HFCS:

Down to Earth - - OZONE DAY SPECIAL -

move to a com­pletely dif­fer­ent type of gases called hy­dro­car­bons to re­place cfcs in the re­frig­er­a­tion and air-con­di­tion­ing sec­tors. Hy­dro­car­bons, such as bu­tane and propane, are ex­cel­lent re­frig­er­ants which do not de­plete ozone and have very low gwp. But the eco­nomic in­ter­est of the de­vel­oped coun­tries and multi­na­tional com­pa­nies tri­umphed, and in­stead of non-patented hy­dro­car­bons, patented hcfcs were forced on ev­ery one.

As it was an in­terim so­lu­tion, de­vel­oped coun­tries took a pledge to freeze the pro­duc­tion and con­sump­tion of hcfcs by 2004 and phase them out by 2020. De­vel­op­ing coun­tries also agreed to freeze hcfcs by 2013 and phase them out by 2030.

Since 2004, de­vel­oped coun­tries have started sub­sti­tut­ing hcfcs with hy­droflu­o­ro­car­bons (hfcs). hfcs are again patented flu­o­ri­nated gases pushed by multi­na­tional com­pa­nies. Though they do not de­plete the ozone layer, they have high gwp, com­pa­ra­ble to hcfcs’ and in some cases higher. Most de­vel­oped coun­tries have moved to hfcs.Now it is the turn of the de­vel­op­ing coun­tries.

They too want to move to hfcs be­cause hfcs are widely avail­able and a tested tech­nol­ogy. Ad­di­tion­ally, in coun­tries like In­dia the re­frig­er­a­tor and air-con­di­tion­ing sec­tors are dom­i­nated by Korean and Ja­panese com­pa­nies. As th­ese com­pa­nies have moved to hfcs in their de­vel­oped world mar­kets as well as in their own coun­tries, they want to use hfcs in coun­tries like In­dia as well.

The ques­tion is whether In­dia should move to hfcs.

too hot to han­dle

At present, the to­tal con­tri­bu­tion of hfcs to global warm­ing is about 1 per cent.But with the sched­uled phase-out of most hcfcs by 2030, it will in­crease.

hfcs are fast re­plac­ing hcfcs in re­frig­er­a­tion and air-con­di­tion­ing equip­ment, blow­ing agents for foams, aerosol sprays, fire pro­tec­tion sys­tems and sol­vents. Be­tween 2004 and 2008,CO2 equiv­a­lent emis­sions of hfcs in­creased by nearly 8 per cent an­nu­ally, mostly in the de­vel­oped coun­tries. At present,80 per cent of all hfcs are emit­ted by de­vel­oped coun­tries but the con­tri­bu­tion of de­vel­op­ing coun­tries is in­creas­ing sharply.

Ac­cord­ing to var­i­ous stud­ies, the emis­sions of th­ese gases, if unchecked, could reach be­tween 3.5 bil­lion tonnes and 8.8 bil­lion tonnes CO2 equiv­a­lent per year by 2050, con­tribut­ing 7 per cent to 19 per cent of the to­tal green­house gas emis­sions in a busi­nes­sas-usual sce­nario. For com­par­i­son, the cur­rent emis­sion of all green­house gases in In­dia is about 2 bil­lion tonnes CO2 equiv­a­lent.So, hfcs are a se­ri­ous threat to cli­mate and need to be ur­gently tack­led at the global level.

What should In­dia do?

In­dia has the op­tion to move to hfcs but it will not pay in the long run. hfcs are one of the gases whose emis­sions are reg­u­lated un­der the UN Frame­work Con­ven­tion on Cli­mate Change. In­dia has no manda­tory obli­ga­tions to re­duce emis­sions un­der this con­ven­tion.In the near fu­ture, how­ever, In­dia will have to take obli­ga­tions to re­duce emis­sions.It will then have to phase out hfcs be­cause they are su­per green­house gases.

Many de­vel­oped coun­tries are push­ing patented low-gwp re­frig­er­ants as a sub­sti­tute for hfcs. US com­pa­nies are push­ing for hy­droflu­o­roolefins (hfos). DuPont is pro­mot­ing hfos as the “fourth gen­er­a­tion” re­frig­er­ants. Ja­panese com­pa­nies are push­ing for hfc-32, a medium-gwp hfc, as the most en­ergy-ef­fi­cient sub­sti­tute for hcfc.

So does it make sense for In­dia to re­main on the chem­i­cal tread­mill—cfcs to hcfcs to hfcs and then to chem­i­cals like hfos in the near fu­ture? Or should In­dia leapfrog to nat­u­ral re­frig­er­ants like hy­dro­car­bons?

Hy­dro­car­bons were al­ways the most ap­pro­pri­ate sub­sti­tute for flu­o­ri­nated re­frig­er­ants. Their gwp is be­low 20 and they do not harm ozone. They are non-toxic (other than am­mo­nia), non-patented, less ex­pen­sive than flu­o­ri­nated re­frig­er­ants and meet most of the spec­i­fi­ca­tions re­quired for re­frig­er­ants. In fact, most hy­dro­car­bons are more en­er­gy­ef­fi­cient than flu­o­ri­nated re­frig­er­ants.

How­ever, they are flammable and this has been the most sig­nif­i­cant bar­rier to their wide­spread ap­pli­ca­tion. In 1990s, the fluor- inated gas in­dus­try used the flamma­bil­ity scare to kill the de­vel­op­ment of hy­dro­car­bons. To support its com­pa­nies, the US till re­cently banned the use of hy­dro­car­bons as a re­frig­er­ant. Thank­fully, Europe and some Asian coun­tries went the other way.

Com­pa­nies have found that hy­dro­car­bons can be used safely in ap­pli­ca­tions rang­ing from house­hold re­frig­er­a­tors and air­con­di­tion­ers to com­mer­cial and in­dus­trial cool­ing and foam blow­ing. They have done this by re­design­ing the equip­ments as well as by train­ing tech­ni­cians to en­sure they follow safety guide­lines.

Ob­vi­ously, ad­dress­ing flamma­bil­ity en­tails ad­di­tional costs but th­ese costs are off­set by lower gas prices and su­pe­rior per­for­mance. This is pre­cisely the rea­son com­pa­nies across the world are mov­ing to hy­dro­car­bons. In do­mes­tic re­frig­er­a­tors and freez­ers the use of hy­dro­car­bons is rapidly in­creas­ing. Glob­ally, close to 50 per cent of all new prod­ucts use hy­dro­car­bons. In In­dia, Go­drej has

Hy­dro­car­bons are the most ap­pro­pri­ate sub­sti­tute for flu­o­ri­nated re­frig­er­ants be­cause they do not de­plete ozone and their global warm­ing po­ten­tial is very small. They are also non-patented and less ex­pen­sive to boot

sold close to 10 mil­lion iso-bu­tane re­frig­er­a­tors with­out any fire-re­lated ac­ci­dent.

In do­mes­tic air-con­di­tion­ers propane and car­bon diox­ide are slowly catch­ing up. China has set up the world’s largest pro­duc­tion line of propane-based air-con­di­tion­ers. Both propane and car­bon diox­ide have been found to have su­pe­rior en­ergy ef­fi­ciency com­pared to hcfcs and hfcs. In fact, the most en­ergy-ef­fi­cient house­hold air­con­di­tioner in In­dia uses propane.

In polyurethane foams sec­tor, hcfcs are be­ing sub­sti­tuted with hy­dro­car­bons in de­vel­op­ing coun­tries. In­dian com­pa­nies are mov­ing to cy­clopen­tane.

It is quite clear that it would be re­ward­ing, both eco­nom­i­cally and en­ergy-wise, for In­dia to make a one-time tran­si­tion from hcfcs to non-hfc op­tions like hy­dro­car­bons. The mil­lion-dol­lar ques­tion is: will In­dia leapfrog or will it keep pro­tect­ing the in­ter­ests of a few com­pa­nies to the detri­ment of the whole sec­tor?

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