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Freeze fluorocarbons

Hydrocarbons gain popularity in refrigeration and foam sectors

When CFC phase-out began, industrial refrigerator sector moved to environment-friendly alternatives such as CO2, ammonia and hydrocarbons. Home refrigerators globally first moved to HFC-134a, but then hydrocarbons caught on. At present, 36 per cent of the new domestic refrigerators and freezers use hydrocarbons. The proportion is expected to reach 75 per cent of global production by 2020.

In parts of Asia, South America and Australasia, the most common hydrocarbon used in the production of refrigerators and freezers is HC-600a, or iso-butane. In Europe, almost all new refrigeration systems use iso-butane. The US, however, continues to use HFC-134a, which has a high global warming potential (GWP). It allowed use of hydrocarbon in refrigerators only in 2012.

Hydrocarbons are used in about a quarter of the new installations such as cold storage, ice-skating rinks and large-scale freezing of food. Currently, the industry is developing refriger- ants such as CO2 in marine containers and trailers, and propane in trucks. Many supermarkets, and food and beverage producers are also volun tarily moving to green alternatives (see ‘Green claims’).

Indian scenario

Refrigerator is a growing market in the country, currently valued at Rs 10,000 crore, according to market research firm Netscribes. It is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 11 per cent by 2014-2015. Godrej is on a par with Whirlpool, with 18 per cent market share in refrigerators, after LG and Samsung, which occupy the first two spots. Except Godrej, the others use HFC-134a in their refrigerators.

  • Marks and Spencer plans to be free of HFCs in all its new installations by 2030. It will use CO2 and hydrocarbons instead
  • South African supermarket chain Pick ‘n’ Pay converted to natural refrigerants—ammonia and glycol water solution—in two supermarket stores in Johannesburg and Cape Town. The company reported energy savings of 19 per cent to 26 per cent
  • Food production giant Nestlé committed to use natural refrigerants in 2001. It also supports use of CO2 and ammonia
  • In 2000, Unilever committed to implement a non-HFC purchasing policy for ice-cream freezer cabinets by 2005. Roll out of Kwality Wall’s Green Freezers in India started in 2007. By early 2012, about 25,000 cabinets had been deployed. The company plans to double the figure by 2015. Unilever has chosen propane as a replacement

Godrej commercialised its hydrocarbon refrigerators in 2002. In a tie-up with the Swiss Development Corporation, the company made iso-butane refrigerators. The company has sold 10 million such refrigerators, and has not reported any inflammability-related accident during the period.

Birla Aircon experimented with the propane technology but did not market it for lack of support. “Our hydrocarbon water cooler is energy efficient and cost-effective because the quantity of gas required is only 100-150 grams,” says company head P K Jain. The company developed two models and brought about 150 pieces in the market, but the response was not overwhelming, largely because of lack of awareness.

“If you hear that the product you are about to buy might blow up, you will never buy it. The inflammability hype around hydrocarbons needs to change,” he says.

imageSafety concerns aside, barriers to the transition include insufficient technical knowhow in companies, lack of practical skills among technicians, insufficient supply of components and materials, inadequate access to proprietary technologies, the cost of generating data for regulatory approval procedures, and higher investment costs. And these barriers are not restricted to the refrigeration sector alone.

Foam sector

Polyurethane (PU) foams, which lie hidden in refrigerators, freezers and upholstery inside metal and plastic walls, are also used for insulation.

In India, PU foams have been used since 1960s. HCFC-141b is the predominant blowing agent in the sector. A blowing agent is used for its different properties, some create cushioning effect, while others reduce the product’s weight.

Many developing countries, including India, intend to adopt low GWP alternatives to foam products as part of their HCFC phase-out plan. China and Brazil, for instance, intend to use methyl formate and hydrocarbons instead of high-GWP HFCs. India plans to switch to hydrocarbon cyclopentane in its first stage of HCFC phase-out management plan. The Montreal Protocol incentivises the transition to hydrocarbons by providing a 25 per cent bonus to countries that make this shift.

Indians have secured US $23 million from the Multilateral Fund for this transition.


Unfortunately, efforts by Micronesia and Mauritius some 5 years ago at the level of the Montreal Protocol to phase down the use of HFC's have been vigorously opposed by the BRICS countries. otherwise we would have moved further in combatting Climate Change. And during the last five years we have seen how the signs of climate change have accelerated affecting the brics countries mostly. It might be too late when they react!

16 September 2013
Posted by

An extremely detailed, comprehensive and useful summary and analysis of the issues in play, although the role that can and needs to be played by ammonia R717 and CO2 R744 in commercial and industrial refrigeration sectors is understated. Hydrocarbons also have a 20 year history of use in the automotive AC service market across many countries, notably the US, Canada and Australia (8% market penetration according to a recent Goverment commissioned report "Cold Hard Facts 2" which ought not continue to be studiously ignored by Montreal Protocol delegates and stakeholders.

The lesson is clear: Given this real world evidence, there is simply no excuse for HCs to be excluded from consideration as a global solution to the HFC problem in new mobile AC and refrigeration systems. All that is lacking is a champion with the courage to confront the fear factor generated by the fluorolobby.

4 December 2013
Posted by
Brent Hoare

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