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China gears up for growth in natural refrigerants

Natural refrigerant specialist shecco has unveiled its most ambitious research report to date – a survey of the current and potential market in China. Andrew Gaved reports

Market development specialist shecco has performed a tremendous service for the natural refrigerants sector via its three-pronged approach of promoting the technology; researching market activity; and providing access to policymakers.

In the combination of its websites, its Atmosphere conferences and its research publications, it has helped to create the ‘natural refrigerants industry’ – it has certainly helped the fledgling sector to grow at pace.

The latest piece of work Guide to Natural Refrigerants in China – State of the Industry 2015 is probably its most ambitious to date at 150 pages.

Carried out in collaboration with the Chinese Association of Refrigeration (CAR), the Guide aims to capture the state of the market, by way of an extensive survey with more than 1,000 respondents from the HVAC&R industry active in China, together with interviews with key personnel in various areas of the Chinese cooling industry on the current challenges and future potential of naturals.

The information is presented alongside the Guide’s trademark infographics to convey the key market trends.

According to shecco, although the region was slower than much of the rest of the world in leaving the starting gate, the past three years have seen a remarkable transformation of China’s natural refrigerant market, a fact which bodes well given the significance of the region in the light of a forthcoming HCFC phase-out – and its potential contribution to any global HFC phasedown.

“The favourable business and policy climate for both domestic and foreign companies is driving greater uptake of CO2, ammonia, hydrocarbons and water as refrigerants,” says Nina Masson, the report’s lead author and deputy md of shecco.

“The overall message is clear: China has started building the right tracks to be a major market supplier and demander for natural refrigerants in the coming five years – and for sure in the run-up to a global HCFC phase-out by 2030.”

The authors point out that the Chinese government is moving the market in the right direction, having agreed to support the global phasedown of HFCs and increasing the emphasis on energy efficiency and technology development in HVACR.

The survey reveals, they say, that while the market for naturals is still developing, the industry is well-informed and expectant of the potential for growth.

However, the survey respondents note a number of barriers that need to be overcome if naturals are to fulfil that potential.

A key challenge is training, which the report refers to as ‘the urgent and long-term need’ addressing installation, maintenance and the manufacturing process.

The authors conclude: “As such, training is one of the most important tasks for the Chinese industry today and will become even more important in the future when new technologies are expanded into new applications.”

Driving change

Another area of challenge is in encouraging end-users to drive change in China, in the same way that they have in other parts of the world.

Shecco notes that while the international end-users – notably supermarket chains – can be key drivers, the Chinese end-users have not been as focused on environmental development as their international compatriots, but that gathering concern over air quality may help to drive change.

The most significant barriers to progress cited by current non-advocates of naturals are: safety; cost (both capital and operating); reliability; and lack of servicing infrastructure.

The results of the survey show that, perhaps in contrast to the perception of the region from other parts of the world, naturals already have an established share across different sectors. CO2 is currently the one which most people work with, with almost a third (29 per cent) of respondents saying that theyalready work with the refrigerant, although this figure will be somewhat inflated  by the inclusion of Coca-Cola vending machines, for example.

The state of the market is amply demonstrated by the fact that this figure is dwarfed by those who currently say they still work with HCFCs – 62 per cent.

The supermarkets have yet to embrace the potential – manufacturers of natural refrigerant-based systems indicate that there are currently 8 CO2-based supermarkets in China – and transcritical technology has not taken off yet, with the CO2 generally used in cascade. However, half of those that do not currently use natural refrigerants say they plan to introduce such products or services in the future.

Heat pumps represent a growth sector, with more than 300 commercial CO2 heat pumps in operation. Perhaps unsurprisingly, light commercial refrigeration has seen the most headway for naturals, with more than 750,000 HFC-free units in use in the region, using both CO2 and hydrocarbons. The use of hydrocarbons has also made progress in room air conditioning in recent years, and three R290 manufacturing lines are in production today, providing
annual production capacity of 400,000 units. 

The guide can be downloaded for free from http://publications.shecco.com

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