Significance of Refrigerant Protocols

The increasing demand for comfort in living and improvement in quality of life guide us to increased reliance on refrigeration/cooling systems. However, conventional refrigerants including chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), hydrofluorocarbon (HFCs), hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs), have been found to have adverse environmental footprints. Some of their prominent drawbacks include very high ozone depletion potential (ODP) and global warming potential (GWP). 

HFCs are included in the Kyoto Agreement (1992) as materials that are to be regulated. Further, an assessment report released by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) led to accelerating the phase-out of HCFCs in the wake of findings that action under the ozone layer treaty could do more to combat global warming than the Kyoto Protocol. Damage to the stratospheric ozone layer has led to the Montreal Protocol and the universal banning of most CFC and HCFC compounds. This eventually has forced and motivated refrigeration engineers to search for new alternate refrigerants such that there is no degradation of performance compared with that of proven CFC and HCFC technology. HFCs are presently used in newly produced refrigeration and air conditioning systems. HFCs are substances with zero ODP and exhibit thermal and transport properties like CFCs and HCFCs. Hence this new class of fluids may be used with machinery already designed for CFCs and HCFCs with minor modifications. In the current situation, it does not seem very sensible to replace the CFC/HCFCs with a new family of related hydrocarbons, equally foreign in nature which could harm the ambient. 

Recently, the Minister of Environment, Forest and Climate Change of India attended the 2022 United Nations Climate Change Conference or Conference of the Parties, commonly referred to as COP27, in Egypt and stated the following statement at the event: “The world urgently needs a paradigm shift from mindless and destructive consumption to mindful and deliberate utilization. We are trustees of this planet Earth. We must nurture it through sustainable lifestyles that optimize resource use and minimize waste.” This proves the government's awareness and motivation to restrict and eventually eliminate the usage of synthetic refrigerants from the Indian market. 

PFAS (or per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) restriction proposal

PFASs are a group of thousands of mainly artificial substances that are used in numerous applications in the European Union (EU). These applications comprise uses in textiles, food packaging, lubricants, refrigerants, electronics, construction, and many more. These substances are used on their own (non-polymeric or polymeric) and as constituents in mixtures and (complex) articles for consumer, professional, and industrial uses. PFASs may persist in the environment longer than any other artificial chemical and its the removal from surface water, groundwater, soil, sediment is technically extremely difficult and very costly. 

Risks to the environmental and human health using PFAS were addressed by the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) and provides an elaborative assessment of the practicability, effectiveness, monitorability, and socio-economic impacts of restriction options (ROs) under reach as the most suitable risk management option (RMO) to address the identified risks. (Annex XV report: 

Environmental monitoring of PFASs demonstrates ubiquitous distribution in the environment, including organisms, drinking water sources, and food crops. Also, human biomonitoring shows the omnipresence of PFASs in humans, with highly exposed communities showing the highest levels leading to issues like delayed mammary gland development, lower birth rate, liver damage, kidney cancer, testicular cancer and many other issues.  

The restriction proposal by ECHA is defined as any substance that contains at least: one fully fluorinated methyl (CF3-) or methylene (-CF2-) carbon atom (without any H/Cl/Br/I attached to it). Such substances shall not be manufactured, used or placed on the market. Therefore, as artificial refrigerants consist of PFASs, use of natural refrigerant needs to be promoted with high importance.  

Though this regulation only applies to Europe, it will eventually spread to every region of the world. The HVAC&R sector in India must take PFASs restriction into account, along with Kigali Amendment and Paris Agreement, to attain sustainable development goals. Additionally, it will help the future export of heat pump and refrigeration solutions made in India to Europe.

The situation in Norway

CO2 systems are being installed at a high rate and already operating to fulfill the overall heating and cooling load demands in various sectors. The catalyst behind the same is, Norway introduced a tax and refund system on refrigerants more than a decade ago. Moreover, the industry/manufacturer and end-users were introduced and guided towards safe handling and return of the natural refrigerants after the end of life of systems using synthetic refrigerants. Furthermore, due to the Norwegian cost penalty on fluids with a high global warming potential (GWP) systems applying alternative working fluids are developed and implemented for more than 20 years. NTNU being a pioneer of such a technology is motivated towards supporting such a noble cause for the future generation. As the institute and its technocrats believe, developing a new class of synthetic refrigerants clamming with an ultra-low global warming potential as the alternative, will not help in handling the existing climate issues, in fact, they will accelerate a new problem soon.   

The situation in India

Concerningly, the situation in India is quite different and challenging compared to other developed and developing parts around the globe. As India is classified as a developing country, most of the HVAC&R units in operation and being installed at present are applying man-made synthetic refrigerants. As this is a normal and preferable practice by the manufacturers which is proven as extremely harmful to the ambient. The reason behind the same is a massive technology and awareness gap, which makes it difficult to adapt to the existing scenario. 

Even though it is a bit challenging, the Indian industry could adapt to such an available and matured technology as CO2 and leapfrog towards the technology developed and evolved by the developed countries as HVAC&R demand continues to grow. This would eventually strengthen the industry on the global market mission, enabling Indian companies to supply solutions to other regions besides the national markets. On such guidelines, the aim of INDEE+ is to coordinate actions and deliver training courses and develop demonstration sites to transfer knowledge to the decision-makers within various application sectors. Also, required support will be given to ongoing R&D programs, to implement real-world applications mainly manufactured in India, and to utilize upcoming demosites and training facilities to educate (new) experts in the field of heating as well as cooling and identify key regulatory hurdles for these eco-friendly zero global warming potential (GWP) refrigerants to be made accessible and affordable in the Indian market.