CO2 for CVS driving Japanese commercial refrigeration market

Amid a dramatic escalation in the number of natural refrigerant-based commercial refrigeration installations worldwide, new data shows Japan blazing a trail – from a starting point of just 190 systems in March 2014, the country now boasts over 1,500 stores using CO2 transcritical systems. The GUIDE Japan 2016, published on 28 June, identifies commercial refrigeration as the strongest growth area for natural refrigerant technology in Japan – with recent development driven almost exclusively by convenience stores (CVS). CVS have profited from an immense revamp in terms of refrigeration over the last two years. In March 2014, Japan had 190 stores using CO2 transcritical systems. Fast-forward to February 2016, and this number had increased nearly sevenfold. This was primarily driven by the adoption of CO2 solutions in CVS. The three largest convenience store franchise chains, Lawson, 7-Eleven and Family Mart, all have CVS that use CO2 technology, collectively accounting for 1,463 installations out of the three chains’ total of 41,085 CVS across Japan. While this amounts to just fewer than 4% of the three chains’ stores, the number is expected to increase dramatically in future. Indeed, CO2 refrigeration has been standard in all new Lawson stores since September 2014. Lawson currently has 1,300 natural refrigerant-based systems in operation, and their impressive rollout over the past two years shows that this number could quickly escalate. Other prominent Japanese retailers have also committed to converting their CVS to CO2 refrigeration, such as AEON under their Ministop brand, boosting future growth potential still further. In addition 7-Eleven, which has over 18,000 stores in Japan and installs around 1,500 CVS annually (including remodelled stores), has also spoken of the possibility of installing CO2 refrigeration in all of its model store showcases in the future. CO2 absent from larger stores However, this trend of CO2 transcritical installations in smaller shops does not extend to larger supermarkets, due to regulations in Japan that restrict the use of larger capacity package systems or ‘rack’ systems.

While European and North American supermarkets utilise CO2 systems that operate upwards of 200kW, the ‘High Pressure Gas Safety Act’ in Japan makes the use of similar equipment difficult due to safety concerns related to CO2’s high-pressure properties, which are seen as outdated, especially given that technology has moved on significantly since the act was first adopted. As a result of the Act, in order to use CO2 systems, Japanese supermarkets would have to employ multiple systems to achieve the desired cooling capacity.

Only 72 large supermarkets out of 20,015 in Japan use CO2 refrigeration systems and most of these were only introduced in 2014-2015 (although the first one was installed in 2009 by AEON).

Even though AEON is still steeped in difficult regulatory constraints, they are attempting to use CO2 in supermarkets. AEON’s 21,500 m2 General Merchandising Store in Chiba City serves as a great example of how the company is able to meet the requirements of the High Pressure Gas Safety Act, as 20 separate CO2 refrigeration systems are employed to provide cooling to the 144 CO2 showcase units in the store


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