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Refrigerants – From the Deep Freezer to the Discussion Table

The onus is on everyone to halve GHG emissions by 2050. A report on Round 2 of Refrigerants Review.

| | Nov 16, 2012 | 3:53 pm
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The onus is on everyone to halve GHG emissions by 2050. A report on Round 2 of Refrigerants Review. Story by Pratibha Umashankar (with inputs from Jerome Sanchez)

Refrigerants Review Round 2 (RR2), held from September 24 to 25 at Jumeirah Beach Hotel, Dubai, and produced by Climate Control Middle East, was a sequel to RR1 which took place in March. If the first event thrust different types of refrigerants into the spotlight from a Middle East perspective and gave an international overview on the state of affairs in the sector, RR2 used that as the springboard and carried forward the process of assessment.

Attended by implementation and investigating bodies, government agencies, suppliers, service providers, and a heightened involvement of end-users, RR2 had an eclectic mix of regional and international speakers, who ensured that the topics under discussion – refrigerant assessment and rating, containment of refrigerants in district cooling plants, toxicity concerns and counterfeit refrigerants – were adequately addressed and comprehensively discussed. With representatives from Oman, Kuwait, the UAE and Lebanon, the focus, of course, remained the status of refrigerants in the GCC states. Speakers from beyond the region offered a global perspective.


Hamdan Al Shaer, Director, Environment Department, Dubai Municipality, formally inaugurated RR2 and unveiled the official logo. In his welcome address, B Surendar, Editorial Director and Associate Publisher at CPI Industry, recapped what had transpired in RR1 and outlined the RR2 agenda. In his keynote address, Al Shaer spoke about initiatives the UAE had taken in response to the challenges of HCFC phase-out and the roadmap chalked out to phase-out HFCs, as well. The phase-out of CFC, which he said started in January 2010, had been followed up with awareness workshops and seminars for traders and industries dealing with ozone-depleting substances (ODS) and alternatives, and through lectures and presentations for students and the general public, he said.

He highlighted the regulation in place to tighten the sector. Stressing that the onus was on everyone to halve greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 to limit global warming to two degrees, he pointed out that despite an increased focus on low Global Warming Potential (GWP) alternatives, HFCs still dominated the market and that natural refrigerants, perhaps, largely due to exaggerated safety concerns, had not been addressed properly. “On the other hand,” he said, “a significant number of local and international companies have decided to quietly adopt the concept of natural refrigerants, convinced that the technology was better, not only from a physical and environmental point of view but also with regard to the issue of safety, but without any compromise.” This option, he said, was more important for cost-conscious companies, because it improved energy efficiency and decreased servicing cost. In conclusion, Al Shaer reminded the audience that it was society’s quest to contribute to the welfare of future generations through the phase out of ODS and through conversion to green and natural refrigerants.

Yunho Hwang, Chairperson, International Institute of Refrigeration’s (IIR) Working Party on LCCP, Vice President of IIR Commission B1 and Associate Director of the Center for Environmental Energy and Engineering (CEEE) of the University of Maryland, spoke about IIR’s efforts on Life Cycle Climate Performance (LCCP) evaluation for working groups. He began his presentation by spotlighting a few of the existing metrics used to evaluate the environmental impact of refrigerants suggested by several researchers and scientists, including Total Equivalent Warming Impact (TEWI), Life Cycle Climate Performance (LCCP) and Life Cycle Assessment (LCA). As suggested by Haruo Onishi, Ryuzaburo Yajima and Shotaro Ito during the Earth Technologies Forum in April 2004, TEWI includes a few indirect emission effects related to energy consumption and servicing of the product, and direct emission effects related to leakage and non-recovered refrigerants at the end, he said. On the other hand, LCCP included the emission related to refrigerant manufacturing, and further, LCA included indirect emission for production and transportation, and emission due to equipment destruction in the end, he added.

He introduced IIR’s LCCP Working Party and stated that its main function was to assess the merits of different methods for evaluating the environmental impact of refrigerants and to produce implementation protocols for the methods. This, he said, included:

  • Collecting information on direct and indirect emissions of working fluids for various applications
  • Initiating within the IIR member states formation of similar working party-groups
  • Establishing LCCP evaluation methodology applicable for refrigeration and air conditioning systems
  • Evaluating how improvement options can affect result of assessment
  • Collating such information and disseminating it among working party members and IIR member states
  • Writing a booklet on the LCCP evaluation methodology
  • Supporting and promoting international collaboration and initiatives to improve the LCCP of refrigeration and air conditioning systems

Hwang added that the LCCP Working Party also aimed to release consolidated listings and references for relevant information on direct and indirect refrigerant emissions, hold workshops and publish the proceedings and periodically update the Web page on the IIR Web site.

Rajendra Shende, Former Director of UNEP and Chairman, TERRE Policy Centre in India, then took the podium for his plenary discussion. Giving a brief history of the Montreal Protocol, he highlighted that now, more than ozone layer protection, it was the phase-out of HCFC which had been integrated into the context of climate change, energy efficiency and emissions of carbon dioxide. In his opinion, the Montreal Protocol had become the single most successful environmental treaty, because the benefits outweighed the cost of action. Though Shende expressed disappointment over the failure in dealing with climate change, he said he remained hopeful, that RR2 could lead to another success story of mitigating climate change. He stressed that the benefits of phasing out HCFC today would have more effect on climate change than on ozone depletion in about three decades from now.

According to a number of scientists and governments, we are already at the “tipping point” and that it may be impossible for us to come back to the pre-industrial level of carbon dioxide concentration in the atmosphere, he pointed out. Limiting emissions, capturing and reusing CO2, cutting short-lived gases and deliberately destroying ODS and HFCs in banks were the solutions he suggested. He added that getting rid of HFCs with the right kind of alternatives would yield quick benefits and that Montreal Protocol would bail out Kyoto Protocol if HFCs were phased-out early.

In conclusion, he spoke about the Climate and Clean Air Coalition (CCAC), launched in February 17 by US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, comprising 42 countries, which aims to phase out short-lived greenhouse gases and accelerate HFC alternatives. Shende, then, initiated a panel discussion, with Yaqoub Al Matouq, Refrigeration Expert, Kuwait National Ozone Committee, with the Environmental Public Authority in Kuwait, opening the discussion and touching upon the following issues:

  • Procedures to be followed by the GCC countries in phasing-out HCFCs
  • Unification of standards and codes, adoption of single licensing system, unification of building standards and codes and modification of market standards and codes to meet the new alternative
  • Adoption of one of the worldwide standards modified to suit GCC states
  • Need to be informed about safe handling of equipment to address criticisms against alternatives
  • Need for a licensing system for technicians with skills to handle air conditioning systems

Mazen Hussein, Head of OzonAction Group in Lebanon, who took the floor next, spoke about Lebanon’s efforts in weeding out ODS. Pointing out that the choice of cement kiln depended on the type of ODS waste, processing capacity, technical capability, emission value, Lebanese standards and cost in Lebanon, he said that the projected emission parameters were far below limits, and not different from the current normal operating conditions without ODS destruction. He said that the estimated total cost of a cement kiln destruction facility was about US$300,000.

Dr M Ramaswamy, Technical Expert, Royal Court Affairs Palace, Muscat, Sultanate of Oman, in his presentation revealed that the Ministry of Environment and Climate Affairs (MECA), Oman’s national body for the implementation of the Montreal Protocol had established the National Ozone Unit, which was responsible for allocating the quotas, operating the permit system and supervising the implementation of projects. Oman was planning to provide training to the highly disorganised service sector to develop national standards and codes for monitoring R22 use, and for natural refrigerants, hydrocarbons and ammonia, and to introduce a refrigerant management plan, he said.

He reported that recently, Oman had been ranked 67th out of 225 countries responsible for CO2 emission from the burning of fossil fuels. In the light of this, as per a Ministerial Decision the MECA had laid down rules for the management of climate affairs and streamlining the process of issuing licenses to ensure that projects were engaged in reduction of carbon footprint, he said. He reiterated the importance of training of technicians in the highly disorganized service sectors, raising awareness within the service sector, the promotion of technology alternatives and the revival of the use of natural refrigerants. Speaking from the larger regional context and that of RR2, he concluded with a quote: “To come together is a beginning, to keep together is a progress, and to walk together is a success.”

Narciso Zacarias, Principal Engineer, Air Pollution, Environmental Planning and Studies Section, Environment Department of the Dubai Municipality, then took the podium. Summing up steps being taken by Dubai towards the phase-out of HFC, he said that by 2013, all importers who had registered by June this year would be given a quota. He revealed that the Dubai Municipality had prepared technical guidelines for users and industries geared towards providing them knowledge and information about the phase-out of HCFCs. He briefly touched upon the Emirates Authority for Standardisation and Metrology (ESMA) forming a committee in 2011 and coming up with a rating system for air condition facilities, including window-type and split-type systems. He concluded his presentation by calling on the industry and manufacturers to come up with an ideal refrigerant, if at all it exists.

A lively panel discussion ensued, initiated by Shende.

The next session, moderated by Zacarias, covered the assessment and rating of refrigerants (for details, see box below: ‘Assessment and rating — who said what …).

Anwar Hassan wrapped up Day One of RR2 with a talk on refrigerants of the future, from the point of view of Johnson Controls. He said that as the industry moved towards natural refrigerants and flammable synthetic options, training, education, and safety codes would become essential for universal adoption.

Dr Yehia Amr, carrying this thought forward, when Day Two’s session opened with a panel discussion. He pointed out that there was a common meeting ground between Europe and the Middle Eastern region. “The requirement of high efficiency in the Western world and the requirements of high-ambient refrigerants in the Middle East is bringing us together; there’s a reconciliation there,” he argued. (More on the discussion in Box below: This is what they said …) “In Europe, for energy efficiency, they are using larger condensers for more efficiency. We have to, at the same time, work on GWP, and the answer might be HFOs and blends. The sooner we get ahead on the GWP curve, the better. Dr Amr also called for a relaxation of patent procedures.

His train of thought reflected the general opinion that any solution arrived at needed to be global, so that refrigerants and the components should be available around the world and that no solution should be stalled due to patent barriers.

Assessment and rating – who said what …

Dr Yehia Amr highlighted the following points:

  • HFO123 has a lower GWP and is good as a car refrigerant, but is expensive for use for large systems as it costs eight to 10 times as much as R134A. In a study of the GWP in 2030, only two per cent would come from HFC, while 90% from direct CO2 emissions
  • In this light, energy efficiency is far more important than what kind of refrigerant to use
  • R47C, R410A and R134A are dominant refrigerants in the market
  • R47C is an A1 refrigerant, as it is near-zeotropic, made up of R32, R125 and R134A, is non-flammable and has a very low toxicity
  • R410A, an azeotropic refrigerant, is composed of R32 and R125, and is also classified as an A1 refrigerant
  • R154A is also an A1 refrigerant and has a high boiling temperature, ideal for ambient conditions like the Middle East

Conclusion: Not every refrigerant will be ideal for every application. In selecting the appropriate refrigerant, we must consider efficiency, environmental impact to the ozone and global warming, the commercial availability of the refrigerants and equipment, safe operation, mainly flammability and toxicity, compliance with national and international safety codes, and capacity and tonnage.

Hilde Dhont highlighted the following points:

  • Daikin is developing R32 split air conditioners for residential to commercial range, because it is better suited to the applications; is non-ozone depleting; has superior energy efficiency; has smaller global warming impact compared to R410A; is acceptably safe due to mild flammability; production capacity is available because it is also a component of R410A; has 30% volume reduction compared to R410A; and may result in potential downsizing of equipment by about five to15%
  • There is production capacity for R32, but distribution chain is not always ready
  • Training, adequate service tools and manual are necessary for the service personnel
  • Is sometimes handled as an “extremely flammable” gas, which it is not; there are limitations set by local regulations and standards
  • Despite barriers, Daikin is looking to launch R32 in Japan and India; collaboration with other countries, such as Indonesia and Thailand, is also happening

Konstantinos Kontomaris highlighted the following points:

  • There is an apparent trade-off between very low GWP and non-flammability in a study of HFO-123yf and XP10
  • HFO-1234yf has a very low GWP of 4, but is classified as 2L due to its flammability
  • On the other hand, XP10 is a non-flammable refrigerant, but its GWP is approximately 600.
  • DR-2 and DR-12 are developmental fluids with low GWP of 9 and 30, respectively, and non-flammable
  • A study of DR-2 and DR-12 dispelled the myth that HFOs cannot be thermally stable
  • HFO-1234yf, XP10 and DR-14 are being studied as potential candidates to replace HFC-134a in chillers – results of the study points to XP10 as a potentially near drop-in replacement for HFC-134a, requiring neither major equipment nor safety code modifications, while HFO-1234yf is suitable for existing equipment with modifications, and DR-14 are most suitable for new equipment
  • DR-2 has a higher critical temperature than HFC-245fa – an HFC fluid largely considered for same application today – higher critical temperature is advantageous, because it allows harvesting higher temperature heat than HFC-245fa
  • DR-2 has lower vapour pressure than HFC-245fa and is a promising low-pressure fluid for commercial air conditioning and low temperatures heat utilisation
  • Refrigerant selection should consider total application impact, not just refrigerant attributes

Nicholas Cox highlighted the following points:

  • UAE cannot simply follow European Union in phasing out ODS, as HFC refrigerants are less efficient in high-ambient temperature compared to ozone-depleting refrigerants that they replace
  • Have to select a refrigerant with high critical temperature for efficiency of air conditioning equipment
  • Formula for computing target critical temperature – add design condensing temperature to the difference between the evaporating and condensing temperatures; an on-the-spot calculation suggested target critical temperature for Dubai is 138ºC
  • Refrigerants that have critical temperature higher than 138ºC and normal boiling point of zero, are “ideal” refrigerants for Dubai.They are R764 or Sulfur Dioxide, R630 or methylamine, and R600 or normal butane
  • Use of zeotropic hydrocarbon blends can improve efficiency of refrigeration systems by 25% by raising critical temperature


This is what they said …

Focusing on assessment and ratings of refrigerants in use in the region, Day 2 of RR2 began with a lively panel discussion, moderated by Narciso Zacarias. Here are the highlights:

Dr Yehia Amr: We are improving the efficiency of our equipment, so that we are compensating for any GWP from these new refrigerants by a factor of three to five, and in order to do that, we are using much larger condensers, which lower the condensing temperature of refrigerants, making it suitable for the Middle East. And for Kuwait, we have high standards of kw/t…. The first priority is the complete phase-out of HCFS, and we are working towards the transition of HFCs and make Montreal Protocol a 100% success.… One proposal would be to encourage the use of low GWP refrigerants, but the price shouldn’t be two to three times the cost of the HFC refrigerant it is going to replace…. If we think out of the box, I’d suggest there’d be a tax on high GWP (or high ODP) refrigerants in the country of use. In the GCC, the tax should be made applicable per one kilo of refrigerant, and that would create a fund to dispose the refrigerants. And the solution could apply not only to the GCC, but globally; we need a pull for all companies to quickly use low-GWP refrigerants.”

Hilde Dhont: “We have to make a roadmap for the GCC and the basic starting point for it is exchange of information on barriers and building codes that need to be amended. We have to start now, as there isn’t much time left.”

Konstantinos Kontomaris: “Adapting to needs of the area here, this is a goal that’ll need a simultaneous collaboration of fluid and the system. One suggestion is not be hasty in jumping to conclusions, based on incomplete information and in terms of regulation, allow flexibility to achieve the goal of climate protection.”

Dr Anwar A Hassan: “Within large global companies, there’s large internal competition for funding. Who does his homework first, and who speaks loud and is more convincing, gets the nod…. Our business organisations have to understand that they should have a few strong engineers in application or manufacturing who are always giving feedback to the mother ship, and all professionals like us should be more active in ASHRAE and make more than just product presentation, and try to form opinion and propagate it.”

Dr M Ramaswamy: “In Oman, mainly, we have service side. So do we have a common strategy to address the unorganised sector?”

Nicholas Cox: “What happens to HFCs at end of life? They’ll not have end of life. They’ll continue to be recycled till they leak. We can delay the process. The best we can hope is recycling and preventing the leak.”

Rajendra Shende: “But evolving technology will surely provide a better option of capturing and destroying it.”

Narciso Zacarias: “Can we have something like a rating of all these refrigerants in a metric format – scale 1 to 5, and 1 would be lowest? So, if we have rating for a refrigerant which is below 30 GWP, then 5. Toxicity: ammonia toxicity level up to 10,000 PPM rating of 1. Rating based on temperatures, pressures, LCCP, etc. Then average of these scores, and then the rating that goes up favourable will go up higher. Is there a possibility of coming up with this rating system – a numerical rating matrix?”

Yaquob Al Matouq: “You can’t put a matrix for everything, so [it is] country to country, application to application.”

Ghaleb Abusaa: “Are refrigerants only CFCs, HCFCs and HFCs? They are not! The food industry (food chain) has affected the environment more than air conditioning. The petrol in car needs refining, and the refinery needs refrigerants. We don’t see some of those refrigerant applications. I agree there’s no single best refrigerant in the world, but we at least need a group of refrigerant matrix for low-, medium- and high-temperatures, and cryogenics. So we classify those and, then, say we use 1, 2, 3, 4 refrigerants for that group.”

Sarfraz Dairkee (co-founder of EmiratesGBC and a member of the audience): “We can bring the [US Green] Building rating system model to refrigerants. We can probably draw upon that and apply here.”

Yaquob Al Matouq: “I’m in the Montreal Protocol Executive Committee. Foam and insulation sector is everywhere…. In the GCC, the major consumer is foam first, and then AC; and then, the refrigeration sector is only two per cent. So, that is why we did not prioritise refrigeration…. The funding from Montreal Protocol will come only based on priorities.”

Dr Yehia Amr: “Our goal ultimately is global warming, and we have done well in eliminating ODS. And now [we need] to tackle GWP. But we’ve to remember that 90% comes from electrical consumption of equipment. But just remember that two per cent improvement in energy efficiency will totally offset GWP effect. So, we have to capture the low-hanging fruit. Looking forward, yes, we do have to go with GWP refrigerants. Life is not any longer simple now, because we have blends. We have so many more refrigerants, so it’s going to take more time for everyone to figure which refrigerants to use.”

A spokesperson from Rotana Hotel Group (speaking as a member of the audience): “The percentage of leakage is increasing day by day. We do have a lot to do in terms of smaller units. But there’s a lack of knowledge among the lower staff. If manufacturers are providing such units, we should make it compulsory for them to provide training on how to recover, the tools present, etc. Yes, research can go on to find refrigerants and metrics. But we have tonnes and tonnes of refrigerants, and we do not have the technology to destroy them, and so longer we hold them, lesser we have to produce.”

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