With several policy developments in the pipeline, in 2016 China will repeatedly underline its intention to facilitate a comprehensive market shift towards natural refrigerant technology. In February, the final version of ‘The First Catalogue of Recommended Substitutes for HCFCs’ is expected to be officially issued by the Ministry of Environmental Protection.
The draft document had already been published in June 2015, listing 12 substitutes for HCFC refrigerants, foaming agents and detergents – 10 of which are natural chemicals including CO2, ammonia, hydrocarbons and water. Although the list is not mandatory for the industry, it clearly indicates a significant shift in mindset towards a sustainable HVAC&R industry in China, and is likely to be swiftly followed by a substantial policy evolution further promoting natural refrigerants.
Since the publication of the draft by China’s Foreign Economic Cooperation Office (FECO), several associations and experts have been invited to send their comments and suggestions. However, the draft list is not likely to be changed significantly: “I believe that the final list will almost be the same as the original one,” said Zhong Zhifeng, vice-chief of FECO division III.
HCFC phase-out: promote natural refrigerants ‘as much as possible’
Since 2011, China has been implementing the first stage of its HCFC Phase-out Management Plan (HPMP) in industrial and commercial refrigeration. With funding from the Executive Committee of the Multilateral Fund, FECO has been undertaking a series of activities including investing in the conversion of production lines to natural refrigerants, conducting studies on alternative technologies, revising standards, and providing training and workshops for natural refrigerant technology.
While implementing the first stage, the Chinese government was also working on its proposal for the Stage II HPMP, which was finalised last week. The proposal may be discussed for about a year before it gets final approval from the Executive Committee. Although the proposal might be modified during the process, Zhifeng claims that its focus will remain on natural refrigerant technologies: “We will try to keep the original idea, which is to encourage the development of natural and low-GWP refrigerants as much as possible.”
According to FECO’s proposals for STAGE II HPMP, natural refrigerant or low-GWP alternatives should be chosen in sectors like room air conditioning, industrial and commercial refrigeration and air conditioning, extruded polystyren (XPS) foam, polyurethane (PU) foam, and solvents.
In addition to the 20 RAC lines and four compressor lines that have already been converted or are about to be converted in Stage I (2011-2015) to R290, China is planning to convert more lines for room air conditioners and residential heat pump water heaters to R90 and CO2, respectively. In the industrial and commercial refrigeration and air-conditioning (ICR) sector, besides R32 for commercial unitary air conditioners, R290, NH3 and CO2 have been earmarked to be the main alternatives for commercial heat pump water heaters, water chillers and cold chain facilities.
CO2 demonstration projects for future action
In 2016, FECO wants to further encourage the use of CO2 in different applications, including cold storage, heat pump water heaters and supermarkets.
The government will soon publish a bidding document, calling for proposals for 2-3 demonstration projects for replacing supermarket HFC refrigeration system with CO2 or cascade systems. The projects will be carried out in different areas of China, which would allow system efficiency to be evaluated in different climatic zones. This could serve as a guideline for future actions to promote CO2 systems.
Revised standards for broader use of naturals
China is also involved in amending international standards, such as IEC 60335-2-40 and ISO 5149. Zhifeng pointed out that these standards are very important, as they regulate the extent to which naturals can be used in specific refrigeration and air conditioning systems.
For example, the Chinese national standard GB 9237 (based on the old version of the ISO 5149 international standard) forbids the use of flammable refrigerants. This prevents the use of the majority of natural refrigerants, except for some very special fields of application. “The new version of ISO 5149 allows the use of flammable refrigerants, but limits their use,” explained Zhifeng.
FECO is currently working on a revision of its national standard GB 9237. It hopes to issue the new version this year, which would remove many barriers standing in the way of natural refrigerants.
China also plans to revise the GB 4706.32 national standard, which allows the use of R290 but limits the charge to a point that R290 can only be used in smaller air conditioners. A new national safety standard for CO2 in cold storage has also been drafted and now is awaiting comment from industry. It is expected to be finalised in the second half of 2016.