Coca-Cola to approve 9 models of CO2 vending machine - exclusive interview

By Janaina Topley Lira, Aug 21, 2012, 15:47 6 minute reading interviewed Steven Cousins, Director - Immediate Consumption Equipment Governance, The Coca-Cola Company, at ATMOsphere America 2012, about the Company's commitment to using the natural refrigerant CO2 in its North American business. By the end of the year Coca-Cola expects to have approved 9 models of vending machine using CO2, although the challenge of finding transcritical CO2 What is the status of Coca-Cola's HFCs free vending machine roll-out? 
Steven Cousins: Our commitment is to acquire, by the very end of 2015, all new vending machines using a natural refrigerant. The commitment for the Coca-Cola North American business is that the natural refrigerant should be CO2.
In order to achieve that 2015 goal, we are working with our authorised providers. In this case we work with our vending machine manufacturers, on those models that Coke has authorised, or certified, performance wise.
This year, we have so far already approved four vending machines with CO2 refrigerant. We expect, before the end of this year, to approve 9 models of vending machine using CO2 refrigerant among the most common models that we purchase.
Those machines are both the solid door, zone-cooled machines as well as the shelf-styled, glass-front machines. I make a distinction because those machines are dramatically different in their refrigeration requirements. The shelf-styled machines are fully cooled machines with more refrigerated space inside those cabinets; and building a machine that meets those refrigerating and energy requirements is difficult.
However this year, we will have approved for purchase at least two glass-front machines using CO2 refrigerant, and the work will continue in 2014-2015. By 2015, all those cabinets that we traditionally buy will use CO2 refrigerant. The Coca-Cola Company is a global brand. What challenges have you encountered regarding introducing HFCs free vending machines across your business?
Steven Cousins: The challenges are somewhere different depending on the region. We do not have a vending machine market in every country around the world, for a variety of reasons. 
Our refrigeration choice is CO2. One challenge that we have is that the commercial components, to operate transcritical CO2, are not widely available yet in all refrigerating capacities.
For example, we cannot find a CO2 compressor that covers the entire range of refrigerating capacities that we have in our vending community. However, we think we will overcome that challenge. We have agreements with a compressor manufacturer, who plans to develop a compressor that will cover this range. So even if there are gaps for now, we trust that, in a year or two, there will be a component that will fill those gaps.
Another problematic component is the expansion valve for the refrigeration system. When you look at our vending machine HFC refrigeration systems now, the electronic expansion valves or thermostatic expansion valves are pretty commonplace. Those cost-effective expansion valves for transcritical CO2 do not exist commercially yet. There are some that have been tested but they are not really cost-effective, at least by our definition of cost-effective. They are not in the ball-park of what you have with HFC. But hopefully things will change.
A third challenge is getting to a point where our supplier community understands what the statutory requirements are and are able to adjust and build the systems that meet these requirements. I am talking about the UL requirements, as well as what the EPA is working on to make sure there is a clearance to use natural refrigerants. We are not quite there yet. What impact do you think the SNAP approval for household and small commercial stand-alone refrigerators and freezers is going to have?
Steven Cousins: It was Coca-Cola who did the SNAP submission for R744 in vending machines. When a SNAP approval takes place, the impact for us is the ability to place a lot more machines. Our current test exemptions fix our limit of machine placements for this year to only a few hundred. We really need that SNAP approval so that we can install new machines going forward. You have made a commitment to phase out HFCs. Do you foresee a future phase down of HFCs in terms of the Montreal Protocol or in Europe with the F-Gas regulation? Do you think that is where we are heading?
Steven Cousins: With regard to the United States, I think we would love to see a phase down of HFCs but there are legislative challenges here that make that very difficult.
We, as a business, are committed to phase-out HFCs but the exercise is a lot easier when we are not the only ones doing this. When there are other players, a momentum is generated that makes the transition more cost-effective and a lot easier for all of us.
So we would love to see a phase down. How easy it will be, here, in the United States, time will tell. We have the benefit of our partners in the “Refrigerants Naturally!” consortium. And our U.S. members in the United Nations Consumer Goods Forum. But despite all of our intentions, I think right now the climate for that is difficult. What do you think will be the turning point for natural refrigerants to become mainstream in small-scale applications such as your vending machines? 
Steven Cousins: I think that the real turning point will take place when there is more movement not so much on the commercial side, but on the domestic side. Household refrigerators far outnumber commercial refrigerators. And I have talked already about the challenges regarding the commercial components. Our vending machines share lots of components with domestic refrigerators. You will find the same components in a domestic refrigerator as in a merchandiser or a cooler.
If things happen on the domestic front, it will bring progress for all of us. To that end, we would like to see the white goods industry step forward and provide something with natural refrigerants. We know that white goods manufacturers are planning natural refrigerants product lines in the future and we would like to see that happen. What was your general impression of ATMOsphere America 2012? What are the key messages you took away from the event?
Steven Cousins: One of the most positive things that we have heard was with regards to supermarket refrigeration, where things are starting to accelerate. The curve showing that CO2  systems installation is increasing. 
And we have learned that it is cost-effective to retrofit existing systems with natural refrigerants, such as for example, to use CO2 in the secondary system. It is more cost effective to do that than to buy new systems. Seeing how those who have installed such systems explain that it is no more expensive than the previous generation, well that's good news, and a very positive message to take away from the conference. Thank you!


By Janaina Topley Lira

Aug 21, 2012, 15:47

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