07 October 2016

Australia ups its game on HFCs

A-Gas Group Commercial Business Development Director Ken Logan with an update on how the global phasedown of HFCs is influencing the industry in Australia


Europe leads the way on the phasedown of high GWP HFCs as F-Gas bans and refrigerant quota reductions approach rapidly. This is already putting a considerable pressure on the supply chain and the refrigeration industry in Europe is beginning to face up to the prospect of shortages of high GWP HFCs.  There are a number of alternatives available, ranging from low GWP HFCs and HFOs to natural refrigerants, which are opening a new window for end users and equipment suppliers.

But the effects of this are being felt around the world too, as countries, including the US and Australia look to meet the demands of the Montreal Protocol. In terms of phasing out high GWP HFCs, Australia is currently behind Europe but well ahead of the US. Recently, the Australian Government announced that it is committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 26 to 28 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030 and reducing the use of HFCs is a key part of this.

This was a central topic at the bi-annual A-Gas customer seminar in Sydney attended by end-users, wholesalers, engineers, contractors and representatives from Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) and the automotive industry. There was a broad spectrum of people attending the seminar which also focused on the changes taking place in the refrigeration industry globally and how they could affect Australia.

Australia is planning a statutory phasedown of HFC imports beginning in January 2018 and it is hoped that this will reduce HFC emissions by 85 per cent by 2036.  The phasedown is viewed as more ambitious than the proposals for a global reductions being negotiated under the Montreal Protocol.  It has a lower baseline – reflecting Australia’s current demand – and more frequent reduction steps.

As part of this the Australian Government is promising to reduce the regulatory burden on business by changing the licensing arrangements for HFCs, encourage business to reduce refrigerant leakage and look at ways of extending the life of equipment. The Australian market will be moving into quotas in the near future which will put it ahead of the timetable laid down by the Montreal Protocol.

From January 2018 end-users in Australia will have to begin the switch to low GWP refrigerants. This includes changing to new or retrofit equipment something supermarkets in Europe are already doing as they move away from what was once the go-to refrigerant R404A. It is in Australia’s favour that in this market there are already a sizeable number of CO2 installations in place. This trend followed the introduction of a carbon tax on HFCs a few years ago – which drove up the price of refrigerants – and persuaded supermarkets that CO2 made a good alternative.

Small quantities of R22 are still used in Australia – although it is heavily regulated – with reclaimed gas filling the pipeline. Reductions in its use are planned year on year. In Europe R22 has been banned since January 2015.

It is fair to say that the recovery and the reclamation of refrigerants will have a key part to play in the HFC phasedown in Australia as the economic and the environmental benefits begin to become more attractive to end-users.

This more holistic approach to refrigerant management will feature highly in the minds of end-users.

Those attending the seminar were also told how supermarkets in Europe had recognised that fixing leaks was probably the first step along the road to a reduction in the use of HFCs. Nobody should be in any doubt that an efficient leak reduction programme makes a considerable difference to refrigerant use and saves money long term. In Europe F-Gas has made a difference by accelerating the demand for better leak reduction regimes and the same can happen in Australia.

By using the Trace-A-Gas® leak detection system, a five per cent hydrogen and 95 per cent nitrogen mixture from A-Gas, engineers are able to get to the heart of the problem. This enables them to locate leaks and find evidence of former leaks. 

Other factors which will hasten the demise of high GWP HFCs include the introduction of low GWP refrigerants and blends including HFOs, some of which are mildly flammable. They have a short atmospheric life and contribute far less to global warming than more commonly used HFC blends. Better equipment design, higher safety standards and improved training in the industry will also have an impact on the phasedown.

In the US the refrigeration and HVAC industry is aiming to have HFCs phased down as part of the Montreal Protocol but they are well off the pace compared to Europe and Australia.  The Americans are trying to catch up but it is fair to say that they are five to ten years behind Europe in terms of where they are.

They’ve made some strides in the last two years but the US has different views on how HFC reduction should be implemented. As a yardstick it is worth noting that you can still buy and use virgin R22 in the US for some existing systems.  There is a 2020 import and production ban on the gas end but installers will still be able to use reclaimed R22 indefinitely after that cut-off for existing systems.

I’ll finish by focusing on Australia where change is likely to gather pace in the years to come. The phasedown of HFCs is only just beginning, the mechanics are in place but we are still looking for more information on how it is going to unfold.