HCFC phase-out – opportunity for ammonia refrigeration?

By Sabine Lobnig, Sep 21, 2011, 16:31 3 minute reading

“HCFC phase-out: a unique opportunity”, was the theme for this year’s International Ozone Day on 16 September, marking the date of the signing of the Montreal Protocol in 1987. With developing countries having agreed to an accelerated HCFC phase-out the question is how much of an opportunity does this represent for natural refrigerants like ammonia?

Hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFC) were originally introduced as an interim solution to replace chlorofluorocarbons (CFC). Their phase-out under the Montreal Protocol, which was originally agreed for 2040, was accelerated after a new phase out schedule was agreed in 2007. As a result ammonia refrigeration is poised to experience a comeback in developing countries (Article 5 countries). 
Ammonia in Article 5 countries 
In Article 5 countries prior to 2007 national regulations still permitted the use of HCFCs. This often resulted in ammonia cold stores being renovated with fluorinated refrigerants. For example, in Georgia despite the country’s long history with ammonia refrigeration, several of the older ammonia installations were replaced with HCFC-22, often in response to accidents. 
However, where it was once maligned as an old and dangerous technology, the inclusion of natural refrigerants as key elements in HCFC phase-out management plans (HPMP) could dramatically increase investment in ammonia technology. 
HCFC phase out management plans (HPMP)
At the 64th Executive Committee meeting of the Multilateral Fund (MLF) for the Implementation of the Montreal Protocol, which took place in July 2011, the following countries put forward their HPMP project proposals:
Albania; Bolivia; Brazil; Cameroon; Cape Verde; Central African Republic; China; Comoros; Costa Rica; El Salvador; Guatemala; Indonesia; Jamaica; Jordan; Lebanon; Lesotho; Mexico; Rwanda; Saint Kitts and Nevis; Saint Lucia; Saint Vincent and the Grenadines; The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia; Trinidad and Tobago; Uruguay; and Zambia.
Of these the following plans made a clear mention of ammonia as a suitable alternative for HCFCs:
  • Indonesia: Ammonia technology is proposed where feasible, particularly in large systems. A pilot programme to redesign the refrigeration systems for the onboard refrigerated storage in fishing vessels will be carried out, and the redesigned systems will use ammonia to the extent possible.  
  • China: Under the Chinese project proposal ammonia (NH3)/CO2 technology has been selected for medium and large-sized freezing and refrigeration equipment.
  • Costa Rica: The country has adopted a very forward-looking environmental strategy, which includes carbon neutrality by 2021 and a green purchasing policy by the public sector, which is in the process of being introduced. The technical assistance for demonstration of equipment running on CO2 and medium scale equipment with ammonia will allow the evaluation of the viability of these technologies under the local conditions and provide opportunities for local industry for more cost-effective and eco-efficient alternatives to HCFCs. These demonstration projects are planned for completion in 2017.
  • Malawi: The HPMP project foresees the establishment of safe natural refrigerant practices to enable their long-term use and implementing activities to phase out remaining HCFC consumption based on the use of natural refrigerants.
  • Central African Republic: Ammonia is identified as an alternative refrigerant and the HPMP proposes training of technicians on good practice, recovery, reuse and retrofit, handling of natural refrigerants.
Lack of training affects HPMP project proposals
Despite these promising signs, a lack of qualified technicians and training schools providing training to technicians has prevented some countries from including ammonia in their HPMP project proposals.
Brazil’s HPMP plan for example, states that natural refrigerants such as ammonia have limited applications in the country given the local regulations on safety and environmental permits; the lack of trained technicians; and the high risks associated with the refrigerants’ use (i.e., flammability, high operating pressures or toxicity).
If ammonia is to replace HCFCs in suitable applications, better training and the implementation of demonstration projects showcasing safety and efficiency and the small installed capacity of modern ammonia installations, will be needed for developing countries.
The 65th Meeting of the Executive Committee is scheduled to take place in Bali (Indonesia) from 13 to 17 November 2011.
Through the Multilateral Fund for the Montreal Protocol (MLF) Montreal Protocol Article 5 countries can receive financial assistance to phase out HCFCs and switch over to ozone and climate friendly refrigerants. 


By Sabine Lobnig

Sep 21, 2011, 16:31

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