ammonia21.com: How important is Japan to Alfa Laval’s core business and what is your focus for the region in 2016?
Japan is not our biggest market, but it’s important for us. We have been here since 1930; we have manufacturing sites, service centres here and 270 people working in the country. We have a lot of heat pump and refrigeration customers here, both commercial and industrial ones as well as OEMs.
ammonia21.com: How would you describe Alfa Laval’s role in accelerating natural refrigerant technology in the Japanese market?
Both in commercial and industrial refrigeration, we strongly promote natural refrigerants. That has been our focus for almost 30 years. We started with ammonia and in the last 10-15 years, we have been using CO2.
ammonia21.com: This is already quite a long time for CO2. You were one of the first companies on the market to use this technology, right?
Yes, we were very early. Entering the EcoCute market [electric heat pump, water heating and supply system, using supercritical CO2 as a refrigerant] is a big challenge. Therefore, we aim for other segments, such as larger capacities and residential facilities – that’s CO2 in supermarkets and in some convenience stores. Cold storage is also important for us.
ammonia21.com: What factors are helping or hindering Alfa Laval’s business in Japan?
Subsidies are helping the business to grow and to promote natural refrigerants. For a long time, it was targeted for EcoCute and CO2, but now I think they are also promoting the use of ammonia. What could be mentioned as hindering the business: for me, as the product portfolio manager, it is difficult to comply, have the volumes, develop the same products for Europe and for Japan – it’s a challenge, because demands are very different.
ammonia21.com: Your presentation at ATMOsphere Asia 2016 focused on Alfa Laval’s ammonia heat pump technology. How will the low oil and energy prices affect Alfa Laval’s business, especially talking about heat pumps?
Low oil prices and energy prices are not good for heat pumps, in general. In Japan, the effects of the Fukushima accident must also be taken into consideration. The electricity shortage is also a big concern – that is something that has stopped products that had already been developed and were in operation.
ammonia21.com: Do you think it will change in the upcoming years?
I think that will take time. Subsidies may help a bit to develop equipment. But if there is a shortage of electricity, heat pump technology might not be growing as fast as you would expect.
ammonia21.com: How was the focus shifted in terms of optimising ammonia heat pump technology?
High temperature ammonia heat pump technology is fairly new. […] There might [also] be different ways to reach high temperatures with ammonia. By high temperature, I mean as high as, or higher than, EcoCute. It is possible and well suited for ammonia.
ammonia21.com: Can you outline why there is a big scope for split condensers in this type of technology?
The scope is to reach high temperatures. By using split condensers, you can reach high temperatures at comparably low condensation temperatures, i.e. increased efficiency. On the other hand, the split condensers can increase the amount of water you get at very high temperature, say 100°C. Instead of maximum 10% of the energy, now we can go up to 20-40% at the high temperature. Depending on how you design the system, it is possible to get either a much higher amount of energy at high temperature, or at higher efficiency.
ammonia21.com: What have been the main challenges and trends influencing the market in Japan in the past five years, and what do you anticipate will the biggest challenges in the next five years?
In the past five years, the biggest challenge for ammonia has been the legislation, and will continue to be in the next five years. For us, as a company, it is a real challenge to enter the market of air units in Japan. Japanese companies are experts on producing air units in the commercial segment. We are more present in the industrial segment. Our main focus is natural refrigerants and energy efficiency – that’s what we promote all over the world, and Japan offers an especially favourable environment for that.