As the global HFC phase-down gathers pace, participants in the first-ever ATMOsphere Japan conference – held yesterday at the Shin-Marunouchi Building Conference Square in Tokyo – heard how policy changes are creating new opportunites for natural refrigerants in Japan.

The one-day conference welcomed 188 attendees representing a wide breadth of stakeholders in the natural refrigerant industry: system manufacturers, component suppliers, retailers and consumer goods brands, academics and industry experts, as well as legislative representatives and policymakers.

shecco CEO Marc Chasserot set the tone by introducing the global ramifications of the Kigali agreement on phasing down HFC consumption and its particular effects on the Japanese market.

“Times are getting tougher for HFCs…everywhere,” he said. “There is a global rush to look for alternatives. End users want to be regulation-free. We live in exciting times,” Chasserot said.

Among the main themes of the conference were the low-charge ammonia revolution, the status of CO2 refrigeration as a standard solution for food retail, and propane making inroads as a viable refrigerant for light commercial applications in Japan.

Representatives of Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry and the Ministry of Environment discussed the impact of Kigali on Japan’s official stance towards natural refrigerants.

Atsuhiro Meno, director of the Fluoride Gases Management Office at the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, remarked: “We feel comfortable that [Japan] will be able to achieve the HFC phase-down targets set by Kigali. However, we still feel that f-gas reduction and control measures must be even tougher.”

“We also feel that Japan has an opportunity to take the initiative in terms of technological development. We, as a government, would like to support that effort,” Meno said.

“We feel that Japan has an opportunity to take the initiative in terms of technological development. We, as a government, would like to support that effort.” 

Atsuhiro Meno, Japanese Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry

Competition over condensing units

Jan Dusek, shecco’s business development manager for the Asia Pacific, highlighted the major developments in Japan. “There are now three major Japanese companies supplying CO2 condensing units. The question is not if, but when. When will the others join?” Dusek said.

“Overall, technology-wise, we have seen efficiency increasing while costs continue to drop. We need competition in the market. That’s the key.”

End users show sense of urgency, climate change awareness

ATMOsphere attendees wanted to know, who is actually driving natural refrigerant adoption? Why are these businesses, or these people, choosing to push for this technology despite its challenges?

Shinichirou Uto, responsible for store development at convenience store chain Lawson, offered an explanation. “As a food retailer who relies heavily on refrigeration systems, we have to put some serious thought into what type of technology we will be introducing in new stores this fiscal year,” he explained.

“The refrigeration systems we install, going forward, should not have a lasting negative impact on the future. That, I think, is the most important factor to consider,” Uto said.

Lawson is currently the world leader in CO2 transcritical refrigeration systems installed in convenience stores. It aims to reach the landmark of 2,800 installations by February 2018.

Other presentations revealed growing desire to reduce the environmental impact of HVAC&R. Kenji Tamura, from COOP Aomori in northern Japan, discussed his community’s grassroots push for change.

“I live in northern Japan, where there is usually a large amount of snowfall. However, this year there was very little snow. This climate change we are currently witnessing is being brought on by our economic activity. I think it is necessary for more people to recognize this fact,” he commented.

“Being aware of this, our community discussed using more environmentally friendly refrigerants for our refurbishment project. We eventually decided to go HFC-free, knowing that there could be further environmental regulations in the coming years,” Tamura said.

International suppliers discuss reinvigorated Japanese market

Some component and system suppliers from overseas reported mixed results from doing business in Japan. Yet the market is changing fast. Suppliers reported renewed interest in natural refrigerant technologies from customers in Japan.

Warner Guo, director of R&D and engineering at Emerson Asia, said, “the external environment has changed. Global policy developments and an overall market awareness of the need to move towards eco-friendly technology has made us much more optimistic for doing business in Japan today”.

As for the difference between natural refrigerant market expectations in Japan and in Europe, Katsunori Shibata, president of CAREL Japan, said, “we believe the market in Japan, as well as overseas, is changing because of Kigali”.

“However, we also think the deployment of natural refrigerants in Japan will look very different from Europe because of Japan’s strict safety regulations. Unless we have deregulation, we cannot become like Europe. Therefore, the only way to move forward in Japan is to target niche markets, one-by-one, from the ground up,” Shibata said.

“We believe the market in Japan, as well as overseas, is changing because of Kigali.

Walter Guo, Emerson Asia

Case studies push technological boundaries for natrefs

Panasonic debuted its new 30 HP CO2 unit at last week’s Supermarket Tradeshow 2017. Hidekazu Tachibana, the company’s general manager (refrigeration systems), outlined plans to release a 2 HP unit in Europe. It also announced the development of a 60 HP unit to be released in 2018, which will be an expanded combination of the 30 HP unit for larger applications.

“We have had very positive feedback from customers in Europe for our small format units. We see small format stores becoming more and more popular in Europe in the near future, so we will continue to develop a wider range of CO2 products to serve this market,” Tachibana said.

Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Thermal Systems, meanwhile, outlined its plans to offer a CO2 condensing unit from April. The 10 HP CO2 unit (the HCCV1001) targets the food retail market too.

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