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Unilever Using Hydrocarbon Refrigerants

September 2000 - Unilever is pledging to step up its move to more environmentally friendly refrigerants for its freezer cabinets once a pilot scheme launched at the Olympics in Sydney Australia to demonstrate the safety and efficiency of the equipment, is successfully completed.

It has already started replacing freezers - currently numbering more than two million worldwide - with equipment using hydrocarbon (HC) refrigerants but plans to accelerate the programme on completion of the trials in February next year as freezers are renewed in line with the company's replacement policy.

The switch to HC will be progressive and dependent on national legislation, but by year 2005 Unilever's purchasing policy for ice cream freezers will be to discontinue the use of HFC* refrigerants, where commercially viable alternatives, such as HC, can be legally used. Hydrofluorocarbons (HFC) are powerful greenhouse gases and are among those materials covered by the Kyoto protocol on climate change.

Bob Smith, Unilever's ice cream technical director: "Since the early 90s we have steadily shifted our freezers from ozone-depleting materials. HC refrigerants, widely used in domestic refrigerators in Europe, are currently the most promising alternative to HFC. The challenge has been to adopt HC for the very low temperatures needed for commercial ice cream freezers. Unilever already requires its freezer manufacturers to use HC for insulation foam wherever this is permitted under local regulations.

"For the past three years we have been working with others to develop and refine equipment capable of using HC as the coolant in commercial settings. But this is an evolutionary process and in time we may well find that alternative technologies can offer us even better solutions that allow us to minimise energy use and the emission of gasses with climate change potential."

The Olympic trials will put 50 specially developed production-line freezers to the sternest of tests, operating at -20°C in demanding conditions. They will be monitored by Unilever's Australian ice cream business, Streets, which will then transfer the freezers into the domestic market around Sydney. In February 2001, a decision on the roll-out of the technology initially across Australia will be taken.

"These trials will also examine the energy usage which accounts for most of the global warming impact of an ice cream freezer cabinet," said Mr Smith. "From the experience gained in the Australian market we will work with an increased number of refrigeration suppliers to meet the accelerated demand for replacement freezers using more environmentally sound technology from 2005."