Japan promotes natural refrigerants with R&D and training activities

Atsuhiro Meno from the Japanese Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) gave an overview of the current situation and challenges for reducing f-gas emissions, with HCFCs now at the final stage of a phase-out in Japan.

Meno described different ways in which the Japanese government is trying to increase public awareness, especially by organising information meetings for the industry and end users. Since 2014, the government has already convened 110 meetings. Additionally, many meetings were organised by industry, municipalities and other stakeholders on a voluntary basis. The government is also raising awareness by publishing announcements in general and industry newspapers, and by distributing leaflets.

As part of the government’s programme to re-educate professional engineers, a two-day training course on refrigerant leakage prevention during installation and maintenance is organised. The programme aims to provide engineers with practical experience on how to handle natural refrigerant-based technology, such as CO2 systems. At the end of the initiative, 400 engineers will have been trained nationwide.

The government also provides subsidies for research and development of new technology. One of the projects that will run from 2016 until 2020 aims to develop new small to mid-sized air conditioning systems using low-GWP and efficient refrigerants, such as natural working fluids. The project foresees the development of major components, such as compressors and heat exchangers.

Market for CO2 technologies continues to grow in Japan

Tetsuji Okada, executive director of the Japan Refrigeration & Air Conditioning Industry Association, gave an overview of natural refrigerant trends in Japan, with CO2 remaining the main refrigerant used in residential heat pump water heaters.

“For commercial heat pump water heaters, CO2 is a new refrigerant that is coming up on the market, with 20-30% of equipment now using CO2. The number of commercial showcases that use CO2 as a refrigerant is also increasing.” 

However, Okada sees a totally different situation in the air conditioning sector. “Most of the AC units are middle-ranged temperature units and here the natural refrigerant has not been available. There are quite a few issues for R&D to solve and efforts have been continuing. However, we haven’t seen any commercialised refrigerant for this range at national level.” 

Okada also addressed training of technicians. “We do offer training programmes on how to install and maintain CO2 equipment. It’s a two-day training course that we restarted two years ago. During the first day, technicians are given theoretical studies in the classroom and in the second day they are given practical experience of installing machines.” 

Natural refrigerants in South Asia

Anshu Kumar, a UNEP consultant and international trainer, stressed that the industry in South Asia has been widely adopting natural refrigerant technology. For example, in India, Godrej successfully converted its production of air conditioning technology from HCFC to hydrocarbon refrigerants with the help of GIZ-Proklima.

In Sri Lanka, Singer Refrigerators switched to hydrocarbon R600a in its equipment without asking for any funding from the government. However, some countries, like Bangladesh, are still lagging behind, despite plans to phase out HCFC-based refrigerators in favour of R600a models with the help of UNDP (a Walton–USDOS bilateral project), and to introduce R290 air conditioners. Pakistan also has plans to convert to natural refrigerants.

However, Kumar stressed that there are still many barriers to the wider uptake of natural refrigerants in South Asian countries, such as government policy, expensive equipment and the absence of associations. He called for more funding to be allocated to training technicians. “Training 5% of overall technicians is not enough,” he stressed.

Ambitious policy measures drive innovation worldwide

shecco’s Klara Skacanova briefly touched upon the latest policy developments shaping the natural refrigerant industry in other regions worldwide, including Europe, where more significant changes will come due to the HFC phase-down in 2017, 2018 and 2021. As of 2017, the HFCs pre-charged in equipment will have to be incorporated into the EU-wide HFC phase-down. In 2018 and 2021 the cuts in HFC emissions will be quite significant – 37% and 55% respectively.

Skacanova also highlighted a recent trend that was reported by the European Environment Agency. “The report shows that there was a 95% increase in imports of HFCs just before the EU phase-down started. This indicates that companies were already stockpiling before these measures were introduced,” she said.

Skacanova reported growing interest in another region: North America. In 2015, for example, the US Environment Protection Agency (EPA) approved four hydrocarbons in six new applications. In the beginning of 2016, the EPA will also publish a new rule regarding the use of low-GWP refrigerants, including natural refrigerants in new applications and prohibiting additional high-GWP refrigerants.

In China, the government is showing increased support for natural refrigerants across different sectors. “Proof for this is recommended substitutes for HCFCs, the draft of which was published in the middle of last year and the final version is expected later in February. Most of the substitutes on this list are natural refrigerants across different applications. It is expected that future policies will be based on this to support the introduction of natural refrigerants,” said Skacanova.

“To sum up, we can see regulatory actions taken at national level, as well as international level, and this is intensifying across the world. This creates more opportunities for natural refrigerants. However, the legislative measures can only be as ambitious as the awareness of those designing the policies.”

“The industry also has a role in providing information to policymakers about what is happening in the market,” she concluded.

Author r744