The Federal Government has formally announced that it intends to phase down the use of hydrofluorocarbon (HFC) refrigerants.

The reason is that these substances contribute significantly to global warming due to their very high global warming potential (GWP).

The alternatives to HFCs are natural refrigerants and low global warming synthetic refrigerants, also known as fourth generation or hydrofluoroolefin (HFO) refrigerants.

The HFC phase-down will have a profound effect on all users of refrigeration and air conditioning systems. As the HFC phase-down progresses, there are likely to be refrigerant price rises as HFCs become scarce.

Refrigeration plant users who are expanding existing facilities and/or are building new facilities must focus on future proofing. Failure to future proof will result in unnecessary system conversion and/or replacement costs.

Future proofing requires selection of a refrigerant that will not be subject to a future phase-down. The best candidates are natural refrigerants (ammonia, carbon dioxide, hydrocarbons, air and water). These also offer superior energy efficiencies when combined with a state of the art refrigeration system design.

There are several practical examples in Australia of modern low charge ammonia refrigeration systems delivering energy performances two to three times better than industry standard air cooled HFC-based systems. In fact there are many uses of natural refrigerants in most sectors of the HVACR industry that deliver important energy efficiency.

Future proofing your refrigeration system therefore also offers benefits in the form of significant reductions in energy consumption costs.

The announced HFC phase-down brings Australia in line with international developments. It is widely anticipated that a global HFC phase-down will be initiated in 2016.

The HFC phase-down announcement may be found in a document titled Options Paper – Review of the Ozone Protection and Synthetic Greenhouse Gas Management Programme. This was published by the Department of Environment in October 2015. The preamble by the Hon. Greg Hunt states that “Australia will fast track work to reduce domestic HFC emissions by 85% by 2036”.

The 2036 time frame may seem long. However, the phase-down pace is unlikely to be linear. The free trade agreement negotiations due to commence with the EU in 2016 are likely to force a closer alignment between EU and Australian HFC phase-down scenarios. The EU F-gas regulation legislated late 2014 provides for approximately 35 per cent HFC phase-down (CO2e based) in 2017 alone.

An Australian 85 per cent phase-down target by 2036 is therefore likely to be viewed by the EU as lacking ambition. Australia will (again) be under pressure to match its international counterparts.

There is no doubt that the HFC phase-down will be a reality in Australia. It will commence in 2016. The only unknowns are methodologies to be employed and how the phase-down will be structured as a function of time.