The world's largest ice cream manufacturer pledges to step up its move to more environmentally friendly refrigerants for its freezer.

Unilever - the world's largest ice cream manufacturer - is pledging to step up its move to more environmentally friendly refrigerants for its freezer cabinets once a pilot scheme launched at next month's Olympics in Sydney Australia, is successfully completed.

Currently with some two million freezers worldwide, Unilever has already started replacing them with equipment using hydrocarbon (HC) refrigerants. It 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. Unilever's pledge is part of its continuing worldwide environmental programme, full details of which are published today through unilever.com.

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 discontinue the use of HFC* refrigerants, where commercially viable alternatives, such as HC, can be legally used.

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."

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."

Hydrofluorocarbons (HFC) are powerful greenhouse gases, and among those materials covered by the Kyoto protocol on climate change.