cold-chain logistics to adopt supply chain and refrigerant management solutions to stay in compliance.

Refrigerant Management Simplifies Compliance

Refrigerant management is all about education, awareness and proper handling of chemical refrigerants throughout their entire lifecycle; from production, transport and storage to the proper methods of reuse, recycling and disposal at end-of-life. About 90% of greenhouse gas emissions from refrigerants comes from leaking after disposal. And as global climate change accelerates and average temperatures increase around the world, more companies will require more HVAC and refrigerated transport to protect their supply chain.

Even after switching to low-GWP refrigerants, companies are required to monitor and prevent leaks of refrigerants wherever they are used, and then adopt proper disposal techniques to help prevent the emission of gigatons of greenhouse gases.

Refrigerant management software makes compliance easier. It keeps your organization up to date with constantly changing regulations across the globe, while delivering real-time visibility and insights into critical cold-chain operations. Learn more about how Intelex Refrigerant Management Software helps your organization stay compliant while saving you time and money.

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