Brazil Faces Challenges, Opportunities, with HCFC Phase Out

Brazil will host the 2016 Olympics and the World Cup this year, two high-profile events that will draw the attention of the rest of the world. And within our industry, several factors are making the country worth watching as it takes an increasingly central role in the international growth of natural refrigerants.

Size is one factor: it is the fifth-largest country in terms of area and has the world´s fifth-largest population. It also has the seventh-largest economy, which is notable for several sectors depending on refrigeration. Brazil ranks number three in agricultural exports worldwide and is the leading global supplier of beef, chicken, orange juice and soy. It also has a thriving and diverse industrial sector, second only to that of the U.S. in the western hemisphere.

Brazilian industry benefited from substantial investment in new equipment and technologies since the Real Plan brought stability to Brazil’s currency in 1994, paving the way for impressive economic growth in the ensuing years. However, industries like industrial refrigeration face significant challenges in Brazil, along with important opportunities.

Brazil’s ammonia refrigeration industry currently faces two related challenges: safety, and the lack of qualified ammonia refrigeration operators and technicians. A study by Alessandro da Silva of 38 ammonia incidents in refrigeration facilities in Brazil that occurred between 2010 and 2013 illustrates the relationship between these two problems.

About 55 percent of the incidents resulted from operator error or poor maintenance and another 10.5 percent from improper repair. Da Silva concludes that the majority of blame for these system failures lies with the operators and owners as well as negligent maintenance routines. He cites the lack of skilled ammonia refrigeration technicians, insufficient employee training and ammonia training courses, and the absence of programs for process safety management, risk management and emergency response as underlying causes for incidents described in his study. Among the other direct causes of the ammonia incidents he describes are faulty design or fabrication (13 percent), safety valve issues (10.5 percent) and improper installation (3 percent). Da Silva classifies the remaining incidents (8 percent) as unknown or under investigation.

Another challenge is the limited amount of technical information and knowledge for industrial refrigeration in Brazil. One limiting factor is language: Brazil is the only Portuguese speaking country in Latin America and a small percentage of the population speaks English. Until recently there were few materials specific to ammonia refrigeration available in Portuguese. Brazil has one safety standard for refrigeration; however, it does not specifically address ammonia refrigeration systems. In the last decade, the Brazilian government has begun to remedy the scarcity of published technical guidance. Following an ammonia accident affecting 127 workers including two fatalities at a shrimp processing plant in the city of Natal in northeastern Brazil in 2003, the department of worker health and safety published a general introduction to ammonia refrigeration technology for safety inspectors to facilitate better interaction with the industry.

Then, in 2009, Brazil’s environment ministry published three more detailed reference guides for the industry, including: Design Recommendations for the Safe Operation of Ammonia Refrigeration Systems; Recommendations for Commissioning and Start-up for Ammonia Refrigeration Systems; and Recommendations for Operation and Maintenance of Ammonia Refrigeration Systems.

The three guides, available for download at the publications page of, reference IIAR standards and bulletins as well as other international and Brazilian standards.

In fact, parts of the guides rely heavily on IIAR content. In the design guide, the section on machinery room design is based primarily on IIAR Bulletin 112. The chapter on machinery room ventilation draws heavily on Bulletin 111 and the design recommendations for future modifications are largely based on Bulletin 107. In the second guide, there is a chapter on start-up based on Bulletin 110 and another chapter containing safe operating criteria is based on Bulletin 109. Among the twelve sources mentioned in the third guide on operations and maintenance are four IIAR bulletins, the Ammonia Data Book and three IIAR technical papers.

In the second half of 2013, the ABNT’s (the Brazilian Association of Technical Standards) industrial refrigeration studies commission began laying out Brazil’s first ammonia refrigeration standard. The standard will be based on existing international publications including ANSI/IIAR-2. The group working on this standard includes academics, design engineers, consultants, end users and equipment manufacturers.

The growing amount of technical information and knowledge specific to ammonia and other natural refrigerants should help create new opportunities for natural refrigerant use in Brazil by increasing the safety of current applications and should lead to a growing acceptance, awareness and use of these technologies.

As a signatory of the Montreal Protocol, Brazil participated in the CFC phase out and is now in the early stages of implementing an HCFC elimination program. Brazil committed to freeze its HCFC consumption at 2009/2010 levels in 2013 and completely eliminate the importation, production and sale of HCFCs by 2040.

However, according to Leonilton Tomaz Cleto, the refrigeration consultant who worked with the government to develop the three ammonia refrigeration guidelines mentioned above, this HCFC phase-out program will not necessarily translate any time soon into significant gains for natural refrigerants in Brazil. In his view, Brazil lacks the political will to provide the incentives needed for a big shift towards natural refrigerants. Therefore, Tomaz believes, refrigerants with zero ODP but with a high GWP (like R-134a and R410a) may become the main beneficiaries of the HCFC phase out program during the coming years.

On the other hand, there are indications of natural refrigerant use gaining ground despite the absence of big incentives from Brazil’s government. One example is the growing use and recognition of CO2 in commercial refrigeration, especially supermarket applications. A technical paper to be presented in Spanish by Alessandro da Silva at IIAR’s upcoming Industrial Refrigeration Conference and Heavy Equipment Show in Nashville describes 40 such systems in operation throughout Brazil.

According to Fabricio Franco of MRbraz & Associates, Brazil needs to focus on at least four objectives to effectively manage the opportunities presented by the HCFC phase-out, including:

  1. Identify low GWP substitutes for HCFC-22, including HC-290 (Propane), HC-600A (Isobutane) and HFC-32, all flammable;
  2. Revise international standards like IEC 60335-2-40 and ISSO 5419 to include flammable refrigerants;
  3. Train technicians to handle equipment containing flammable refrigerants; and
  4. Prohibit the importation of equipment containing HCFC-22.

Of course, IIAR is eager to do what it can in Brazil to help push the balance in favor of natural refrigerants like ammonia and CO2 . IIAR has provided technical information for the committee developing Brazil’s ammonia refrigeration standard. In addition, IIAR is discussing potential cooperation with ABRAVA, Brazil’s leading HVAC-R association, ABIAF -Brazil’s cold storage industry association, and Brazil’s ASHRAE chapter.