While natural refrigerants start to slowly — and cautiously — gain a foothold in North America, their impact is more forceful almost everywhere else.

That point was driven home at a seminar presented this fall at the Chillventa trade fair in Nuremburg, Germany. It was presented by Eurammon, a European trade association that advocates natural refrigerants.

“Our goal is to promote the use of natural refrigerants worldwide,” explained Monika Witt, chairwoman of Eurammon. “Our lecture program provides an overview of the trends on international markets and therefore highlights new ways of implementing sustainable and energy-efficient solutions using natural refrigerants.”

Among the presenters in Germany were those familiar to the North American HVACR market. Although their presentations looked beyond the United States and Canada, a number of aspects focused on what could be seen in those countries in the near future.

South America

The South America perspective came from Paul Bishop, International Institute of Ammonia Refrigeration (IIAR) chairman. He noted the association has had seven conferences related to ammonia refrigeration over the past four years in South America.

In one that took place in Ecuador, he noted discussions focused on the fact that “many plants are operating in highly populated areas. Many plants will be undergoing some modification to comply with increasing international trade and quality standards. Manufacturers see the need to have IIAR’s sponsorship to keep the spirit of education and uniform application of best practices.”

The overview of South America noted that HCFC-22 is “still popular”; ammonia “is the choice of the naturals”; and there “is not much development yet” regarding CO2.

Even looking beyond South America, he said, “There is a need for industrial refrigeration training globally. The IIAR has initiated training programs in regions of significant growth including China, India, and Latin America.”


The issue of what is being done in developed countries as being different from requirements in developing countries was part of a talk from Samir Shah, director, Metalex Cryogenics Ltd.

He said India’s large (1.2 billion) and growing (7.8 percent annually) population creates a “huge market potential for cold chain infrastructure.”

While he noted that in 2012 industrial and commercial refrigeration relies heavily on HCFCs, HFCs, and ammonia, “significant process has been made in eliminating ozone depleting substances (i.e., HCFCs) since the entry into force of the Montreal Protocol in 1987.” And while HFCs “are the main options to HCFCs for most of the applications in refrigeration and air conditioning,” Shah said there is a “natural refrigerant advantage” such as with the lower cost of ammonia.

The challenge, he said, is with the need for more education in terms of refrigerant options. While basic training is available, the “majority of the people learn on the job.”

In terms of a natural foothold, “food supermarkets (using such refrigerants) are yet to take off in India. In most family-owned retail stores, the initial cost weighs heavily on buying decisions. Big players like Coke and Pepsi can pursue their global philosophy for natural refrigerants.”
He said he saw “great potential in the hotel industry and supermarkets.” But he added, “Cascaded systems with NH3 have still not taken root. Problems are anticipated for high ambient CO2 system performance.”

In summary, he said, “Service availability and technical know-how for maintenance needs to be upgraded.”


The regulatory aspect for natural refrigerants gaining a stronger foothold was demonstrated in Australia as noted in a presentation called “Carbon Equivalent Refrigerant Levy” by Stefan Jensen, managing director of Scantec Refrigeration Technologies of Brisbane.

That levy aspect is contributing to rising costs of HFCs, he said. “The Clean Energy Future Plan released in July 2011 has as an objective to cut pollution and drive investment in lower polluting industries.” This, he said, will apply to a variety of gases including hydrofluorocarbons.

The Clean Energy Future Plan, which will start in July 2013, also encourages, he said, “a switch to purpose designed equipment using lower GWP gases where this is appropriate and meets relevant safety standards and legislative requirements.”

He noted the HVACR industry has initially been balking at the expectations of the plan because of time constraints, a lack of information, safety issues, warranty risks, panic buying concerns, shortage of trained technicians, among others.

“So is it all bad?” he asked. “No — except perhaps if you happen to be a manufacturer of high GWP refrigerants.” He encouraged as a first step to “stop the leaks.” Then he said to look into the actual process involved in making the transition, especially in terms of energy savings as a result.

“Can we do it? Yes, we can,” he said.

United Kingdom

Presenting the perspective from the United Kingdom, where use of natural refrigerants is especially active, was Andy Pearson of Star Refrigeration. He noted an increasing use of HC refrigerants in domestic refrigeration. There are also, he said, applications in supermarkets with use in retail and water chillers, integral cases and bottle coolers up to 150g, and chillers with large charge up to 25kg.

When it comes to CO2, “this is perhaps the area with greatest diversity of solution. The majority of systems are transcritical with a flash gas bypass system. Transcritical overfeed systems were used by one supermarket, but have not been adopted more widely.

“Secondary CO2 has been adopted by one supermarket — this seems to have been the most efficient and least troublesome system, although it is expensive. There is not an energy penalty for using CO2 as a secondary if the system is designed correctly.”

A couple of examples, he noted, include the following:

• Low Pressure Receiver Unit. “This system is designed to allow higher suction temperatures on the compressors by flooding through the evaporators. This also has the advantage of a lower standstill pressure in the event of a power cut because the receiver is at suction pressure.”

• Pump Station. “These units are retrofitted to HFC systems or installed in new stores with HFC or HC refrigerant as a cascade system. It would also be possible in the future to replace the high stage HFC system with a CO2 transcritical unit if desired.

“Putting HC and CO2 together came with a hydrocarbon cooled CO2 pump station. The pump set can also be supplied with a HC primary in a single unit. This keeps the HC charge to a minimum while giving an all-natural solution.”

And ammonia came in for review from Pearson. “Ammonia offers some unique advantages for heat pump applications. Critical temperature is very high, but so is critical pressure. Ammonia behavior at high temperature and pressure is challenging — everything is intensified.”

At the same time, he noted, “There is no current solution with natural fluids for larger split air conditioners on the market in the UK (or anywhere else in the world).”

His conclusions related to the United Kingdom reflected those of presenters relative to other parts of the world. “UK legislation has not hindered the uptake of natural refrigerants but it has not particularly helped either. The biggest advances are being driven by major supermarket chains. But the lack of service skills seems to be the biggest hurdle to overcome.”

Publication date: 12/3/2012