ATMO China: HVAC&R leaders gear up for NatRef push

Technology suppliers are reporting sales growth for natural-refrigerant systems in the Chinese market. But training and local availability of components must be improved if their market potential is to be fulfilled, manufacturers told ATMOsphere China today.

Mauro De Barba of Eliwell by Schneider Electric addresses ATMOsphere China in Beijing.

Photo credit: Ben Beech.

Natural refrigerants are well placed to gain momentum in the Chinese HVAC&R market as the country prepares to leapfrog from HCFCs to solutions based on ammonia, CO2 and hydrocarbons in the context of the global HFC phasedown, heard participants at the ATMOsphere China conference in Beijing today.

“China has an opportunity to jump straight from HCFCs to natural refrigerants,” said Mauro De Barba, senior product marketing manager at Eliwell by Schneider Electric.

The conference – the first ATMOsphere event to be held in China – is taking place at the Sheraton Grand Beijing Dongcheng Hotel in the Chinese capital.

“China is rapidly adopting natural refrigerant solutions. Small and large refrigerated warehouses are developing,” said De Barba.

Yet as technology suppliers sell more natural refrigerant-based systems in the Chinese market, panellists stressed the need to improve training and local availability of components to allow these solutions to fulfil their market potential.

“Natural refrigerant technologies are complex, so support and training will be key to increasing their uptake,” De Barba said.

China has an opportunity to jump straight from HCFCs to natural refrigerants.” 
– Mauro De Barba, Eliwell by Schneider Electric

Torben Funder-Kristensen, head of public and industry affairs at Danfoss, expects natural refrigerants to play a greater role in China in the future. “Technology development of applications using natural refrigerants is gaining momentum here,” he said.

In January this year, the doors opened on METRO China’s new wholesale store in Beijing – the first CO2 transcritical system in China’s retail sector. “This is an important message, showing that CO2 transcritical is possible in this country,” said Alvaro de Oña, chief operating officer at shecco, publisher of this website and organiser of ATMOsphere conferences.

This week at China Refrigeration, China’s leading HVAC&R tradeshow, Panasonic unveiled its first CO2 transcritical rack. It has already been sold to a domestic Chinese retailer and will be installed in a Beijing supermarket this summer.

Amid increasing competition between ammonia and CO2 in the industrial sector, “HFCs should no longer be considered in the Chinese industrial HVAC&R market,” said Giacomo Pisano, technical sales manager at Italian multinational compressor manufacturer Dorin.

In an expression of confidence in natural refrigerants, Dorin is developing a 500 HP, 300 m3/h CO2 compressor. “CO2 will be cost-effective at refrigeration duties of up to 20 MW,” Pisano predicted.

Technology development of applications using natural refrigerants is gaining momentum here.
– Torben Funder-Kristensen, Danfoss

Food retail sector ripe for growth 

Food retail was identified as a promising growth area for natural refrigerants. Jian Tian, engineering director at Carrier, said the company had already installed CO2 cascade systems in 19 supermarkets, most of them domestic Chinese retailers. “We’re ready to move into the CO2 transcritical market” in China, said Tian.

As for hydrocarbons, André Paz Rosa, senior R&D manager (Asia Pacific) at Embraco, identified safety concerns, lack of knowledge among light commercial manufacturers and the fact that the Chinese government is yet to put in place an HFC phase-out plan as the biggest obstacles to wider uptake of hydrocarbons in China. To overcome this, Embraco is working with distributors to reach out to more OEMs – especially smaller domestic Chinese companies.

After starting out at 1% in 2013, hydrocarbons currently represent almost 10% of Embraco’s total compressor sales in China.

Alongside lack of local awareness, Nidec’s Ricardo Maciel (president of the light commercial division at the compressor manufacturer) cited the high level of investment required to convert compressor production lines from HCFCs and HFCs to hydrocarbons as the biggest obstacles to their wider uptake in China.

Yet a likely global increase in the hydrocarbon charge limit to 500g, the putting in place of HFC phase-out regulations worldwide, and tighter new energy efficiency standards in China will all boost the market for hydrocarbons in the Chinese market, according to Pedro Olalla, sales director, Huayi Compressor Barcelona.

Difficulties in finding after-sales service technicians pose a challenge in China specifically, he said. Despite such challenges, Huayi sold some 500,000 propane compressors in China in 2017 alone.

Other companies are also pushing natural refrigerants in China. John Austin-Davies, marketing project director, Epta, said the company would soon start manufacturing CO2 transcritical racks at its factory in Qingdao. And Yaqing Zhang, CEO of Castel (China and APAC), identified large cold storage applications alongside heat pumps as likely growth areas for natural refrigerants in the country.

Today’s opening panel discussion set the stage for ATMOsphere China. Stay tuned for more coverage of the opportunities and challenges for natural refrigerants in the Chinese market.

By Andrew Williams

Apr 11, 2018, 13:15

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