Refrigerants Australia executive director, Greg Picker, provides an update on the HFC phasedown and where industry is heading.
Donald Rumsfeld used to talk about the known unknowns and the unknown unknowns. Thankfully the refrigeration and air conditioning industry now has increased certainty about the direction regulation will be taking the industry over the next 20 years.
We are – piece by piece – getting rid of the unknown unknowns.
A central component of this process occurred when the international community agreed the Kigali Amendments to the Montreal Protocol last October. This means that all countries will phase down HFCs, with developing countries reaching the target of an 85% phase down in 2036, and developing countries soon after that.
While a number of important technical details need to be finalised, the Australian Government is formally reviewing this new agreement and is expected to ratify it late this year.
Of more relevance to industry is that Government introduced amendments to the Montreal Protocol in March. This bill would see an immediate cut of Australia's use of HFCs by 20% in 2018 and would have the same target in 2036.
Indications from Government, the Opposition, the Greens and the Xenophon Party suggest that the bill will be passed with little debate. We will know for certain when the bill comes up for passage in June.
The bill does not address all of the outcomes of the review of the Ozone Protection and Synthetic Greenhouse Gas Management Act, which was completed in 2016. The second half of this legislation is intended to be introduced towards the end of this year.
While certainty around the regulatory framework provide industry with confidence of the general direction of the future, there remain uncertainties, or, in Donald Rumsfeld's lexicon known unknowns.
The main area of uncertainty relates to what refrigerants will emerge to replace high GWP HFCs over the next 20 years.
In some areas original equipment manufacturers have provided certainty: in car air conditioners an HFO (R1234yf - with a GWP of less than 1) with some CO2 will predominate. Smaller split systems will use R32 (with a GWP of 650 - 1/3 of the gas it is replacing) for the next generation. These changes alone will provide a majority share of Australia's phase down over the next decade.
The future is less certain for other applications. The Montreal Protocol's Technical and Economic Assessment Panel advises that up to 80 new refrigerants are being developed for consideration by equipment manufacturers.
While all will not be developed – and even more won't come to Australia – these developments represents the industry's greatest source of known unknowns.
What we do know is we will see greater variety in refrigerant use and choice. Ammonia, CO2 and hydrocarbons will be used in applications we have not seen before. New HFOs and HFC blends will enter our market. All of these will have issues – flammability, toxicity, pressure – that will need to be managed.
Over time it is likely that the market will wash out to a few predictable choices – but it is impossible to determine what will happen today.
What can the industry due to prepare? Education and training will be critically important to ensure that refrigerant is safely managed and that consumers get the performance that they expect and deserve.
It is for this reason that Refrigerant Australia, Refrigerant Reclaim Australia, the Australian Refrigeration Council and the Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Contractors Association (RACCA) have decided to work together and deliver an education program focused on people on the tools: future:gas stationary.
The program for this event is designed to reduce the industry's known unknowns.