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The Refrigeration Industry’s Journey towards Sustainability
Rajendra Shende
Head, OzonAction Branch
United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP)
Division of Technology, Industry and Economics (DTIE)
Beijing, 21 August 2007
“If we do not change our direction, we are likely to end up where we are headed”
– A Chinese proverb.
Where are we headed?
The world community is at an unprecedented crossroads. The avalanche of the progress in the field of communication and digital technology, coupled with rapid economic growth is shadowing the environmental catastrophe that is looming large on our planet. The concentration of greenhouse gases (GHGs) in the atmosphere is growing at a rate that has not been seen in the last million years of human existence. The consequences are predicted to be devastating, some of which we are already experiencing. The pending threat is real.
This is not yet another ‘doomsday’ prediction. It is not yet one more painting that depicts a gloomy scenario based on vague assumptions. It is the conclusion drawn as a result of a unique global and technological assessment closely reviewed by 195 governments. It is an unequivocal inference drawn by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) that includes world-renowned scientists, technologists and academicians. It is the deduction made after synthesising all the available data and research. In their Fourth Assessment Report published this year, the IPCC’s message is clear, unequivocal and more direct than ever before. It says that man-made GHGs are increasing the earth’s average temperature, which may cause disastrous impacts on our civilization and has irreversible effects on our biosphere if left unchecked.
Climate change is here. The causes are unambiguous. Since the time of the industrial revolution, human activity has belched out nearly 300 Giga tons of carbon dioxide. In the next 25 years we will emit another 300 Giga tons. Well before the end of this century, the concentration of GHGs in the atmosphere would reach the level of 550 ppm, twice the pre-industrial level. That would mean a total emission of 1200 Giga tons of carbon dioxide since the industrial revolution.
What’s more, the world community has overlooked similar analyses and warnings of the IPCC assessments for the last 15 years. Although 10 years ago, in 1997, the world community took a significant step in the right direction by making the political agreement to the Kyoto Protocol, part of the window of opportunity for real action against climate change has already been lost since the first IPCC assessment.
The Kyoto Protocol is at present the sole global instrument to arrest this growing trend of CO2 emissions. A total of 5.8 % reduction in CO2 concentration was targeted under the Kyoto Protocol by the year 2012. This target, though very modest, is now considered to be extremely difficult to meet. It is estimated that by 2010 there will be global increase of 6 % of CO2 emissions as compared to 1990 levels. Climate change is not only happening, but it is out of control. That’s where we are heading.
Hope is the dream of waking-up man- Aristotle
Are there rays of hopes ?
We already have hopes and good news amidst this despair. The world has witnessed a success story that is now unveiling itself. The world is succeeding in averting another global calamity of the 21st century – ozone layer depletion. We are successfully combating the depletion of our stratospheric ozone shield. We were heading in wrong direction. But we took collective actions, employed precautionary wisdom of our forefathers,differentiated the responsibilities between rich and poor without diluting the common goal of protection of the ozone layer. And above all the industries took on the corporate responsibility. The Refrigeration and Air Conditioning (RAC) industry’s role in shaping this success has been paramount.
The Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone layer is a multilateral environmental agreement that is succeeding in achieving its objectives. It is working. United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) brokered that global agreement by facilitating the scientific assessment, as well as by providing science-driven policy options for governments and industries to enable them to take the decisions needed to craft the Montreal Protocol. Through subsequent and regular assessments of the science, technologies and environmental impacts, the Protocol became more and more stringent by advancing the phase out schedules for ozone depleting chemicals. It is sparkling good news amidst discouraging trends in many other global environmental issues, and illustrates that even stringent control measures can be met by countries through collective efforts. I say that the Protocol is “succeeding” because there is still much work left to do before the job is finally done, however, work is progressing in the right direction, it is on track, ozone depleting chemicals are being phased out by developing and developed countries alike and ozone layer is on the way to recovery, though it would take another five decades before it returns to its original level.
In this 20th Anniversary year of the signing of the Montreal Protocol, it is indeed an occasion to celebrate. At the same time it is also an occasion to reflect and analyse the Montreal Protocol’s lessons that can be useful to address climate change.
Today, 20 years after the Montreal Protocol’s entry into force, many of the dire forecasts made by experts about the economic, technological and social consequences of the phase out of CFCs and other Ozone Depleting Substances (ODS) have proven to be wrong by large margins:
ÿ Just prior to the signature of the treaty, no replacement was considered possible for a majority of CFC applications, particularly in RAC sector. It was said that the RAC sector, which caters to society’s critical needs such as the preservation of food and medicines, would be in disarray due to non-availability of CFCs. Today, the production and consumption of CFCs, is down by more than 95% from 1 million tons per annum to only about 20,000 MT annually and no critical sector served by RAC industry has suffered.
ÿ During the negotiation of the original Montreal Protocol in the late 1980s, many thought that if developing countries were allowed to take action 10 years after the action by the developed countries, the consumption of developing countries would show unprecedented rise. In reality, the total consumption of CFCs, in developing countries hardly crossed more than 15% of the peak consumption of the developed countries. As implementation progressed, developing countries met their commitment ahead of the schedule stipulated in the Montreal Protocol. India stopped its Halon production five years ahead of the schedule. Just about a month back, China closed the last manufacturing facilities nearly 18 months ahead of the schedule. In another 30 months from now, CFCs will be in the history books.
ÿ Before the Protocol, industry predicted massive job losses and down trends in both sales and profits for refrigerants and other ODS. In USA alone, US$ 28 billion of annual business and US$ 128 billion of investment in equipment related to CFCs, mainly in RAC, was considered to be at risk in mid-‘80s. None of the annual reports of any corporations have ever reported the loss of employment, sales and profits any time over last 15 years due to phase out of these chemicals. In fact, there have been massive gains due to collateral benefits derived from the ODS phase out.
ÿ The Protocol has resulted in significant net benefits for human health, fisheries, agriculture and building materials. Technological innovation driven by the Protocol is creating additional economic and environmental benefits. By implementing this treaty alone, the world is avoiding 1.5 million cases of skin cancer, 330,000 deaths due to skin cancer and 129 million cases of cataracts. Benefits to agricultural production are estimated to be about US$ 190 billions by 2060. Total economic benefits are estimated to the US$ 459 billion as compared to the cost of implementation of US$ 235 billion – a significant net economic benefit. In USA alone, the health benefits are expected to be in the tune of US$ 4.2 trillion by 2065. With the same logic the world over health benefits could be estimated to be US$ 6 trillion.
ÿ Prior the Montreal Protocol, the world community expressed extreme skepticism that chlorine loading in the stratosphere could be brought back to its pre-CFC level. We are now able to observe such trends through satellite measurements and scientists predict that the ozone layer of pre-CFC era could be expected by middle of this century if countries continue to meet their commitments under the Protocol and there are no unexpected events like volcanic eruption and if there is no global warming.
ÿ A path-breaking funding mechanism known as the Multilateral Fund to assist developing countries on this single global environmental issue has been working without interruption and without decline for the last 16 years. More than US$ 2.2 billion have been disbursed to 145 developing countries to enable them to comply with the Montreal Protocol. Another US$ 200 million have been allotted by the Global Environmental Facility to Countries with Economies in Transition (CEITs) to achieve the Protocol targets
Industry is fortune’s right hand and frugality is left -Unknown
How has the world benefited from RAC industry’s prudent measures?
The contribution of the RAC industry to sustainable development is remarkable. Preservation of perishable food and medicines has resulted in reducing the poverty and improving the heath. Improving life expectancy and the near eradication of diseases like polio could not have been possible with out the RAC industry. Maintaining comfortable working conditions through climate controls have improved productivity and the quality of life.
Technological revolution through innovation:
Before the Montreal Protocol entered into force, nearly 40% of 1 million tons of CFCs was used annually by the refrigeration industry. In the 1980s, only a few businesses and government organizations were optimistic that RAC technology could be developed to meet the challenge of effectively eliminating the use of CFCs. But over the next two decades, the RAC industry galvanized a global technology revolution.
While performing the critical societal tasks, the RAC industry has been subject to technological changes since its inception. Since the 1980s, such changes have been even more rapid due to the requirements of the Montreal Protocol.. In fact we could say that the only element that is constant in the RAC industry is CHANGE! It is interesting that the refrigeration sector saw the Montreal Protocol’s requirement of eliminating CFCs as an opportunity to innovate. Rather than looking at the Montreal Protocol as a ‘forcing Protocol’, it saw it as a ‘fostering Protocol’ and one with full of opportunity. I would like to note the tremendous achievements not only in replacing CFCs but also accruing co-lateral benefits through rapid and frequent technology improvements for enhanced material and energy efficiencies.
Such was the intellectual and financial investment in R & D by the refrigeration industry that, it is believed that the number of research papers on the properties of refrigerants and their mixtures far exceeded the number of research papers on any other single sector during the peak period of last decade.
In last fifteen years, the RAC industry has undergone at least seven technological changes, starting with the pioneering work in leak-detection, containment, best practices, recovery, recycling and reducing initial change of such refrigerants. This helped achieve eco-efficiency by reducing materials. The use of transitional refrigerants like HCFCs which are less harmful to the ozone layer, and then HFCs which are zero ozone depleting substitutes, followed by hydrocarbons which has no ODP nor GWP. These technological changes along with the adoption of not-in-kind alternatives demonstrates RAC industry’s progressive shift towards more sustainable solutions. The containment and leak reduction efforts that the industry undertook were useful to contain hydrocarbons in the equipment so that fire hazards as well as tropospheric ozone formation are minimized. Such a technology evolution has powered the ability of the RAC industry to respond to the changes needed to protect the environment. The RAC industry does not seem to “call it a day” as far as technology innovation goes. Natural refrigerants like carbon dioxide are being constantly explored. The non-compression technologies like absorption refrigeration, magnetic refrigeration are being put in practice. The innovations of RAC are churning out new products like never before. This is what I call the technology revolution.
In the modern world where giga bytes and mega pixels are considered as sole indicators of technology revolution, COPs and LCCPs of RAC sector are the unsung parameters. Where information technology, biotechnology and nano-technology are considered as frontline drivers of modern living, the refrigeration and air conditioning technologies are often forgotten lifelines of this very modern world. This industrial sector continuously learns from the lessons of the Montreal Protocol and leaps forward. The enterprises involved in this sector have shown a remarkable ability to gainfully adapt to the needs of sustainable development. The RAC industry needs to be congratulated without any reservations.
Addressing the climate change: Raising the bar for the technology innovations
It is interesting to note on the 10th Anniversary of the Kyoto Protocol that the elimination of CFCs has been considered as the Montreal Protocol’s contribution to Kyoto Protocol by mitigating climate change. By phasing out CFCs, HCFCs and other ozone depleting substances under the Montreal Protocol, more than 5 giga tons equivalent of carbon dioxide have already been eliminated – representing more than 25% of the world’s greenhouse gases emissions compared to 1990. It also surpasses the Kyoto Protocol’s target of reducing GHGs by 5 times. Elimination of the use of HFCs and HCFCs from refrigeration application, where feasible, and the improvement in energy efficiency itself has the potential of further reducing the equivalent emissions of CO2 significantly.
Consider some of the recent developments reported by the private sector and research institutes:
• Most of the 80 million domestic refrigerators that get produced annually in the world use an alternative refrigerant, i.e. HFC 134a or isobutane. Those produced in developed countries consume up to 50% less energy than the refrigerators that were produced before 1987. Thus, there is huge potential for energy saving in developing countries where such efficiencies have not been achieved.
• Use of waste heat from exhaust and its use in absorption chillers, providing the chilling in two temperature ranges, i.e. one for frozen products and one for chilled food, could increase energy efficiency by more than 50%.
• In Japan, due to the use of vacuum insulators, compressor speed controls, and the use of isobutene have resulted into reducing energy consumption by 80% as compared to what it was 10 years back. For 400 liters refrigerators in Japan, the power consumption could be less than 150 kWh/year.
• Sainsbury’s UK has cut the energy bill for its more than 450 stores by US$ 7 million annually by improving the energy efficiency of its refrigeration system. Case studies in the UK have shown that supermarkets and food processing plants could cut the energy use by over 30% and emissions of the GHGs by up to 50%. The advantage in a country like the UK is obvious where the use of energy in supermarkets and food outlets is 5% of the total energy consumption and food-processing plants consume 10% of total energy. The potential of similar energy savings in super markets in developing countries is huge and within reach.
• There are opportunities to develop energy efficient commercial refrigeration. The same is true for transport refrigeration. Such opportunities need to be exploited by research and development in the area of improved insulation, compressor frequency control, water cooled condensers, and preventive maintenance to keep the heat exchangers in good conditions.
The RAC industry has done much, but can do more. Surely, the potential of this sector in technology innovation is not yet fully utilized.
I never think of the future, it comes so soon- Albert Einstein
Where we should be heading in the future? Frankly, the future is already here.
The HCFC and HFC challenges:
The use of HFCs and HCFCs, both GHGs, is discouraged by the RAC industry where more environmentally friendly, safe, and technically and economically feasible alternatives and technologies are available. However in some applications no alternatives have yet been found for the use of HFCs. In such cases, UNEP promotes the responsible use of HFCs and HCFCs – including containment, use of lower charge and effective recovery and recycling procedures to minimize their emissions – to encourage responsible chemical stewardship. UNEP, USEPA and the Alliance for Responsible Atmospheric Policy have created an international initiative for the responsible use of HFCs.
There is need to form a global coalition for technology cooperation between developed and developing countries to develop and deploy alternative technologies to HFCs and HCFCs. European regulations have already given strong signal for the use of low GWP (Global Warming Potential) HFCs (less than 150) in Mobile Air Conditioning (MAC) and phase out of HCFCs. Another important area where technology cooperation would be useful is on the energy efficiency of refrigeration and air conditioning appliances. The energy efficiencies of refrigeration appliances used in the developed countries is much more than that in the developing countries. Considering the steep growth in use of such appliances in the developing countries like India, China and Brazil, there is a great opportunity to improve economics as well as environmental benefits. The RAC industry can contribute substantially by collaborating with developing countries.
One of the ODS used as a refrigerant, HCFC 22, has been useful in implementing the Montreal Protocol so far. Elimination of HCFC 22 is one of the remaining challenges under the Montreal Protocol. Its consumption is growing in the developing countries at the rate of 20 to 35 % per annum. In China it is growing at the rate of 25% per annum. Low GWP HFCs, natural refrigerants like hydrocarbons, carbon dioxide, and ammonia, and not in kind systems like absorption, are the leading candidates for the replacement of HCFC 22.
UNEP’s OzonAction Programme facilitates such cooperation. By providing neutral, unbiased but authoritative information on the technology sourcing, energy efficiency and by promoting the dialogues among the governments through its networking activities in various regions of the world, UNEP has been bringing the issue of energy efficiency and non-HCFC technologies to the forefront. I would like to provide some examples of the partnerships that UNEP OzonAction facilitated in these areas:
Refrigerants, Naturally: Partnership of multi national food and beverage industries
An alliance of companies – Carlsberg, The Coca Cola Company, IKEA, Mc Donald’s Corporation, PepsiCo, and Unilever – is promoting a shift in point-of-sale cooling technology in the food and drink, food service and retail sectors towards alternative refrigeration technology that protects the Earth’s climate and ozone layer. Both UNEP and Greenpeace International support this partnership. Refrigerants, Naturally! Is recognized as a “Partnership for Sustainable
Development” by the UN Commission on Sustainable Development as a voluntary, multi-stakeholder initiative that contributes to the implementation of Agenda 21. US EPA awarded the companies with its Climate Protection Award 2005 in recognition for their leadership in developing innovative ways to combat global warming by promoting the development of environmentally friendly refrigeration technology. More and more food and drink industries are considering joining this partnership
SolarChill, A Partnership that contributes to more than one Millennium Development Goal
Solar Chill is a global initiative that is developing a climate- and ozone-friendly vaccine cooler that is powered by solar energy and which will directly help improve the health of children in developing countries and in CEITs. The refrigerant used is hydrocarbon and the compressor is connected to a DC motor thus avoiding the need for an inverter. The design also avoids the use of storage batteries. The technology is jointly developed, publicly- owned and will be freely available for any company in the world interested in producing SolarChill units. The partners include UNEP OzonAction, UNICEF, WHO, Danish Technological Institute, Greenpeace International, GTZ Proklima, Programmes for Appropriate Technologies in Health and the private sector companies Vestfrost and Danfoss. The prototypes are under test and WHO’s approval is in process.
Mobile Air Conditioning:
The worldwide automotive fleet equipped with mobile air conditioning (MAC), numbered some 450 million in year 2004. HFC-134a, the major replacement of CFCs for MACs, contributes to climate change and its emission is now controlled under the Kyoto Protocol. Under the EU’s regulations, HFC-134a will effectively be banned in MAC applications starting from 2011.UNEP OzonAction is helping developing countries make informed decisions that protect the ozone layer and at the same time safeguard the climate system through reduced emissions There is also technological spin off that benefits up to 50% improved fuel efficiency for enhanced HFC 134a system and system using carbon dioxide. Technology cooperation has been initiated by UNEP and USEPA along with The Energy Research Institute of India to carry out the assessment of the deployment of such technology.
“ It’s not the strongest species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the ones most responsive to change”-. Charles Darwin
RAC Industry needs to be on alert and responsive
For the last 200 years, the RAC industry, has been re-orienting and re-inventing itself to benefit humankind. The short-term goal of the industry is to wean the world away from environmentally harmful refrigerants. But the refrigeration industry is not only about refrigerants: it is about a paradigm shift in thinking about our collective existence on the planet. It is about sustaining healthy life on earth in a sustainable way.
The RAC industry has been responsive to the changes it has faced until now. It will now have to be responsive to another change — climate change. It has demonstrated its potential for technology innovation. But the job is not yet done. The world now needs technology cooperation to derive the climate benefit without economic burdens.
I recall the story of a Mongolian child riding on a camel and asking his mother: “Mother, are we still there yet?” The mother responds, “No, my child, we are nomads.”
“Keep on walking” is the objective of all of us who are engaged in saving the ozone layer and mitigating climate change. Even if we achieve the final objective, we have to continue our journey like nomads so that we do not repeat the same mistake again in managing our atmosphere. END

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