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‘The GCC region is leapfrogging to new and better solutions’

George Koutsaftes, President, Advanced Materials, Performance Materials and Technologies, Honeywell, speaks alongside Julien Soulet, Managing Director, EMAI, and Amir Naqvi, Regional Marketing Leader, Honeywell Fluorine Products, Middle East, Turkey and Africa, on how national targets in the GCC region are driving greater penetration of energy-efficient solutions, on the region’s shift from HCFCs to HFOs and on how the GCC region, unhampered by previous commitments, is in a better position to embrace new-generation solutions. Excerpts from the interview by Hannah Jo Uy…

| | Jan 20, 2018 | 12:20 pm
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George Koutsaftes

Julien Soulet

Amir Naqvi






Sustainability and energy efficiency are common themes in the GCC region, with respective national targets driving the phase-down of high global-warming hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs). Could you provide readers of Climate Control Middle East with an overview of what Honeywell is doing to help the region meet its objectives?

George Koutsaftes: Our portfolio is focused on existing-generation HFC solutions but, more importantly, on next-generation HFO solutions. More than half of our revenue comes from HFO-based solutions. Honeywell has the broadest portfolio of HFO molecule solutions today. That provides us with the unique opportunity to develop multiple applications into multiple uses to meet the varying needs of countries around the world.

With the HFO solutions we are bringing into application, the next [step] is the use of mildly flammable refrigerants, and with that comes the responsibility of having solutions that are designed safely and offer energy efficiency and sustainability. We are positioned uniquely, having these three molecules: 1234yf, 1233zd and 1234ze. Nobody else in the world has these three molecules in their portfolio together. That allows us to design and customise blend solutions to meet the various needs of regions around the world.

[To provide an example], we developed a solution called Solstice L20, which is designed as a drop-in replacement for R22. Now, R22 is a widely used HCFC solution, especially here in the Middle East, for stationary air conditioning applications. With the high-ambient temperatures we have here in
the region, it’s important that OEM providers have a solution that provides the same or better energy-efficiency performance as R22, as well as similar pressure designs, because it will help them save money on redesign cost. That’s an example of the solutions we are able to design with the unique molecule set we have.

In terms of meeting the energy-efficiency needs of the region, we have solutions designed for chiller applications, using our 1234ze molecule. We have a great case study with a local producer here, SKM, where they’re starting to see energy-efficiency benefits, much like companies like Carrier and Trane in Europe, who have already experienced the energy-efficiency benefits of using 1234ze.

[The same goes] for cold rooms and cold chain here in the Middle East, which is different in style than other parts of the world, as they use large cold rooms to keep refrigerated food, whereas in the US or Europe, it’s more of big box retailer store set-ups. Here, R-404A is a widely used refrigerant in these cold room applications. We have great replacement solutions, Solstice N40 and Genetron Performax LT, to replace R-404A; they can provide an energy efficiency of 10-15%, or more, in these applications. We have great case studies demonstrating that, not only here but also in other parts of the world. And with the UAE trying to reduce energy subsidies for the region, we think this is an important tool to help the region achieve its goals and reduce energy subsidies, without increasing the cost of the consumer.

What is the company’s strategy to drive greater penetration of its products in the region? And do you see manufacturers, aside from SKM, considering these solutions?

Koutsaftes: Absolutely. There’s more to do here in terms of promoting our solutions to the various OEM producers or end-users in the marketplace, but Solstice LBA, our liquid blowing agent, which is our zd molecule, is a great molecule that provides increased energy-efficiency gains. It’s used as a blowing agent in spray foam applications. We have a building application that Amir can talk about.

Amir Naqvi: Yes. In the region, 70% of energy consumed by any building is from air conditioning. One way to cut down [on energy consumption] is having good quality insulation. So, the region is driving it [forward]. In Saudi Arabia, we see SASO pushing for stricter and lower U-values. [There are also] Estidama Green Building regulations.

All these drivers are basically looking for better properties of insulation and the blowing agent, which is the key technology we offer, is called Solstice LBA polyurethane foam. It is the best performer in energy efficiency compared to contemporary insulation technology or any other blowing agent.

We have done a lot of work. Masdar, as you know, is a zero-carbon city. They installed a building with the roof sprayed with Solstice LBA, offering significant amounts of energy reduction and consumption. Prior to that, [we worked with] one of the big Emirati housing projects in Al Ain. More than 2,000 villas were sprayed with LBA, as part of the spray foam technology, and now, as we are moving forward, we see the region moving out of HCFCs and spray foam.

Talking about Saudi, they have proposed to phase out HCFCs in foam insulation, effective 2018. Most of the industry is looking for the opportunity to leapfrog directly from HCFCs to HFOs, skipping HFCs, because it’s a long-term solution and helps them meet energy standards. It’s a lot of savings, because they can use thinner foam compared to if they use HFC or water-based insulation that will [need] almost 20-30% thicker foam to meet the same standards.

Koutsaftes: Basically, when you think about a building, we can provide two key solutions – the refrigerant, which will have a direct impact on reducing energy consumption because of its energy efficiency characteristics, and the foam blowing, which will help insulate the building and keep it at a temperature longer and better than other insulation-bases solutions.

Integrating such products requires an approach that places an emphasis on lifecycle cost. In the region, we see many developments that are later handed over to be sold or rented out. In such cases, there is no motivation to increase capex in favour of energy efficiency. Could you share your thoughts on this?

Koutsaftes: The good news about this point is that the dynamic in the marketplace with the contractors here in the UAE is no different than other markets we compete in, and we have a lot of experience and understanding on how to manage the channel. So, we’ve been successful in other markets and we intend to apply the same approach here. We go to the end-user, and we sell the end-user on benefits, because they’re the ones paying the bill, whether it’s the building owner or cold chain owner.

The second thing we do to get the contractor incentivised to want to work with us is we educate them. We provide them with a pathway for continued business by educating them, because then, this will become retrofit and new-building opportunities for them. We’re working through this channel in this market right now to help them understand the benefits this will bring their customer and how they can also benefit.

You mentioned retrofit, Has there been an uptake of such projects?

Koutsaftes: I wouldn’t say we have anything to unveil, but it’s certainly something we’re quite focused on, because we know the importance of it here, as well as in other parts of the world. It’s a tough balance one has to strike. When you do retrofit, you’re solving for a lot of things at the same time. You’re solving for energy-efficiency performance, but that can’t come at the cost of capacity; you have to make sure it meets capacity requirements, or else you’ll take a hit. The last thing you want is a solution that requires a larger heat exchanger or compressor.

Thirdly, you’re solving for GWP, you want to give it the lowest GWP measure possible, right? I think, extensively speaking, the market has spoken in this regard – for retrofits, they’re more willing to accommodate a GWP of 750 or lower. Lastly, because you have to solve for each of these things at the same time, you may be bringing building into the equation, so then you have to look at whatever additional cost that may be incurred for additional ventilation, or sensors, for large building applications.

What’s unique here, though, is that you have many more District Cooling solutions, which makes it a little easier to address than other markets, like Europe and the US. So, I feel hopeful we will be able to find a solution for this region more easily, frankly, than we will be able to find for other parts of the world.

Julien Soulet: Also, there is a real opportunity for the whole region to learn from what has been done in Europe and USA. You’re currently going for the phase-down of HCFCs, and you really have an opportunity to look at what’s the best solution by application. In many cases, based on experience from European and US customers, HFOs will bring better performance than HFCs, as an alternative to HCFCs. So, there’s a real opportunity for customers to take best practises from US and Europe and leapfrog from HCFCs to HFOs. We’re here to help local players learn from the experience from US and Europe by organising seminars and roadshows to help make this transition to a long-term solution, which will give them better performance and help them achieve the energy-efficiency goals of the region.

Koutsaftes: Our role is to be a holistic solutions provider to this region in each of the applications and markets that we serve.

What is the company doing to address the knowledge gap related to proper handling of new and critical refrigerants? While there may be a willingness at the management level to integrate such solutions, is proper attention being given to installers down the value chain? Also, there seems to be a lack of newcomers in the industry as a whole. Can you comment on this?

Koutsaftes: Absolutely. When we talk about contractors and consultants, it covers the range from the managers to the installers themselves. We have been involved in various training programmes and seminars around the world to reach down all the way to the installer level, and educate them about the alternative solutions and how they can easily be handled, sometimes easier than the stuff they’re working on today. It’s a long effort, though – there are a lot of people to train.

To your other point, there is a trend globally, [where there is a] growing [number] of retiring contractors, and there are fewer new contractors coming in to replace them. Some of the things we have been doing are going to universities to train young aspiring students to attract them to becoming HVAC contractors. Julien can talk a bit more about that.

Soulet: The perfect example is a seminar we have done in Saudi, in cooperation with ASHRAE, where we invited local customers’ contractors to share their experience within their association on how easy it is to convert. There are a lot of different solutions for low- global warming refrigerants, not only HFOs. Ammonia is also a solution, but there are also safety concerns and toxicity concerns that are different from other offerings out there.

It is, indeed, important for people making those choices to consider all factors, [such as] what is the total environmental impact from an energy consumption point of view, global warming [potential] and the cost for them to convert. Also what about safety and toxicity? Is it a safe solution for the installation [and] for their people? All these criteria have to be taken into consideration. As George said, we see it as our role to share our experience and make it available to the whole industry.

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