The phase down of hydrofluorocarbon refrigerants announced as part of the Federal Government’s emissions reduction targets is a step in the right direction, according to Dr Greg Picker, executive director of Refrigerants Australia.

The government has committed to an 85 per cent phase down of HFCs by 2036 to tick off responsibilities under the Montreal Protocol on Ozone Depleting Substances and to reduce greenhouse gases, as HCFs have both a high global warming potential and negative impacts on the ozone layer.

Dr Picker, who was formerly associate director sustainability and climate change for AECOM, told The Fifth Estate that at this stage the government has not added any detail about the steps involved in the phase down.

He said his association does, however, welcome the move as giving the industry a degree of certainty that will enable it to begin planning. The lack of certainty since the scrapping of the carbon tax and the subsequent lack of clear policy goals had been difficult, he said.

“What the announcement [of the phase down target] says is that the government will at least deliver on the most ambitious global proposal for HFC phase down,” he said.

That is the USA’s amendment to the protocol of an 85 per cent phase down by 2036, he said.

On why the government has set such a long timeframe without some form of benchmarking between business as usual and the major HFC reduction, Dr Picker said there was an element of waiting to see what other nations would do.

“My strong suspicion – well, more than a suspicion – is they’d like to make it consistent with the Montreal Protocol. What they don’t want to do is legislate it if they don’t have to, if say things change internationally [with the protocol] and they then have to take a step backwards from that target for some reason.”

He said the RA has queried the government about the possibility of it taking unilateral action to phase down HFCs instead of waiting to see what the rest of the world does. The government’s reply was that it is waiting on the Ozone Protection and Synthetic Greenhouse Gas Management Act review and then will negotiate the steps with industry.

The review commenced in May last year, and the interim report integrating submissions from industry and expert panels is expected to be released next month.

Most international plans for phase down have already set out four to five steps to be taken within five year intervals, Dr Picker said.

What the phase down will mean for natural refrigerants is there will be an increase in their uptake. Dr Picker said there were also new synthetic refrigerants with global warming potentials that were lower than carbon dioxide entering the market and lower GWP HFCs such as HFO – an unsaturated hydrofluorocarbon – and a variety of lower GWP blends of naturals and synthetics.

The HFO compounds were different to high GWP HFCs due to the unstable nature of the molecular bonds, he said. This instability does not affect their performance when used in refrigeration equipment, but it means they break down extremely quickly in the atmosphere.

Some of these compounds, such as HFO 1234 YF are already is use in Australia in the air conditioning systems of some brands of car.

“Refrigerants Australia estimates that revisions to Ozone Protection legislation can deliver emission reduction of up to the equivalent of 80 million tonnes of carbon dioxide between 2020 and 2030 based on the Government’s own emissions estimates,” Dr Picker said.

“We have successfully managed the transition away from ozone depleting substances and we are working with government to deliver increased environmental and economic benefits to the community by better managing HFCs. We are confident that working together we will deliver.”

The move was also welcomed by the Australian Institute of Refrigeration, Air Conditioning and Heating.

“AIRAH supports a phase down of HFCs under the Montreal Protocol to reduce Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions,” chief executive Phil Wilkinson said.

“By having a phase down plan in place it provides industry and users with certainty so they can get ready for the transition.

“We see it as one step in a raft of initiatives we need to take on our our-emissions reduction journey. But there’s much more work that can take place to make HVAC&R less emissions intensive.”

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  1. Be on the look out for the Wolf in Sheep’s clothing..

    “The fluorocarbon industry is succeeding in fixing product standards so that it will be harder to use competing ‘Not In Kind’ technologies such as hydrocarbons. Whether a chemical or a technology is used, whether a market for it develops and how large it becomes, or whether
    it is seen as ‘viable’ or ‘safe’, frequently depends on standards. The use of standards to open or close markets has often been the cause of friction between governments or groups of governments, e.g. with brominated flame-retardants and TV sets between the US
    and Europe, pesticides and antibiotics in meat, or even GMOs.

    The fluorocarbons industry vigorously opposed a phase out of CFCs under the Montreal Protocol. Faced with high level campaigns and public concern, it eventually lost that struggle but it had already developed a second generation of chemicals as a fall back. However after that initial setback, the fluorocarbon industry turned its efforts to the less public and more effective tactic of influencing equipment safety standards for areas such as refrigeration, air conditioning and foam-blowing, to ensure that its products are chosen (HFCs), rather than other technologies or processes, as substitutes for its other products, namely CFCs and HCFCs refrigerants.

    In the early 1990’sGreenpeace achieved considerable success outside North America with domestic-sized refrigerators run on hydrocarbons (see Greenpeace website at and limited success mostly in Europe, with larger scale ammonia and hydrocarbon based systems for cooling, for example in shops. But it has been outgunned and outflanked in the standards committees, which the F-gas industry has used to try and exclude other technologies. Such back-door politics is easily disguised as a technical process but in truth it is the key to huge profits and markets, and highly political in itself, though ignored by most politicians. The weight of interests determine its outcomes. For example while there are many engineering companies producing alternative technologies that don’t need HFCs to deliver cooling of air, water or fridges, they are mostly small firms with a limited sales network. They are unlikely and unable to take part in the lengthy technical discussions, overseas meetings and expensive research work necessary to support the arguments that go to develop ‘standards’.

    In the UK a refrigeration and air conditioning standard was being set by a committee dominated by representatives of the competitor technology (HFCs), and was being set at levels which will outlaw rather than facilitate the use of hydrocarbons (natural refrigerants)! On one committee set up to make standards for the use of hydrocarbons, i.e. alternatives to HFCs, the declared opponents to hydrocarbons and HFC manufacturers enjoyed a 2:1 majority. A case of setting the fox to guard the chickens, and with predictable results.

    For these reasons, the alternative, climate-friendly technologies are hugely under-represented in the technical standards-setting process. Behind the HFC industry stands the policy of the US government — which is opposed to the Kyoto Protocol and promotes the use of HFCs. Thus standards in effect are a backdoor for influence of US policy over European climate policy. This is what we are up against currently in Australia.

    Fluorochemical manufacturers are typically over-represented on most of the refrigeration standards committees: these representatives also tend to be the same individuals on most of the safety committees. Consequently, it is rare for any contribution to refrigeration and air-conditioning safety Standards working groups to come from any source other than well-financed interested parties within industry. A monopolistic situation thus develops. Furthermore, as Standards dictate products within markets, interested parties must be fully involved to the process to stand any chance of influencing it. Conclusions on a technical issue rarely tend to be cut and dried but more a matter of obtaining a consensus. Standards development is not effectively policed — it is almost wholly self-regulating with no effective oversight. General guidelines exist within standards organisations but are usually very broad which means that a chairman/convenor or group of members can direct the progress in a manner that is convenient for them.

    The Truth is that natural refrigerants out perform chemical refrigerants and they are better for the environment, the question is which side is AIRAH and Refrigerants Australia on the environment or the large chemical refrigerant companies?

    for more click on