GUIDE 2012: Hydrocarbon applications show promise but prevailing barriers must be addressed

By Sabine Lobnig, Feb 22, 2012, 11:50 4 minute reading

With its appraisal of the market for natural working fluids, shecco’s “GUIDE 2012: Natural Refrigerants - Market Growth for Europe”, breaks new ground, providing much needed information on the state of technology and industry expectations. For hydrocarbon refrigerants the future will depend on tackling key issues such as training, safety and legislation.

More than 6,000 HVAC&R professionals and industry associations were invited to take part in the first global natural refrigerants survey in 2011 as part of shecco’s “GUIDE 2012”. By the end of September 2011 the survey had received a total of 1,254 responses. An overwhelming majority of respondents – around 74% believe that Europe shows a “high” potential for the market uptake of natural refrigerants, ahead of Oceania/Australia, North America and Asia.
European Industry survey shows hydrocarbon uptake hindered
For further analysis of the global industry survey respondents from organisations located in Europe were selected. Most of the respondents were from the UK (14%), Italy (11%), Germany (11%) and Denmark (7%). 
When asked to assess the business and policy climate in their respective countries, the picture painted for hydrocarbon refrigerants was uncertain:
  • 38% of respondents believe the situation to be “highly positive” or “rather positive”, whilst 
  • 33% rate the situation as “not moving in any direction”, and 
  • 21% rate the situation as “highly negative” or “rather negative”. 
This was markedly different from the positive picture for CO2 where 63% of respondents rated the conditions as “highly positive” or “rather positive”. 
One likely explanation is the strict restrictions on the use of hydrocarbons and the fact that “training and know-how” and “technology and safety” are rated as “strong” to “very strong” barriers to the uptake of natural refrigerants by over half of respondents (58%).
Legislative restrictions blocking hydrocarbon use
As an example of restrictions to the use of hydrocarbons posed by legislation, the publication refers to a French decree that forbids the use of flammable refrigerants such as hydrocarbons in premises with access to the public. This puts hydrocarbon refrigerants largely out of the picture in France, which is identified as a “laggard” in its approach to natural refrigerants.
At the EU level the MAC Directive has had an overall positive impact on the use of natural refrigerants, and the increasing acceptance of flammability in this sector could see hydrocarbons selected as one of the future solutions replacing HFC134a. Also, the expected EU F-Gas-Regulation revision, likely tightening requirements for HFC emission reductions, could spur further investment in natural refrigerant technology.
Ecosystem approach reveals widespread hydrocarbon projects
Evaluating the existing and potential end-use applications of natural refrigerants, the “GUIDE 2012” Ecosystem approach presents wide ranging opportunities for the hydrocarbon market across the four groupings: “Transport Applications”, “City and Buildings”, “The Food Chain”, and “Industry and Special Applications”.
Transport Applications: With over 20 million car mobile air conditioning (MAC) units safely using hydrocarbons across the world, MAC systems constitute a promising market for hydrocarbons, provided proper training and maintenance are prioritised. Unlike MAC however, the market for hydrocarbon refrigerants in road transport refrigeration is still in its infancy.
City and Buildings: Hydrocarbon chillers have proven safe to install in both developed and developing countries in populated buildings such as hospitals, historical buildings, shopping malls and hotels. A plan for industrial scale production of hydrocarbon chillers should further reduce costs and increase the uptake of the technology. Underexploited areas of application include ground source heat pumps (GSHP), district heating and data centre cooling, where initial projects have proved successful but have yet to be replicated.
City and Buildings – Residential: Since R600a (isobutene) domestic fridges were first introduced in the 1990s the number sold across the world has grown to over 600 million. Isobutane domestic refrigerators are widely used in Europe, Japan, and China, and gaining ground in South America, Canada and Mexico. They are at present set to enter the US market now that legislative approval has been granted.
The Food Chain: Large propane chillers have been available for industrial refrigeration in the food industry for over 10 years. In supermarkets the use of hydrocarbons in central refrigeration plants is overshadowed by CO2, but there are nevertheless several examples of retailer investment in propane refrigeration technology, including Marks and Spencer and Waitrose in the UK and Tesco in Thailand. More widespread is the use of hydrocarbons in supermarket cabinets. In addition, large end-users such as Danone, Nestlé and Unilever now have several hundred thousand hydrocarbon coolers and ice cream freezers, whilst fast food chain McDonald’s has developed hydrocarbon point-of-sale appliances.
Industry and Special Applications: Hydrocarbon refrigeration is used in the chemical industries for the liquefaction of CO2 and other gases, in oil refineries and petrochemical plants. The last decade has also seen the development of hydrocarbon (R600a) solar powered vaccine coolers and food refrigerators for communities with intermittent mains supply.

More information
Download page: GUIDE 2012: Natural Refrigerants - Market Growth for Europe


By Sabine Lobnig

Feb 22, 2012, 11:50

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