NH3 Around the WORLD

Ammonia refrigeration is emerging as a dominant market in many important world economies as governments move to re-energize the Montreal protocol to phase-down greenhouse gasses. At the same time, cold chains are growing in areas of the world that are becoming the newest builders, users and designers of industrial refrigeration, underscoring the need for widely adopted safety standards.

Playing perhaps the most contentious roles in these new developments, are China and India, two countries at the center of the larger conversation about global warming and the industry-focused issue of safety.

Meanwhile, Australia, and European countries like Spain are on the brink of industry expansion as governments in both places force faster adoption of HFC-neutral technologies – like natural refrigerants – with new “F-gas” taxes.

That rapid expansion is likely to accelerate the use of new technologies, like low-charge, small package systems, and other innovative approaches to refrigeration that are already growing in the E.U.

While accelerated adoption of new technologies may be set to take place in Europe and Australia, the benefits could have wide-spread implications for the U.S. ammonia refrigeration industry, which has long been on the verge of expanding into new applications, such as supermarkets.

Expansion is also a theme for South and Central American countries which are looking to the International Institute of Ammonia Refrigeration to help them build the codes and standards needed to regulate a burgeoning cold chain infrastructure.

Nevertheless, multi-country environmental agreements intended to phase out halocarbons are driving many of the changes happening in the ammonia refrigeration industry around the world. Chief among them, the Montreal Protocol has been controversial in the past decade, but with increasing support, is becoming a major force paving the way for the adoption of natural refrigerants.

Earlier this year, President Obama and Chinese President Xi agreed to provisions of the Protocol, saying the United States and China would work together and with other countries to use the expertise and institutions of the Montreal Protocol to phase down the consumption and production of hydrofl urocarbons, among other forms of multilateral cooperation.

At the same time, Indian representatives took a harder line, refusing to agree to a Montreal Protocol amendment which seeks to address the HFC issue. The country wants the issue to be dealt with by the Kyoto Protocol which falls under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. That approach requires only developed countries to phase out gases having global warming potential.

While China and India have different positions on their approach to HFC phase-out agreements like the Montreal protocol, both countries recognize that safety has become the biggest issue faced by their developing cold chains.

China continues to struggle with safety issues, especially regarding training and standards. And although the government has regulations in place, enforcement is sporadic.

India is also plagued by many of the same safety challenges, especially those resulting from an inability to adopt widespread training and standards at the regulatory level, as well as antiquated systems that don’t meet the standards applied in the United States and Europe.

IIAR is currently collaborating with China and India to provide safety resources, through work with the China Association of Refrigeration, and the Indian Association of Ammonia Refrigeration.

IIAR past president Bruce Badger spoke in China last year and urged an increased emphasis on training operators and senior management and on educating facilities about the economic benefits of following proper procedures.

He said that cooperation between the industry and the government is vital in order to improve safety.

For India, reaching a consensus on training has been difficult. But the formation of the AAR has led to significant progress. The association’s members have spread across the country over the past 18 months, conducting training programs and providing education on the safe and efficient use of ammonia. In both India and China, “Education from the workers on up to the owners is the key,” said Badger. “And that is something we’re starting to see in both places.”

Meanwhile, in Europe the regulatory environment is pushing the faster adoption of natural refrigerants.

In Spain, a new tax on fluorinated greenhouse gases signaled that the country, like many others in Europe, is getting serious about outlawing all HFC’s. The tax will apply to fluorinated gases or their mixtures with a global warming potential greater than 150 for up to a maximum of €100 per kilogram. The tax will be phased in gradually starting in January 2014 and 2015 to eventually reach a level corresponding to €20/tCO2 eq in 2016.

In fact, the phase-out of synthetic refrigerants with a high global warming potential is being done on a local level all across Europe. Government programs that encourage the use of natural refrigerants include subsidies for supermarkets in Germany, tax exemptions in the Netherlands, and lower tax rates depending on contribution to global warming potential in Scandinavia, Switzerland and other countries.

In Australia, Prime Minister Tony Abbott published draft legislation to repeal the country’s carbon tax, including the carbon component of the levy on synthetic greenhouse gases introduced by the preceding government.

After the levy was imposed in July, 2012, synthetic refrigerant prices skyrocketed by as much as 500 percent as manufacturers increased their prices more than the tax, creating a strong incentive for facilities to switch to natural refrigerants.

The Australian Refrigeration Association responded to the potential tax repeal by presenting a list of issues to Australia’s incoming prime minister, calling on the government to encourage rather than impede the industry to accept ammonia, and asking it to undertake a comprehensive training program and to educate the public on the benefits and feasibility of using natural refrigerants.

Meanwhile, in South America, countries like Chile and Brazil are facing regulatory changes of their own, while at the same time ramping up training programs to support a growing industry.

The biggest training news to come out of Chile during the past year is the development of the Good Practices Manual for Ammonia Refrigeration.

The Chilean Chamber of Refrigeration and Air Conditioning, in conjunction with the Ministry of Health, and with the support of the IIAR and more than 36 volunteers from various sectors, said they have completed 95 percent of the manual.

In addition to the Good Practices Manual, a new occupational profile, “Ammonia Refrigeration Systems Operator,” was also published in Chile last November.

The intent of both publications is to certify technicians and to implement pre-testing in order to evaluate competency.

Chile’s Environment Ministry is creating training plans for technicians and is also scheduled this year to open a retail cold center that operates with CO2 as a refrigerant, according to Peter Yufer, a member of the board of directors for the Chilean Chamber of Refrigeration and Air Conditioning.

Of special interest are plans by the Health Ministry to develop regulation for the use of ammonia refrigeration.

Meanwhile, Brazil, like many other countries, is in the process of eliminating HCFC-based refrigerants, with the consumption of R22 expected to begin falling by 2016.

The challenge facing Brazil is to gradually substitute R22 with alternatives, like natural refrigerants.

“There are many market product solutions including natural refrigerants. The sector will have to adjust to the technologies that best serve their business, while always evaluating the cost benefit in order to survive in the market,” said Paulo Neulaender, ABRAVA’s vice president for environment.

“We believe that natural refrigerants will provide a viable solution in a certain segment of the sector. They are an excellent option environmentally. The market will have to adjust to this because we’re certain that natural refrigerants are here to stay.”

Neulaender said Brazil is counting on IIAR’s support and partnership as a transition to natural refrigerants in that country continues. Adriano Castro Rocha, ABIAF president, echoed those sentiments, adding that the IIAR’s experience with natural refrigerants will help the country accelerate their use in the Brazilian marketplace.

“This could be achieved by way of agreements, technical visits, courses, manuals and standards, and by supporting the technological development of the cold storage industry,” he said. “This contribution will be reflected not only in the upgrade of current installations, but also in the reduction of operational costs, and, consequently, current logistical costs in Brazil.”

The requirements of the Montreal Protocol will result in the revision of the existing design and construction standards in Brazil, leading to opportunities for manufacturers and installers who must update systems to comply.

In Brazil, like many other countries these days, there is a “growing consciousness of environmental responsibility” among governments that see the economic benefits of ammonia and other natural refrigerants, said Rocha.

Nevertheless, while environmental agreements and regulations may be driving the industry in much of the world, economic incentives shouldn’t be overlooked, he said. “Natural refrigerants tend to be more energy efficient; contributing to economic benefits worldwide in whatever market they’re used. They just make sense.”