Natural Refrigerants Are the Future

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Friday, September 11th, 2015
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Refrigerants are a primary determinant of HVACR energy efficiency and emissions.

There is high international agreement to phase down HFCs refrigerants and replace them with low global warming refrigerants. These include natural refrigerants that have been shown to be more energy efficient than the alternatives.

China will be the primary source of HVACR equipment for the foreseeable future. The HVACR equipment and technology that China and others focus on will inevitably achieve and deliver economies of scale in production that Australia will capitalize on.

In June 2015, China’s Foreign Economic Cooperation Office (FECO) published The First Catalogue of Recommended Substitutes for HCFCs, with the list of natural substitutes including CO2, ammonia, hydrocarbons, air and water – indicating a significant shift in mindset towards a sustainable HVACR industry in China.

The FECO catalogue is reported to have listed natural refrigerants as recommended alternatives to HCFCs for almost every application. FECO vice chief Zhong Zhifeng said the objectives of the catalogue, and the impact it could have on the heating and cooling industry in China with the nation’s unrelenting economic growth, require innovative solutions in all sectors to address climate change.

He is reported to have said that as soon as policy and standards shift toward natural refrigerants, the nation will see an explosion of interest and demand for natural refrigerant technology.

Similar policies are being developed throughout the developing world, reflecting the global trend toward low-GWP refrigerants. The Environmental Investigation Agency summarises the situation this way:

“Support for tackling HFCs under the Ozone Convention has grown since the first amendment proposals were tabled in 2009. Four proposals were submitted to the 36th Open-Ended Working Group (OEWG), sparking unprecedented formal discussions…to take negotiations forward.

Pakistan emerged as the only country blocking progress by the end of the five-day meeting, refusing to allow reference to the amendment proposals in the negotiated mandate even after proponents agreed to first address issues of importance to the countries that have up to now opposed phasing down HFCs under the Montreal Protocol.”

The Indian Natural Resources Defense Council described the situation as follows:

“Government leaders across the world are recognising the critical need to phase down HFCs, powerful greenhouse gases that pack thousands of times more global warming potential than carbon dioxide. This year, nearly forty countries have come together to put forth four proposals to amend the Montreal Protocol to phase down these gases. India, the United States, Canada, Mexico, the European Union, and a group of Island States are amongst the groups pushing forward amendment proposals to phase down HFCs under the Montreal Protocol.

NRDC along with partners including India’s Council on Energy, Environment and Water (CEEW), the Institute for Governance and Sustainable Development (IGSD), and climate expert Steve Seidel prepared a summary chart conveying key elements of the four amendment proposals.

“One of the common aims for all the proposed amendments is to achieve help curb climate change by phasing down production and consumption of HFCs and deliver energy efficiency in HVACR.”

Drusilla Hufford, director of the Stratospheric Protection Division in the US EPA’s Office of Atmospheric Programs gave an overview of what the US is doing to reduce HFC emissions at a recent UNEP meeting. Hufford started off by noting the areas of use for ODS and HFCs, flagging up:

  • Motor vehicle air conditioning
  • Building and room air conditioning
  • Large retail and commercial scale food cooling
  • Refrigerators

Hufford used the example of the US Department of Defense as a case study as to how the country is taking on the responsibility. She highlighted the following areas where the Department of Dense is implementing change:

  • Absorption chillers at co-generation sites
  • Monitoring of the use of CO2 in mobile air conditioning for tactical vehicles
  • The use of a CO2 transcritical and NH3/CO2 cascade system in some commissaries.

In addition to active research and implemented installations, Hufford explained how the EPA is revamping its website to be more user-friendly to assist consumers in knowing what is refrigerants are acceptable in certain applications.

What are the implications for Australia?

We expect to see amendments to the Montreal Protocol that will call for the phase down of HFC refrigerants over the next 15 years. This is the fundamental reality that everyone needs to be aware of. To future proof your investment in HVACR services, you need to consider natural refrigerant based technology and energy efficient engineering.

From the ARA’s point of view, the world has made a commitment to use natural refrigerant based technology. It is available in all sectors and it delivers energy efficiency and emissions reductions. In fact, we expect the HVACR industry to move ahead of the inevitable amendments to the Montreal Protocol because the new technology is commercially warranted.

It is therefore a major transition for the industry that will require a vast amount of education, training, new regulations and standards, new licensing provisions and hopefully collaboration between industry and government to serve the national interest. The federal government recently advised that the national emissions reduction plan includes an 85 per cent phase down in refrigerant emissions.

This is an enormous opportunity for all HVACR stakeholders: more work for HVACR suppliers, cost savings for end users, and important national competitive advantage if we lead the transition. It requires that a very large number of stakeholders are educated in the use of natural refrigerant based technology. We are therefore planning a seminar driven conference/exhibition that will be advertised as High Performance Energy.

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