Hydrocarbons featured as leading replacement for R-22 in China

By Sabine Lobnig, Dec 08, 2008, 00:00 4 minute reading

International and Chinese experts met last week in Guanzhou, China, to explore alternatives to ozone depleting R-22 refrigerants in household applications. Hydrocarbons featured among the leading options, while CO2 was also discussed.

Natural refrigerants feature prominently as alternatives to replace R-22 in in household applications in China. Using them would allow the country to leapfrog from the use of HFCs, and avoid both ozone depletion and global warming issues altogether.

To share best practice on alternative refrigerants as replacement to the ozone-depleting HCFC R-22, the Chinese Electrical Appliances Association (CHEAA) held a workshop on 27-28 November in Guanzhou. Presenters included experts from the Chinese and international industry and public authorities, including the UN, the European Commission and the US EPA.

The Challenges

Offering an overview of the HCFC market in China, Wen Wurui, from the Chinese Ministry of Environmental Protection, showed projections of ozone depleting refrigerants in the coming years. Whereas the current growth rate in production of HCFCs is around 20% per year, by 2013 China will be obliged to freeze its production to values from 2009-2010. In the long-term, a reduction by 67.5% in consumption is targeted for 2025. However, a significant part of the HCFC use will need to be reduced much sooner, since more than half of the total Residential Air Conditioning (RAC) production in China is exported abroad.

To support the transition to more viable alternatives, the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) presented its funding options available to the Chinese industry. The focus for the allocation of funds, besides eliminating ozone-depleting substances, will be on improving the efficiency of the appliances as well as significantly reduce their global warming impact. A substantial review of potential alternatives is planned as a first step, to be followed by cost-assessments and more detailed analysis.

On the other hand, both the European Commission and UNEP presented the approach that the EU and the US respectively are taking to phase-out HCFCs. The Commission presented an overview on the restrictions to common fluorinated gases currently in place, and its upcoming review. The US EPA, on the other hand, focused on the restrictions to the use of HCFCs, and the need for alternatives to obtain approval for use under the SNAP programme, which for the time being excludes hydrocarbons.

The Solutions

Besides several HFC blends, with high global warming potential, solutions based on natural refrigerants emerged as leading alternatives to be developed in China over the coming years. During its presentation, the green NGO Greenpeace referred to them as the "ultimate solution", and listed a number of uses in which each refrigerant would be most appropriate, both in terms of environmental properties and performance. Whereas some presentations focused on the potential of CO2 in stationary applications, with research currently underway in Europe and China, a major focus was on the use of hydrocarbons.


Expers in the use of hydrocarbons in small residential Air Conditioning (RAC), gave an overview of their enormous potential in terms of reducing greenhouse gases and improving efficiency. Companies such as De Longhi, Gree, Benson or TÜV Süd thus explained how to ensure the safety of hydrocarbons-based units while significantly improving their efficiency at minimal cost.

A key aspect explored was the safety of hydrocarbons refrigerants in residential applications. Daniel Colbourne, on behalf of GTZ, presented a study on the safety performance of iso-butane (R600a) and propane (R290) in room A/C units. Recommendations to ensure a safe use included the reduction of refrigerant charge, which would be possible while improving the efficiency at the same time, and the use detailed risk analysis when designing hydrocarbons-based appliances. The use of additional safety devices at limited extra costs, such as gas sensors or solenoid valves, could also be considered for certain cases. Areas to be further analysed in detailed are risks during servicing and handling of refrigerants.

To complete the picture of the safety aspect, Benson presented different risk scenarios related to the use of hydrocarbons in RAC units. Adopting a rational approach to ensure that all safety measures are respected, including pressure relieve valves or other mechanisms when needed, the company concluded that ¨hydrocarbons in Air conditioning are the future¨.

Similarly, De Longhi referred to it positive experience with Hydrocarbons in Europe, now used extensively in domestic refrigerators and freezers. A major difficulty for the company in Europe was the lack of harmonized standards dealing with flammable refrigerants. This urged the industry to work together and led to European standards with specific requirements about design, refrigerant limit and warnings under different scenarios. The company recommends a similar approach also in China to ensure that safety of hydrocarbons is guaranteed, while benefiting from its higher efficiency and better environmental performance compared to synthetic refrigerants. 


Accounting for over 70% of the world’s total production of HCFCs, China will soon face a big challenge to reduce the production and consumption of ozone-depleting refrigerants. Alternatives for use in residential A/C and refrigeration applications will be thoroughly explored over the next years in China, representing several opportunities for natural refrigerants.


By Sabine Lobnig

Dec 08, 2008, 00:00

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