Peter Powell

Once every four years, a major conference with a decided emphasis on refrigeration takes place. These International Congresses of Refrigeration draw technical papers and presenters from throughout the world, and since it is only once every four years, some significant developments are reported.

Each Congress also features a number of keynote speakers in plenary sessions. Their topics often provide a barometer of the key issues facing the industry globally.

At the 21st International Congress of Refrigeration in 2003, several keynote speakers did a bit of HFC-bashing, CO2-advocating, or a combination of both. The theme seemed to be, HFCs are on their way out and alternatives like CO2 will rule.

But at the 22nd International Congress of Refrigeration this past summer, HFCs came in for praise because they helped tone down concerns over ozone depletion and proved workable in highly energy-efficient equipment. CO2 had its advocates, but the refrigerant seemed to still be in a niche market with much research still pending to determine its workability and cost effectiveness in a wide variety of applications.

In fact, at the most recent Congress, the five keynote speakers were in praise of all the advances the HVACR industry - particularly refrigeration - has made in such areas as the environment, food safety, indoor air quality, and medical-related research and storage. These speakers came from both within and beyond the industry.


In four years, not much happened. HFCs didn’t fall under a phaseout schedule as some wanted due to global warming issues. The industry was able to convince those who have the power to order phaseouts that they did not need to do so. They showed HFCs to be a good, cost-effective refrigerant option for the foreseeable future and simply pointed out that leak-tight systems, which appear to be more and more common, do not contribute to global warming.

(As a side note here, it appears the current poster child for global warming is car emissions, meaning the latest bad guys are the automobile industry and all of us who turn the key in our gas-guzzlers for an unnecessary trip.)

Meanwhile, CO2 continues to make inroads, currently in conjunction with ammonia and HFCs, in efforts to reduce the charge of the latter two refrigerants. As a stand-alone refrigerant, research continues but has not reached the point where it can economically and technically replace either ammonia or HFCs.


In terms of emphasis at the International Congress of Refrigeration, there might be one other consideration. That 21st conference four years ago was in Washington, within symbolic earshot of U.S. legislators and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Maybe the much ado about CO2 and other so-called refrigerants currently not in widespread use was a way to make decision makers aware of other options.

The most recent conference was in Beijing, China. Since China is a so-called “developing” country (as opposed to “developed” nations like the United States, Canada, and European nations), it is allowed to use HCFCs like R-22 in new equipment for many years longer than developed countries.

There is a move in China and other developing countries to move away from HCFCs at a faster pace, but that would be just toward the established HFCs along with more use of ammonia. Such developing countries do not seem ready to do much trial ballooning of anything beyond HFCs and ammonia.

Close to 700 of the 1,200 or so attendees at the most recent conference were from China, meaning CO2 and other alternatives may not have been the most urgent topic for them.

At the same time, it should be noted that the 23rd International Congress of Refrigeration will take place in 2011 in Prague, Czech Republic. That brings the once-every-four-year event to Europe, and it is from Europe that the push to do away with CFCs and HCFCs first came, and from which there is still the most pressure to phase out HFCs. The majority of attendees at the Prague event will more than likely come from Europe.

It will be interesting to see what message keynoters will want to bring to that audience.

Publication date:10/01/2007