Global efforts to secure a historic agreement to phase down HFC consumption under the Montreal Protocol are creating opportunities for natural refrigerants to thrive, heard participants in the 12th IIR Gustav Lorentzen Natural Working Fluids Conference in Edinburgh today.
The conference, taking place from 21-24 August at Heriot-Watt University on the edge of the Scottish capital, brings together HVAC&R industry experts, academics, students and other interested parties to discuss the latest technological and policy developments driving wider uptake of natural refrigerants such as hydrocarbons, CO2 and ammonia worldwide.
“It looks like this is the year for locking down an international agreement to phase down HFCs,” said Alexander Von Bismarck of the Environmental Investigation Agency, who expressed hope that a global deal would be in place by the end of 2016.
Earlier this summer, representatives of close to 200 countries met in Vienna to discuss amending the Montreal Protocol to address growing emissions of HFCs in developed and developing countries (hydrocarbons21.com; 25/07/16). Confidence was high that the nations will adopt a deal on phasing down HFCs globally at the next Meeting of the Parties to the Montreal Protocol in Kigali, Rwanda in October.
Adopting an agreement would just be the first step, however, “So much depends on the implementation of the phase-down and the speed at which replacements for HFCs penetrate the market,” Von Bismarck warned.
With the prospects for an HFC phase-down deal in Kigali looking good, it is imperative for natural refrigerants to step in as market-ready alternatives. “The replacement of HFCs is a huge business opportunity,” said Carole Bond of Carbon Data Resources, a UK-based environmental consultancy.
“We need to understand the inherent connections between our industry and the world outside,” said Bond. Only by interacting with one another can stakeholders deliver the dramatic change required to transition away from HFCs, she argued.
Bond urged industry, end users and academics to collaborate on innovative solutions to deliver UNFCCC climate targets agreed at COP21 in Paris in December 2015. The Paris Agreement set out a global action plan for putting the world on track to avoid dangerous climate change by limiting global warming to well below 2°C.
Getting off ‘the chemical treadmill’
Natural refrigerants will play a key role in delivering the Paris goals but raising awareness will be crucial to ensuring that they fulfill their potential, according to Bond. “We need to communicate the benefits of natural refrigerants much more effectively to the world at large – including governments, industry, end users and NGOs,” she said.
Bond singled out natural refrigerants’ lack of patentability, however, as a barrier to their wider uptake. “They are perceived to have less value,” she said. To address this, she called for greater recognition of natural working fluids’ potential to deliver COP21 objectives.
Von Bismarck agrees. “We need to increase the piece of the pie that goes to natrefs, which aren’t patent-protected,” he said. “We have a chance now to leapfrog HFCs and get off this chemical treadmill,” the EIA representative argued.
Other conference participants stressed the need to consider different environmental factors rather than simply GWP when assessing the suitability of HFC alternatives. For example, Bond warned that some synthetic refrigerants contaminate water.