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Refrigeration is necessary for storing and transporting food and pharmaceuticals but is also used in data centers, research facilities, and sports arenas. It keeps our food fresh, prevents computer servers from overheating, and enables nuclear research.
The Covid-19 pandemic changed the world in many ways, one of which is the astronomical growth in online grocery shopping. Monthly consumer spending on online groceries has doubled since before the pandemic, and that level of convenience has become the new normal for many shoppers. In the US in 2020, 79% of shoppers were ordering their groceries online, up from 19% the year before.
Cold storage applications vary from items that need to stay chilled, like fruits and veggies, all the way to “ultracold” storage for medicines and vaccines. These facilities represent a significant investment, and a new cold storage warehouse can cost around twice as much to construct as a regular warehouse. Cooling processes alone can account for 60-70% of the electricity demands, with frozen warehouses using 30% more electricity than chilled (per capacity unit).
Source: My Climate Journey
Refrigerants seem to involve a lot of trial and error, at the unfortunate expense of the environment in most cases. Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) were developed in response to early refrigerants that [killed people](https://gml.noaa.gov/hats/publictn/elkins/cfcs.html#:~:text=Refrigerators in the,and Du Pont.) when they leaked. Chemists succeeded in creating safe substances to use around people, but they also created something that was also destroying the ozone layer. To our credit, once it was discovered that CFCs were eating away the ozone layer, the world quickly came together to ban them.
Hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) were developed to replace CFCs and be safe for the ozone layer, but it turns out that one molecule of HFC can absorb thousands of times more heat than a molecule of CO2 (depending on the formula, up to almost 15,000 times more!). So now, the EU and the US are also working to phase out HFCs.
What are the other options?
The entire RAC sector (refrigeration and air conditioning) accounts for about 10% of global emissions and uses 17% of global electricity. In developing countries, cooling can consume as much as 30% of all electricity used. The demand for electricity in the cooling sector is expected to triple by 2050.