Australia is on the verge of an HVAC&R revolution to natural refrigerant technology but it will take collaboration from the whole industry to make it happen.
“We’re at a cliff edge with carbon emissions – HFCs take us way over,” warned Tim Edwards, president of the Australian Refrigeration Association (ARA), in his opening address at the 2nd Annual Energy Efficiency Seminar in Sydney, held on 5 April at the Australian Technology Park.
The ARA president’s message is a sobering one, but just as clear is the enormous degree of opportunity available for Australian industry to adopt natural refrigerant technology.
Participants in ARA’s High Performance Energy series discussed ways to educate industry about the high energy cost and global warming impact of HVAC&R, which in Australia accounts for about 14% of the country’s carbon emissions.
Edwards believes the nation’s air conditioning and refrigeration bill can be drastically reduced and save the Australian economy in the order of $10 billion per annum via a market-wide transition to natural refrigerants and integrated HVAC&R energy efficiency technology.
Opportunities and issues including new technology, training and safety misconceptions were presented specifically to mobilise contractors and suppliers to start working with cutting-edge modern technology.
Some of Australia’s leading suppliers including Scantec, Pioneer International and ENGAS Australasia introduced their proven natural refrigerant technology while Ignacio Gavilan, the Consumer Good Forum’s director of sustainability, added an international element.
Natural refrigerant technology: Ready and waiting
CA Group Services Managing Director Ian Tuena singled out supermarkets as the biggest mobilisers in the Australian sector. “The single biggest challenge that needs to be communicated to government is training, and funding for this. Consultants need to start thinking outside the box,” Tuena said.
Klaas Visser of KAV Consulting and Ian Wilson from Strathbrook Industrial Services presented a strong case for the expansion of CO2 technology.
Always one to think outside the box, Visser described a CO2 transcritical system he had been developing, the first of which will be installed in Kuala Lumpur in 2016. The atypical use of an evaporative condenser, Visser argued, would enable the technology to operate constantly in subcritical mode in 90% of Australian locations and 100% of Europe’s.
In his presentation Selwyn Wallace, managing director of engas Australasia (a supplier of hydrocarbon refrigerants), said that with 35 years of experience he is certain that hydrocarbons can be applied as safely as any other refrigerant and that they are highly efficient.
Over 22 million split system air conditioning units still running on R22 in Australia will all need replacing. Pioneer International’s George Haydock sees hydrocarbons as the answer. “Old air conditioners use up to 60% of the electricity in houses (using f-gases),” he said. “The critical temperature of hydrocarbons is 30% higher than f-gases like R410A and they are up to two times better at heat transfer.”
Scantec’s Stefan Jensen will have installed 10 of the company’s low-charge ammonia systems by the end of 2016. The systems have a price premium of around 1.5 times that of HFC systems but the ROI is just 2-3 years in light of their outstanding energy efficiency.
Safety, standards and training
Earlier, Edwards highlighted the real danger of overstating the perceived safety of natural refrigerants. “The truth is all refrigerants are dangerous and need to be handled by trained and qualified engineers and technicians.”
He also welcomed the review of Australia’s proposal to phase down hydrofluorocarbon (HFC) refrigerants by 85% by 2036 via the Ozone Protection and Synthetic Greenhouse Gases Management Act, which is underway and in Edwards’ view is absolutely essential.
Australia’s technical colleges (TAFE) have seen funding cut at federal level in recent years, further draining technical expertise and the level of education in future technologies like natural refrigerants, Edwards said.
“Australia should be a leader, there is high growth for those companies that engage and take this opportunity. Export and development opportunities exist to assist the developing world and avoid about 1 billion dollars in exports via avoiding HFCs.”
CGF expanding in Australasia
With over 400 members globally, the Consumer Goods Forum aims to bring together the world’s leading retailers and manufacturers in pursuit of business practices for efficiency and positive change.
Its first resolution on refrigeration (2010-2015) included commitments from its members – among them Coca-Cola, TESCO, SABMiller and Woolworths – to phase out HFC refrigerants and replace them with non-HFC refrigerants (natural refrigerants) by 2015.
Gavilan was in Australia to speak with potential members including retail giants Coles and ALDI. The duo’s inclusion as members would complete the food retail quartet in Australia with current members Woolworths and Metcash already on board.
With the potential to prevent global warming by up to 0.1°C by 2050 and 0.5°C by 2100, Gavilan described HVAC&R as one of the most cost-effective emissions reduction sectors to transition on the planet and urged delegates in Sydney to start “piloting solutions with natural refrigerants, share best practice on these pilots, and to contribute to industry bodies like ARA and shecco.”