RAC Alternative Cooling event: F-Gas lobby vs. hydrocarbons?

By Sabine Lobnig, Apr 03, 2009, 14:51 3 minute reading

A new EU safety standard has put additional barriers to the widespread use of hydrocarbons in small AC applications. Participants at the RAC Alternative Cooling event on 31 March clashed over the question which road the industry should go down: an early use of natural refrigerants or a mere reliance on HFC leakage reductions under the F-Gas Regulation (+ presentation).

The Alternative Cooling event in London held last Tuesday revealed a widening gap between those advocating the widespread use of natural refrigerants and those relying on a limit of HFC emissions reductions through better containment. Around 50 industry experts hence engaged in lively discussions about the necessity to introduce mandatory HFC caps and move towards an early complete phase out of fluorinated gases in the HVAC&R industry. Although the event’s title “Alternative Cooling - Natural refrigerants, legislation and non-chemical solutions for refrigeration” suggested otherwise, its first part provided more evidence of a business-as-usual approach, with presentations solely dedicated to a continued use of HFCs in a wide range of applications, training requirements under the EU F-Gas Regulation, and the promotion of new low-GWP chemicals meant to gain market shares in small and medium-sized cooling applications.

While several attendees questioned the role of the UK HVAC&R industry as a major contributor to national greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, a dedicated presentation by UK NGO Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) confirmed that direct emissions through leakage are now responsible for 1.5 times higher GHG emissions than those provoked by insufficient energy efficiency of supermarket refrigeration systems. Relying on the same high-global warming refrigerants while only improving the system design to enhance energy efficiency would hence not be a serious enough attempt to effectively lower GHG emissions from the sector, the EIA insisted. Moreover, at today’s leakage rates, a reduction to just 1% proclaimed by several participants would only be achievable in several decades:

“Eventually we can get leakage rates down but it will take a long, long time,” Fionnuala Walravens, EIA stated.

Despite the urgency to act, the use of natural refrigerants was dismissed by several participants citing lacking policy and financial incentives for their use, missing components and training, as well as the industry’s freedom to make its own refrigerant choice.

Natural refrigerants conquering markets

These arguments were countered by four dedicated presentations in favour of hydrocarbons, ammonia, and CO2. In industries with a clear commitment from leading retailers and consumer brands, as in the case of Unilever using already more than 330,000 hydrocarbon ice-cream freezers worldwide, a profitable market for suppliers has been created within a short time. A pure reliance on policy stimulus would therefore not be needed if industry would acknowledge the benefits of natural working fluids and apply them in the applications promising the highest potential.

New EU technical standard increases barriers for use of hydrocarbons

Nicholas Cox, representing hydrocarbons specialist Earthcare Products, started off his presentation with a graph showing that after initial significant reductions after the introduction of the Kyoto Protocol, the consumption of halocarbons has only slightly decreased since 1995. Presenting Earthcare’s wide range of HC chillers for all sizes or ground source heat pumps, Cox drew attention to the fact how perception of the safe use of hydrocarbons has changed over the last 80 years, when propane was proclaimed in the US as the “safety refrigerant” to be used preferably.

On the contrary, pressure on the hydrocarbon industry in the EU has increased, due to a strong involvement of commercial interests of the F-Gases industry involved in drafting the new EU Safety Standard BS EN378-2:2008, Cox argued. As a result, the EU standard introduces new restrictions on the use of HC systems, which will only be allowed if the minimum fan speed is appropriate for a certain room volume according to the height of the equipment placed in the room. Based on 100 W/m2 duty and 75 g of R290/kW, the new rule effectively bans the siting of R290 equipment for human comfort below a height of 1.5 metres in the room. This prohibits floor standing units, low level wall units, window units and split portables. However, high wall, ceiling, cassette and ducted systems would still be allowed.

“This EU technical standard is a front for the commercial interests of the businesses represented on the standards committees. Unfortunately for them they missed 80% of the HC business,” Cox concluded.


By Sabine Lobnig

Apr 03, 2009, 14:51

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