CO2 quickly becoming the refrigerant of choice - Exclusive Interview Trey Cown

By Clémence Girard-Reydet, Jul 11, 2012, 14:45 7 minute reading caught up with Trey Cown, Vice President & General Manager at Hill PHOENIX during ATMOsphere America 2012 to find out about latest CO2 refrigeration trends in the US, key drivers for CO2 uptake by US retailers, and forecasts regarding future roll outs of CO2 technology. More and more customers are interested in CO2, awareness of the technology is high and the Hill PHOENIX Learning Center is helping to educate customers. What do you see are the prevailing trends in refrigeration in the US?

Trey Cown: In the US, demand for natural refrigerant solutions continues to increase, both among retail customers and our commercial industrial customers. This is driven primarily by customer’s internal sustainability initiatives, as well as the overall efficiency of natural refrigerant solutions such as CO2. Uncertainty regarding future regulatory changes is also a factor. Our acquisition of Advansor has elevated interest in CO2 booster systems in the US. As we continue to install more CO2 systems and their performance is demonstrated in the field, more customers have become interested in implementing, or at least learning about, CO2. When we receive UL (Underwriter’s Laboratories Inc.) approval for the booster system later this year, we expect to see more customers in the US and Canada implement this product as their all-natural solution. I see CO2 becoming the refrigerant and system of choice with a lot of our customers.

As demand continues to increase and people continue to learn about the advantages of natural refrigerants, new technologies will become more affordable and the return on investment will become even more attractive. In addition, CO2 component manufacturers (i.e., valves, compressors) are in the process of designing new products and seeking UL approval; that will have a positive impact on the cost of systems, as well. Our core competency is leveraging the tremendous and varied experience and expertise of our engineers and designers to develop these new technologies more quickly and more efficiently. We are able to produce a high quality product and support that product in the field through our Learning Center. What are your projections regarding the roll-out of CO2 in the next 2-5 years? How do you see the situation evolving?

Trey Cown: We continue to see a shift in our customer base to CO2 solutions, and I think that UL approval will reinforce customers willingness to look at booster systems as the next step to an all-natural refrigeration solution. Installations of CO2 secondary and cascade systems will continue to grow in number, and our R&D investments are aimed at delivering maximum efficiency through our CO2 offerings. What are the biggest drivers for that?

Trey Cown: Number one is energy efficiency. It’s a more energy efficient system when designed with that goal in mind. Number two it allows customers to reduce their carbon footprint. Many of our customers are part of the Consumer Goods Forum so they are already moving in that direction. Our plan is to continue to provide them with CO2 and other natural refrigerant solutions. So how to do you evaluate the awareness of CO2 within the customer base?

Trey Cown: Customers are very aware of it, and a lot of conversations are happening. CO2 frequently comes up during our customer and supplier meetings. We also work with retailers to help educate consumers, explaining the value to the shopper. Two specific examples are successful CO2 implementations are ShopRite and Sprouts. The hurdle for many customers is the upfront cost for a CO2 system, but once they get past that hurdle and focus on the ROI (return on investment) they see the value. It’s not a difficult decision once you get all the data in front of them. Once their first system is up and running, the picture usually becomes very clear. You talked a little bit about the upfront costs - can you expand on that? How do CO2 systems compare to traditional systems and what is the return on investment?

Trey Cown: With regard to traditional systems, our industry buys a lot of HFC system components. The volume and development cycle for these components drives the cost down. Many CO2 components are produced in fewer numbers at the present time, so we do not get the economies of scale since the initial development cost has to be recovered. For suppliers and manufacturers, the scalability is not there yet. But as the shift toward natural refrigerants continues, the cost will come down, and we will be able to offer these solutions with less of a premium over HFC systems. How much more expensive are CO2 systems in US?

Trey Cown: It is hard to pin point a percentage as it depends on what designs you are comparing, but there is some premium for the system at this point in time. However, this is usually offset because our customers are seeing considerable savings on installation, maintenance and operating costs. The payback more than offsets the up front premium, in most cases. There is also the intangible ROI that comes from be greener and attracting shoppers for whom environmental responsibility is important. Do you think there is a “wait and see” attitude among end-users? There are those who are willing to try CO2, but there are many who are holding back to see what happens. How do you deal with that and convince customers to invest in CO2?

Trey Cown: We use case studies and real customer experiences to show our customers the value in our CO2 solutions. We have some leading edge customers that are willing to share information with their competitors and let them see what can be achieved with this technology. Through our Learning Center, we are doing our best to ensure that the contractor base is trained to handle the installations and startup of these systems. This gives customers added peace of mind. We are also able to provide turnkey solutions for these technologies because we have been working with these technologies longer than most in the industry. If you had to formulate an action plan to bring CO2 faster to market what three key things need to happen over the next twelve months?

Trey Cown: We are working on that every day in our organization and our number one priority is getting UL approval on transcritical. This will speed the process for the booster systems solution. Second, we are continuing to refine all our CO2 offerings, including the booster system, to improve energy efficiency across the board. Third, we are working with our supplier base and with our customers to reduce the overall cost of the life cycle of our CO2 product offerings. Education of the contractor base and retailers is a major part ensuring that our customers get the benefits they should from a CO2 solution. You say that customers are aware of CO2, but do you think that they are also aware of the energy savings?

Trey Cown: Many have experienced the energy savings and most understand there should be energy savings, but there is not a lot of data out there that can be put in the hands of our customers. We are working to change that. We are producing case studies and white papers that document store energy savings within our installed base. So Hill PHOENIX doesn’t just sell customers the system it sells them a package with training?

Trey Cown: Yes. We provide that through our Learning Center, and a lot of our customers take advantage of that service. Hill PHOENIX launched the Learning Center in 2006. Since then we have trained over 13,000 industry professionals. What are the next steps for Hill PHOENIX?

Trey Cown: For us the next step is to continue to develop and refine our product offerings to meet our customers’ needs in terms of sustainability and efficiency. We want to continue to expand our product offerings with natural refrigerant solutions and low charge system technologies to make sure we are providing the highest return on investment for our customers using those products. What are you general impressions of ATMOsphere America 2012? What are the key messages that you are going to take away with you?

Trey Cown: This was a very good conference. My favorite part of ATMOsphere is that you have end users, OEMS, component manufacturers, engineers, consultants, governmental agencies, and environmental activists all sitting in a room together talking about how to grow natural refrigerant solutions. We all have slightly different interests, but we are at least speaking the same language in terms of natural refrigerants. Through collaboration with customers, we are able to impact the industry and provide more value. It is especially good for me to hear customers share their experiences and talk about the hurdles they face, many of which we can help them overcome. For me, as an OEM, it was great to hear things like the supermarket panel discussion, where I was able to learn about their concerns and what they need to grow their business in a sustainable manner with natural refrigerant solutions and low-charge solutions.

Hill Phoenix's contact information

If you would like to contact Hill Phoenix for any enquiries, you may send a request to Scott Martin directly.


By Clémence Girard-Reydet

Jul 11, 2012, 14:45

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