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ATMOsphere Ibérica: how to cool when it’s really hot?

With an outdoor temperature of 26°C on 24 October, it could be said that the weather in Madrid was in line with the main focus of the first ATMOsphere Ibérica event: the challenges of natural refrigerants in warm climates. “Climatic conditions in Spain, Portugal and Latin American make the transition to natural refrigerants, in particular CO2, more difficult”, stated Alvaro de Oña, the event’s organiser, in his introduction. A few minutes later the air-conditioning had to be turned on inside the conference room. Just to remind you: it was the 24th of October!

What do we need to do? 

The first session in the morning was dedicated to the requirements dictated by current regulations and standards. F-gas in Europe and the drastic increase in prices for high-HFC refrigerants due to quotas are driving a very fast transition to low-HFC refrigerants, according to manufacturers. However, the Commission report published in August states that there are multiple technological alternatives available, and thus F-gas will not be modified, as explained Guillermo Martinez from Oficina Española de Cambio Climatico. Centralised transcritical CO2 systems, centralised indirect systems, stand-alone systems and semi plug-in units are the alternatives specified in the report. Martinez also pointed out that the Commission highlighted the case of Mediterranean countries, where for some alternatives such as transcritical CO2, the investment cost to achieve good results in terms of energy efficiency is higher. In this regard, Martinez explained Spain’s ‘plan PIMA frío’, which will help finance new sustainable refrigeration system installations by subsidising 15% of the total investment required. 

As regards the Kigali amendment to the Montreal Protocol, 10 countries have already ratified it: Mali, Micronesia, Marshall Islands, Rwanda, Palau, Norway, Chile, Tuvalu, North Korea and Slovakia. “For the EU, it is now down to individual countries to ratify it, so it’s actually just a formality. In any case, it will not affect these countries as the European phase-down (F-gas) is more restrictive”, de Oña stated.

José Romanillos from ASHRAE was very clear as regards the maintenance of systems for safe use of flammable refrigerants: “We must have no leaks. Zero leaks. We must improve quite simple things”. Moreover, de Oña pointed out that the modification of IEC 60335-2-89 to increase the limit from 150 to 500 g of flammable refrigerants could open new opportunities for hydrocarbons worldwide.


What are we doing? 

The long-term trends in the refrigeration sector see clear domination by natural refrigerants: “Industrial refrigeration will still be based in NH3, whereas CO2 and hydrocarbons are the alternatives for all applications in the refrigeration sector”, said José Miguel Corberán from Universitat Politecnica de Valencia. Focusing on supermarkets, Ivan Diaz and Jose Molla from Carrefour talked about the recent transition to R-134a and R-507 in order to comply with the previous F-gas requirements, and the changeover to CO2 now to avoid leak checking and refrigerant taxes (20 €/t CO2 eq. in Spain): “In 2010 we changed 70 refrigeration units over to R-134a and R-507 in Spain. In 2012 we installed the first CO2 system. There are 16 today, and we are also trying to change all the R-134a and R-507 systems over to CO2”.
In Latin America, R-22 is still used extensively. Edwin Dickson from the Ministerio de Ambiente y Desarrollo Sostenible de Colombia talked about the transition from R-22 to R-290 in commercial A/C, a scenario that can be generally extended to most developing countries. On the other hand, Agustin Maranca from Estudio Maranca (Argentina) stated that both refrigerant prices and electricity bills are the main factors that are making manufacturers change. Andrés Celave, from UNIDO, closed the session dedicated to Latin American countries with an interesting statement: “Latin America is asking for help about how to face Kigali from a regulatory point of view: which rules they have to apply in order to respect the phase-down limits”. 

How can we do better? 

Technologies are evolving more than ever, which makes it possible to achieve higher efficiencies. In this regard, Ramón Cabello, from Universitat Jaume I, listed efficient control, electronic expansion valves, variable speed compressors, cabinet design, A/C-Refrigeration integration and highly-efficient heat exchangers as technologies to improve the efficiency of refrigeration systems in general. Pedro Olalla from Huayi Compressor Barcelona framed the improvements in concrete terms: “Thanks to variable speed compressors, COP can be improved by 20-30 %. Indeed, the combination of hydrocarbons and variable speed compressors has led to a 73% increase in the efficiency of our compressors since 2001.”

The last session of the afternoon was dedicated to CO2 systems. It was introduced by the moderator, Ángel Álvarez from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, who presented the technologies that improve transcritical CO2 systems (booster), especially in warm climates: parallel compressors, ejectors and flooded evaporators. According to Javier Atencia from Tewis, CO2 has come to stay and parallel compression is the most efficient solution in warm climates. Moreover, Julio Minguillón from Carrier specified that there are already 26 installations with ejectors in Spain.

My colleague Andreina Figuera reminded the audience that the EMJ (electronic modulating ejector) is part of a control system, citing pRack as an example of control that integrates all the logic of electronic expansion valves or ejectors. She also explained that the improvement when using the ejector is more notable at higher outside temperatures, achieving up to 25% savings in summer.

Keep calm and do it now

The message today is “keep calm and do it now”, stated Ignacio Gavilán from The Consumer Goods Forum. This advice could have also applied to the intensive day in Madrid. Undoubtedly, the high number of participants (more than 155) confirmed the significant interest amongst Iberian stakeholders in natural refrigerants. I do not know if they are calm, but certainly they are thinking about doing something soon. It is clear that it is more difficult to cool when it is warmer, but it is becoming easier and easier thanks to new technologies!


Related Posts

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What was the HVAC/R sector talking about in Madrid?


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