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R410A alternatives to drive European AC sales growth, BSRIA predicts

New findings on the future of European demand for air conditioning and heat pump technologies, as well as the refrigerant they depend on, sees F-Gas regulation significantly driving new launches

Combined demand for air conditioning and heat pump technologies with capacities of up to 50kW totalled €13.7bn (£11.5bn) in Europe over the course of 2019 – representing continued growth in the market, research from BSRIA has concluded.

A total of 11.9 million units were sold in 2019, with an increase in average global temperatures expected to continue to drive growth, the organisation said.

The report primarily focuses on the impact of F-Gas regulation on the market and the resulting shift towards lower GWP and natural refrigerants.

BSRIA said, “Europe is leading the way in the adoption of GWP and natural refrigerants in these systems compared to the other regions in the world.”

From the perspective of air conditioning equipment, R410A was identified in the research as the refrigerant most commonly contained in units being sold. R32, a lower GWP product that does have flammable properties - albeit it at a lower level - was gaining market share over the course of 2019.

The research stated, “Approximately 37 per of all splits systems used R32 refrigerants (volume in tonnes-factory charge). This share is expected to exceed 80 per cent by 2023.”

BSRIA said that of the heat pumps sold in Europe during 2019, 80 per cent were designed for R410A. Units containing R134A were the second most popular product over the year.

The report added, “The other two refrigerants in use are R32 and R290 (propane) and, by 2023, their use is expected to increase - representing a move away from R410A.”

Europe was also seeing development of new chillers products designed for a range of lower GWP refrigerant, the research added.

BSRIA said, “For scroll chillers, the shift is mainly from R410A to R32 and, to a lesser extent, to R290.” “For screw chillers, the shift is mainly from using R134A to R1234ze, and, to a lesser extent R513A, especially for refits, where it is likely to be used for a further five to six years.”

Meanwhile, the report predicted centrifugal chillers were expected to switch from predominantly relying on R134A to R1234ze and R1233zd.

BSRIA’s findings concluded, “In summary, smaller capacity systems are mostly moving towards R32 and some of them towards R290. Due to the moderate flammability of R32, it is risky to use it in large volumes in buildings, and the GWP of this refrigerant is 675, although this is still significantly less than that of R410A.”

“The industry suggests that in the medium term, the average GWP needs to be around 400 in order to meet the objectives of the F-Gas regulation, whilst also satisfying the demand for refrigerant.”

Outside of Europe

In comparison to the European market, the research argued that the US had no present federal legislation or clear national timeline to substitute HFCs in heat pump and air conditioning units. State regulation, such as an HFC phase out enacted in California, was therefore seen in the report as leading the way in trying to drive innovation and change in refrigerant demand.

An overall lack of federal legislation had prevented the report from identifying a clear indicator of the refrigerant that might replace R410A in the US, BSRIA added. The findings said the US chiller market was showing interest to replace of R410A and R134A with lower GWP blends.

Another comparison was made in the findings to the Chinese market, with BSRIA noting a drastic reduction in R22 nationally due to legislative changes.

R410A was viewed as the mainstream refrigerant in use across China, resulting in part for increased demand for inverter air conditioning. BSRIA predicted that R32 would become the most commonly used refrigerant in the medium-term, with R290 seen as a long-term solution to limit emissions from cooling.

The Chinese chiller market was seen as partly resembling its European counterpart, most notably with new centrifugal technologies containing R1234ze gaining traction in the country.

BSRIA added that a shift to awards technology using R32 and R290 was expected for small capacity scroll hillers. R1234ze and R1234zd were expected to become more prevalent in larger capacity centrifugal chillers.

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