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Winds of change


Back in the mid-’80s, a discovery was made —various chemicals with chlorine molecules reached the ozone layer and caused irreversible damage to the environment. On the back of this alarming situation, a global movement under the Montreal Protocol began in 1987 which enforced discontinuation of harmful substances, especially gaseous and volatile chemicals. Under this protocol, it was decided to phase-out ozone depleting substances (ODP) in two phases.

Since then, over 200 countries have ratified the protocol. In 2007, it was decided to advance the phase-out dates by 10 years. India is classified as a developing country under the protocol.

Phase-1 of the process started way back in 1993-94 and was completed by 2000. The United States adopted the phase-out of Hydrochlorofluorocarbon (HCFCs) from January 2010. India and other Article-5 countries have begun the phase-out from January 2013, which is further divided into sub-phases. From January 2013 to December 2014, the consumption of HCFCs will be limited to the average consumption of the country in the years 2009 and 2010 (which are the baselines). From January 2015, there will be a reduction in consumption by 10% by 2020, there will be a further reduction by 25%. The total phase-out for the manufacturing industry has been planned by 2030, and 2040, for the service sector.

Globally, HCFCs pose a grave threat to the environment, especially in developed countries due to very high consumption. The threat in India is not as huge as other developed nations, primarily due to low penetration of HVAC systems. The current penetration level of HVAC systems in the country is about 3%. However, estimates suggest that the market is expected to double in the next decade, posing several challenges for manufacturers and the government.

In India, the process is being monitored by the Ozone Cell under the Ministry of Environment and Forests. The cell has conducted multiple
workshops with all stakeholders to generate awareness, arrive at a database and to act as a facilitator to guide
the industry. As the Ozone Depleting Potential for different chemicals
varies, consumption will also be dependent on market dynamics. “The phase-out dates before 2015 for R-22 and R-141b are under constant scrutiny. Ozone Depleting Potential for R-141b is higher than R-22, and therefore, the phase-out of R-141b is top priority,” J M Bhambure, executive vice-president, R&D and technology, Blue Star Limited, explained. Several small and medium enterprises (SMEs) are involved in the implementation due to the nature of their activities involving this refrigerant, he added.

From January 2015, manufacturers of continuous insulated panel, refrigerators and cold room manufacturers who use R-141b will have to adopt new refrigerants. Many refrigerator manufacturers have already changed over to eco-friendly refrigerants.

With respect to air conditioning
and refrigeration equipment, R-22
is the refrigerant to be phased-out. For this, the equipment has been sub-categorised and prioritised on the
basis of consumption and potential growth. Room air conditioners top this list. Due to market dynamics and awareness of end-consumers, the sub-category of chillers using R-22 is predominantly being phased-out. Similarly, equipment based on latest technology such as Variable Refrigerant Flow (VRF) have adopted R-410a refrigerant. The focus will also be on room air conditioners.

With regard to the HVAC industry, the most popularly used refrigerants to be phased-out are HCFC-22, popularly known as R-22 and HCFC-141b (R-141b). R-22 is used in domestic air conditioners, water coolers, packaged units and ducted systems, refrigeration equipment as well as chillers. R-141b is used in the process of foaming which is used as insulation in cold rooms, deep freezers, refrigerators, air handling units and other equipment.

There are not many alternatives available for R-22. Europe has adopted R-407c as an alternative. However, it was soon realised that there are more challenges for the manufacturing and service industries due to the three-compound mixture of this refrigerant. Presently, R-410a is a widely used refrigerant across the globe as an alternate for room air conditioners and packaged units. R-134a has been adopted for chillers and R-404a for refrigeration equipment.

Adoption of R-410a has its own challenges because of its high operating pressure, which is 1.5 times that of R-22, and higher deration in the ambient Indian climate. “R-410a, as a refrigerant, is extremely sensitive towards moisture. Therefore, one has to be careful when you are repairing or charging refrigerant in system based on R-410a,” Amit Maheshwari, director, marketing and strategy, Carrier India, said.

This means that apart from re-designing products, thicker material has to be used, resulting in higher costs. Further, due to high operating pressure, there are several service challenges. “This makes it necessary to have a lot of skill set development on the field side,” Maheshwari added.

There is a mix of several MNCs as well as native companies operating in the Indian market. The latter have to develop technology themselves, which is expensive as well as time-consuming. Indian companies across the supply chain and R&D infrastructure, have to make this investment.

The alternative for R-141b used in foaming is Cyclopantane. This is a natural refrigerant and is flammable by nature. Manufacturing infrastructure has to be changed for this purpose of phase-out, which requires huge investments. Funds have been allotted since Indian manufacturers are eligible for it.

As the issue of ozone depletion is being addressed, there is an increasing recognition of the intensity and impact of global warming. International bodies are generating awareness refrigerants with low ODP and low GWP. However, all of them are flammable and explosive in nature. The present challenge is on how to address the safety requirement in manufacturing and servicing of the equipment when natural refrigerants are used.

The Refrigeration and Airconditioning Manufacturers’ Association (RAMA) highlights several challenges for the industry. In 2007, the accelerated phase-out schedule was agreed upon, based on the assumption that HFCs would be readily available as feasible substitutes. However, the present proposal for HFC phase-down challenges the core assumption behind accelerated HCFC-22 phase-out. There’s also lack of clarity on the use and availability of other (non-HFC) substitutes. Although promised under the Montreal Protocol, there has been no transfer of technology in the production sector.

Compensation for phase-out is not in accordance with the economic and technical assessments and does not take into consideration any incremental costs associated with the transformation. RAMA also highlights the issue of delay in receipt of compensation. “There are various sectors that consume HCFCs such as foam, refrigeration HVAC, and there is lack of clarity on how the phase-out will be implemented in various sectors,” Maheshwari said.

“Blue Star has already adopted R-134a refrigerant in its chillers, R-410a in its VRF systems and also developed the requisite technology for ducted systems and room air-conditioners. Technology for natural refrigerants is presently under evaluation in the company,” Bhambure said.

The progress has been satisfactory so far. HCFC production capacity for emissive use has been frozen since 2000. In fact, India is the only Article-5 country to do so. CFC production in the country was also phased-out ahead of schedule.

The government can ensure that there is a smooth transformation by listing out clear and transparent guidelines for funding mechanism based on detailed techno-economic assessments. The government and the international community must ensure that there is a robust and legally-binding mechanism for technology.


HVAC growth overview

  • HVAC industry is growing in terms of volume and quality with the use of latest and innovative technology.
  • The Asia-Pacific region will outpace the world average, led by China and India.
  • The southern region of India is growing at a rate of 35-40% per annum and the HVAC industry is slated to grow at the same pace for the next decade.

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May 2020
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