We bring you exclusive coverage of Round 1 of Refrigerants Review, which was held at Atlantis The Palm Hotel in Dubai on March 20 and 21. The event, organised by Climate Control Middle East, brought together high-profile refrigeration industry experts and policymakers, who exchanged their views on the phase-out of ozone-depleting and high global warming potential substances. By Valeria Camerino.
In the last few years, many conferences focusing on the topics of sustainability and energy efficiency have taken place across the region.
However, the first round of Refrigerants Review was unique in many ways. First, because, as the title suggests, it was the first time that a dedicated event on the issue of ozone-depleting and high global warming potential substances gathered a plethora of global refrigeration experts in Dubai.
Secondly, because the debate showed that HFCs phase-out or, better said, phase-down, is a very complex issue, where there is no right or wrong answer.
Furthermore, the event highlighted that, when examining the ODP (Ozone Depletion Potential) and GWP (Global Warming Potential) of a particular refrigerant, it is fundamental to take into account the overall energy efficiency of the system in which such a refrigerant is used.
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Hence, over the last few years, the concept of LCCP (Life Cycle Climate Performance) have gradually gained ground, as a more comprehensive assessment tool, representing the cradle-to-grave environmental impact of using a given refrigerant in an application throughout its life cycle.
The presentations also reflected on the fact that the use of refrigerants encompasses the whole global supply chain, and it’s not only limited to air conditioning or heat pump applications, but, for example, it is also essential in food preservation, particularly in this part of the world, where high-ambient conditions represent a key challenge to the proper storage of easily deteriorating produces, such as fruits and vegetables.
Indeed, as Dr Stephen O Andersen, Director of Research, Institute for Governance & Sustainable Development (IGSD) and Co-Chair, Montreal Protocol Technology & Economic Assessment Panel (TEAP), pointed out in his keynote address on Day 1 of the conference, “many countries face high temperatures, but few other places on Earth are as challenging as the long, hot, and sometimes humid conditions of Africa, India and the Middle East”.
In his view, some regions, like the Middle East, face a number of inherent challenges, such as a long, hot and humid cooling season, “brown-outs” and other electricity quality problems, high energy cost and low equipment durability.
Dr Andersen described the 1987 Montreal Protocol, aimed at phasing out the production of numerous substances believed to be responsible for ozone depletion, as a “last-minute treaty”, which saved two-thirds of the ozone layer.
“Without the ozone warning by Mario Molina and Sherry Rowland [in 1974], the emissions of ODS would be as big a force in climate change as carbon dioxide, and the Earth might already have been in a death spiral of abrupt climate change,” he added.
He also argued that CO2 controls are not enough to reverse climate change.
In his opinion, irreversible climate change can be delayed through the use of low-GWP substitutes, along with containment, recovery, reuse and destruction, which further reduce radiative forcing.
“Containment to near-zero emissions mitigates refrigerant ozone depletion, climate forcing, toxicity, flammability, atmospheric fate and price,” Dr Andersen said.
He emphasised that it’s now time to calculate all the aspects of the refrigerants manufacturing process and consider both short- and long-term effects.
This is why it is fundamental to select a refrigerant with superior LCCP, he added.
“Now is the time for new thinking,” Andersen said. “Take climate change seriously, eliminate the direct refrigerant concerns through near-zero emissions and carbon and chlorine offsets and, thereafter, concentrate on energy efficiency.”
He suggested the use of hydrocarbons for household refrigerators/freezers, stand-alone retail refrigerators/freezers, and small room air conditioners; hydrocarbons, CO2 and ammonia for supermarket refrigeration, and, until better options are available, HFC-32 for larger room air conditioners, HFC-1234yf for automobile air conditioning and other HFC-134a applications where natural refrigerants have inferior LCCP, and HCFC-123 for building air conditioning chillers.
In his plenary address on Day 1, Didier Coulomb, Director of the International Institute of Refrigeration (IIR), an independent intergovernmental science and technology based organisation, which promotes knowledge of refrigeration and associated technologies, emphasised the importance of refrigeration, as it covers a wide range of applications, including petrochemical refining, the steel industry, the space industry, nuclear fusion, medicine, air conditioning, the food industry, the energy sector and the environment.
He pointed out that developing and emerging countries are reporting an increasing need for refrigeration, owing to a global population increase, particularly in Africa and South Asia, for an estimated total of 9-10 billion people by 2050.
This will lead to an increased demand for cold chains, particularly in urban areas.
Improved living standards will also favour the use of air conditioning, which in turn, will have a significant impact on the environment.
Coulomb argued that, when selecting a low-GWP refrigerant, it is important to take into account that no refrigerant is perfect, as they all present safety risks and drawbacks, such as flammability, toxicity, corrosion and pressure.
Furthermore, very low GWP refrigerants are still not widely available on the market, although they have been used in Europe in mobile air conditioning applications since the end of 2011 and in experimental studies on supermarkets, which have so far showed encouraging results.
However, a number of safety concerns are slowing down the uptake of natural refrigerants such as ammonia, which is still recognised as the most efficient refrigerant, and propane.
Current research, Coulomb explained, is focused on the development of ammonia-CO2 cascades.
In his opinion, as the market for new refrigerants develops, prices of equipment will gradually decrease, although they will still be 10-20% higher than those of current equipment, but with lower running costs.
In addition, there will be shortage of HCFCs due to the phase out already in force in developed countries, as well as shortage of HFCs produced by very-low-GWP HFC manufacturers.
On the other hand, natural refrigerants will be very cheap, as the higher investment costs are offset by lower running costs.
“Emerging countries will show increasing interest in natural refrigerants,” Coulomb said, pointing to the case of China.
The conference also provided insights into regional thinking on ODP, GWP and TEWI (Total Equivalent Warming Impact) and an understanding of the region’s response to phase-out dates.
Ghaleb Abusaa, CEO of The Three Factors Company (en3), who moderated the session, pointed out that, although HFCs have no impact on ozone depletion, they have higher TEWI than HCFCs as they require more power.
Yaqoub Al-Matouq, a Kuwait-based refrigeration expert, observed that, in 2007 parties to the Montreal Protocol accelerated HCFCs phase-out to support climate change mitigation efforts.
As a result, the industry heavily invested in HFCs as the most reliable alternative to HCFCs.
However, he pointed out, countries with high-ambient conditions, like the Middle East, face major challenges when trying to implement alternative refrigerants.
These include safety (flammability, toxicity, and high pressure), efficiency (as efficiency drops due to high temperatures) and environmental concerns (some refrigerants have high GWP, are not recyclable, and can’t be easily disposed of).
Therefore, he advocated further research into alternative refrigerants as well as further improvements in equipment design to reduce leakages.
Furthermore, he called for unified standards for the whole GCC region to regulate the use of refrigerants in a more effective manner, along with the establishment of an industry advisory board to do research and help regional governments find specific solutions tailored to the climatic conditions of the Gulf countries.
“We need to change the mentality,” he said. “We need a global standard. Why do manufacturers change the specifications to sell equipment in this region?”
Mazen K Hussein, a chemicals expert from Lebanon, elaborated on Stage 1 of Lebanon’s HCFCs phase-out management plan (HPMP) for compliance with the 2013 & 2015 control targets of the Montreal Protocol.
As he explained, the HPMP comprises a combination of technology transfer investments, technical assistance to the industrial sectors, training programmes, policies and regulations, coordination and monitoring, and awareness, communication and management.
Hussein claimed that, successful completion of Stage 1 will result in net sustainable reductions of minimum of 20.03 ODP tonnes in the national HCFCs consumption by 2015, as well as net CO2-equivalent emission reduction of about 0.66 million tonnes annually from 2015.
The country will initially target the air conditioning and foam sectors, where mature and sound alternatives are available, focusing on enterprises with solid financial standing and market reputation as well as larger HCFCs consumption.
Within the air conditioning sector, the plan aims at replacing HCFC-22 with R-410A, while it will facilitate the replacement of HCFC-141B with pentane in the foam industry.
Hussein said that the second stage of the plan (2015-2022) will focus on the phase-out of the residual HCFCs consumption in the manufacturing sectors which could not be addressed in Stage 1, as well as reduce HCFCs consumption in the servicing sector.
It will also include sustained monitoring and enforcement of the regulations issued during Stage 1.
Narciso M Zacarias, Principal Engineer ̶ Air Pollution at Dubai Municipality, illustrated Dubai Strategic Plan 2015, which also addresses the issue of HCFCs phase-out.
As he explained, as part of DM green building regulations and specifications, in all new buildings, refrigerants with zero ODP and less than 100 GWP must be used.
Furthermore, the venting or direct discharging of any refrigerants during equipment maintenance is strictly prohibited.
In addition, recovery, recycling and reclaim of refrigerants for high-temperature and medium-temperature applications should be practised at all the times.
This service, Zacarias said, is provided by companies like Environserve.
Zacarias also pointed out that Dubai Municipality is fully committed to the tracking and monitoring of illegal refrigerants’ imports and exports to and from the country and across borders, and is planning to step up its efforts over the coming years.
The first day of the conference also featured presentations by regional and international industry representatives, who shared their views on current HCFCs phase-out policies.
The session was moderated by Rajendra Shende, Former Director of UNEP and Chairman, TERRE Policy Centre.
Torben Funder-Kristensen, VP, Public and Industry Affairs, Danfoss A/S Denmark – Danfoss Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Controls, pointed out that TEWI, which includes both direct and indirect emissions, is the most important parameter to assess the actual environmental impact of a given refrigerant on global warming. Therefore, its reduction is fundamental to fight climate change.
He acknowledged that the purchase cost of a product is important, although the life cycle cost (LCC) is becoming even more important, as it is directly linked to LLCC.
“We encourage investment in low ODP/GWP refrigerants,” he said.
However, he also stressed the fact that, in order to achieve long-term sustainability goals, it’s essential to take into account and balance all parameters, such as low GWP, comfort, service, safety, affordability and efficiency rather than optimising only one of them.
Funder-Kristensen added that his company is currently focused on improving energy efficiency and further developing natural refrigerant solutions.
Fadi Hachem, Head of District Cooling Division of DC PRO Engineering, addressed the current challenges faced by the district cooling industry as a result of HCFCs phase-out.
He explained that the district cooling Industry in large scale projects utilises electric driven centrifugal chillers of 2,000-2,500 TR nominal capacity.
To date, these chillers primarily use HFC refrigerant R134A and HCFC refrigerant R123.
Hachem claimed R-123 refrigerant is a low pressure refrigerant leading to lower leakage rates compared to R-134A, especially with the improved automated purge units.
Due to its physical properties, R-123 has a better efficiency rate compared to R-134A when operating under similar conditions. This leads to lower overall energy consumption and an indirect reduction in carbon emissions associated with energy consumption of operating refrigeration equipment.
Therefore, Hachem advocated containment of superior quality HCFCs rather than phase-out.
“The focus should be diverted towards containing [certain] refrigerants rather than phasing them out,” he said.
In his view, this could be achieved through a number of preventive measures, such as provision of proper storage facilities to minimise losses during machine charging and evacuation as required during servicing; provision of machines with the latest high efficiency purging systems; provision of leak detection equipment; training of operation and maintenance personnel in proper handling of refrigerants; enforcement of stringent servicing practices, including log keeping and auditing of the refrigerant annual top up and inventory on site.
Martin Dieryckx, Member of the Executive Board — Daikin Europe and In-charge, Environment Research Centre — Daikin McQuay, warned that by 2050, an estimated 76% of all HFC emissions will come from developing countries. This is why they should be the primary focus of global R&D efforts.
He emphasised that the issue of climate change requires prompt action.
“To avoid global temperature rise, CO2 concentration in the atmosphere must be stabilised at 550 ppm, 450 ppm or even lower (depending on various policy targets),” he said.“The sooner we introduce better alternatives for today’s HFCs, the lower the global warming impact will be.”
He also added that, refrigerant choice varies depending on the application considered.
“There is no one-size-fits-all solution,” Dieryckx pointed out.
The company is developing R32 split air conditioners as, he claimed, “R32 is the most balanced” refrigerant due to a number of characteristics, such as zero ODP, superior energy efficiency, low global warming impact, low conversion cost, moderate flammability and sufficient supply capability.
Dr Nacer Achaichia, Engineering Manager Refrigerants EMEA at Honeywell, discussed the F-Gas regulation review at a EU level, arguing that the key focus should be on emission reduction.
He supported a market-based approach and dialogue with the European Commission, the Member States and other stakeholders.
In his view, the introduction of a refrigerant consumption cap along with phase-down will drive innovation, as emissive applications will convert rapidly to LGWP solutions.
The move will also promote recovery and recycling and recognise the value of HFCs with regard to energy efficiency, safety, environmental performance and total cost of ownership.
Dr Anwar A Hassan, VP, ESG (KSA) and VP Technology at Johnson Controls, said: “Our job is to invest in all viable options and make them available to our clients in proven solid platforms. We do not bet on refrigerants based on short term interest.”
He also pointed out that focusing only on GWP can result in the wrong choices for the environment.
“By far, the indirect effect is much greater,” Dr Hassan claimed. “Depending on the type, service life, and efficiency of the equipment, the indirect effects can account for up to 95% of the CO2 equivalent emissions over the life of a unit.”
Therefore, he said, it’s also important to focus on the energy efficiency of the candidate refrigerants.
Mike Thompson, Global Leader of Refrigerant Strategy — Ingersoll Rand, Trane Commercial Systems, argued that although fluorocarbons cause ODP, GWP or flammability concerns, according to the type selected, some natural refrigerants, on the other hand, pose toxicity, efficiency and cost challenges.
As a result, companies should not be pressured into early phase out, but they should be flexible and keep business interests in mind, preserving the best options for as long as possible.
Furthermore, strong emphasis should be placed on recycle, recovery and reclaim of refrigerants.