It is important for stakeholders in the refrigeration and air conditioning (HVACR) industry to be aware of the phase down in the use of HFC refrigerants.

It will happen over the next five to 15 years by sector, with some sectors making the change sooner rather than later. This has implications for all HVACR stakeholders – most importantly end users who are investing in an HVACR plant and planning on a long life for this investment.

They want to future-proof their investment by selecting an HVACR plant that will have a long life span. The refrigerant used in their HVACR investment is central to this assessment.

Why Phase Down HFC refrigerant use?

High-GWP HFCs include refrigerants like R410A and R134A. These two represent about 84 per cent of the bank of refrigerants in use in Australia. It is important that their use is phased down in order to reduce and ultimately eliminate direct emissions of high-GWP refrigerants.

Direct refrigerant emissions matter because all HVACR equipment leaks refrigerants; it is mechanically intense, it shakes, it breaks and it inevitably leaks refrigerants referred to as direct emissions. It is widely recognised that the direct emissions of high-GWP refrigerants will become almost 20 per cent of global carbon equivalent emissions by 2050 if they are not phased down.

In parallel, ozone depleting HCFC refrigerants like R22 are being rapidly phased out. In addition to being ozone depleting, R22 has a GWP of 1,810. So there is great value in the phase-out of HCFC refrigerants from an emissions reduction point of view as well as ozone protection. Australia is leading the way in the phase-out of ozone depleting refrigerants. This year will see imports of HCFC refrigerants reduced to a small proportion of the historical rate.

It is equally important to recognise that the refrigerants that will replace high-GWP HFCs are highly energy efficient, so the result of phasing down HFC refrigerants and the use of low-GWP refrigerants is increased HVACR energy efficiency. Our view is that the use of low-GWP refrigerants in concert with integrated energy efficiency engineering has the potential to reduce Australia’s HVACR energy cost by $10 billion per annum.

Perhaps the most important driver to the phase down of high-GWP refrigerants is the fact that original equipment manufacturers worldwide recognise that it is inevitable. They recognise that HVACR buyers want energy efficient, low emissions HVACR technology and they are responding by supplying it. It is, in our view, highly likely that the phase down of HFC refrigerants will in fact be driven by the demand for energy efficiency regardless of government policy or at least in concert with government policy and particularly government policy in favour of energy efficiency and low emissions.

One might ask why we refer to the phase out of HCFCs and the phase down of HFC refrigerants. The primary reason is that the phase down of HFC refrigerants is at a relatively early stage. Some parties take the view that the alternatives to high-GWP HFCs are not yet proven in all sectors and that we must have proof of the performance of low-GWP refrigerants by sector before we call for the phase out of HFC refrigerants in that sector.

In our view, the matter is largely semantic and commercially driven. We feel the alternative low-GWP refrigerants have been proven in every sector. In any case, the phase down of HFC refrigerants is being staged by sector to capitalise on those sectors where low-GWP refrigerant technology is “fully” proven.

For the avoidance of doubt the low-GWP refrigerants include ammonia, carbon dioxide and hydrocarbons, air and water, as well as hydrofluoroolefin synthetic refrigerants (HFOs).  The so-called natural refrigerants have low to no GWP, are not ozone depleting and are low cost because they are produced by existing industrial production infrastructure in Australia. HFOs are also low-GWP, are not ozone depleting but are very expensive, requiring dedicated and complex manufacturing systems located in Asia and the US/Mexico.

How will the phase down of HFC’s be managed?

The current situation is that the European Union has legislated for the phase down of HFC refrigerants by 79 per cent over the next 15 years. This legislation is staged by sector. It is important to recognise that much of the transition will happen in the next five to 10 years.

The US, in association with a large and growing number of other countries, has recommended that HFC refrigerants be phased down in a manner similar to the EU legislation. This stance is captured by the G20 and the Climate and Clean Air Coalition (CCAC).

The CCAC is a UN sponsored organisation, comprised of 49 countries and a large number of industry participants (including the Australian Refrigeration Association) that aims to reduce the emissions of short-lived climate pollutants. Their HFC policy can be seen at this link.  The US has recently struck agreements with China and India to support this policy.

It is on this basis that we conclude that it is highly likely that the 197 parties to the Montreal Protocol will agree to the inclusion of HFC phase down.

It has been recommended by G20, CCAC and the EU that the phase down of HFC refrigerants be incorporated in the Montreal Protocol. It is important for all stakeholders to understand that to date the Montreal Protocol has been used as the international agreement for the elimination of zone depleting refrigerants. However it has also been highly successful in reducing GHG emissions. As a result, it is considered an effective organisation and structure within which to manage the phase down of HFC refrigerants.

What Does this Mean for Australia?

One could argue that HVACR technology developments in Australia will reflect the global agreements and technology trends. It is certainly the case that Australia does not determine these trends, but it is also the case that the rate of adoption of low-GWP refrigerant-based technology will be heavily influenced by Australian stakeholders and government policy. The Australian government has stated its support for the CCAC policy on HFC phase down.

Technology change is difficult. Australia can choose to lead these developments and capitalise on the early phase out of HCFCs by switching directly to low-GWP refrigerants. Australia can choose to capitalise on the high energy efficiency of low-GWP refrigerants and therefore dramatically reduce use of low energy efficiency HFC refrigerants. Australia can choose to embrace integrated energy efficiency engineering and therefore be in a position to guide much of Asia in this trend.

Or Australia can wait and see. The answer seems obvious. Now is the time to future proof your HVACR investment by choosing in low-GWP refrigerant-based technology.