A statement sent to me by the environmental group Greenpeace made it sound like officials of the companies were ready to swear off HFC refrigerants immediately. But those from within our industry who were at the conference said the message was more to the effect that the companies would look at alternatives to HFCs, and they would have some HVACR industry support in such a search.
Those from the industry made it clear that this was a European issue only, and they knew of no similar efforts taking place in North America. This once again reinforced the apparent long-term future for HFCs on this side of the Atlantic versus what is happening in Europe.
Having traveled to Europe a number of times over the past 10 years, I've spent time wandering the streets of cities and towns in Germany, Switzerland, Austria, and Denmark. In all locales, Coca-Cola and McDonalds are much in evidence.
But the refrigerant need is another issue. Coca-Cola is available in restaurants and grocery stores, as well as from street vendors. But it is served at room (or outside ambient) temperature, usually from bottles. Occasionally, a 12-ounce can is found in a store refrigerator, but such fridges don't seem to be down to the 38 degrees to 40 degrees F that we are used to in the United States. And cans sitting on flaked ice may be found for sale from the street vendors. But room temp is most common. I can't recall seeing any soft drink can dispensing machines.
I'm not much for dining at a McDonalds while traveling overseas, preferring native dishes and some sense of adventure. But most of those chain's restaurants seem well air conditioned. And I know in China, the McDonalds restaurants there serve soft drinks in cups well loaded with cubed ice, making such locales popular spots for U.S. tourists.
Refrigerant LegislationIn much of Europe, CFCs and HCFCs are long gone. HFCs are popular, but there are efforts to phase out their use. It is not a united front. The push usually starts with environmental or "green" groups, and then catches favor with some legislators who pass legislation - usually with loopholes large enough to drive a service van through.
The alternatives talked about in smaller refrigeration equipment are propane and similar products that are already commonly used in domestic refrigerators. Larger systems bypassing HFCs might look at ammonia or an ammonia/CO2 combination. And much attention is being paid to CO2 alone as a refrigerant.
The Belgium conference promoted the idea of air conditioning and refrigeration running on gasoline, diesel, bio-fuels, and solar power. Some of those approaches involved use of the Stirling engine, a technology that has been on the radar screen for a number of years.
The barricades that prevent such efforts in the United States are varied. Too many lawyers keep flammable propane out of domestic refrigeration. Energy efficiency expectations are keeping CO2 in the research stages at the moment. The Stirling hasn't gained a groundswell of support. Our government apparently doesn't have enough "greens" to raise much of a fuss over most any of this.
Some involved in this issue think a phaseout of HFCs is eventually going to happen in Europe, and then it may reach U.S. shores. Others think that regardless of what happens in Europe, HFCs have a long, long future in the United States.
For now, when "alternative refrigerant" conferences raise a lot of rhetoric, we need to listen - and then put it all in perspective.
Peter Powell is refrigeration editor. He can be reached at 847-622-7260, 847-622-7266 (fax), or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Publication date: 08/02/2004