'Cool' gas to turn hot at UN meet

Climate talks

The stage is all set for a battle at the 2012 UN Climate Summit in Doha over the issue of replacing ozone damaging refrigeration gas by a eco-friendly but expensive gas in air conditioners (AC) and refrigerators worldwide.

At the climate talks beginning November 26, corporates of rich nations will be pitching for HFC 1234yf, the less damaging but more expensive gas to replace the refrigeration gas in home appliances, increasingly used in millions of homes in India and China. The two nations have strongly opposed the move. Four major corporations from the US and Europe want HFC 1234yf to replace the existing refrigeration gas. India is for a natural refrigerant, which is opposed by the US and Europe citing safety and regulatory concerns.

In case of a global decision favouring the new gas, ACs and fridges will be dearer, whereas the corporations manufacturing the gas and necessary process technology will laugh all the way to the bank. “Currently, refrigeration gas costs Rs 80-100 in new refrigerator and Rs 800 in new ACs.

The gas price alone will go up 2-3 times,” said Shashikant Juvekar, general manager at Godrej and Boyce, one of India’s leading fridge and AC makers. The gradual pressure build up is targeted at the Asia-Pacific market, including India and China, where the sale of air-conditioner units would cross the 100-million mark by 2020 with a sale volume of $ 20 billion.  Every year 50,000 million tonnes of refrigerant is sold in Asia-Pacific.

The new politico-commercial crisis on cooling gases arises following the success of Montreal Protocol that mandated phasing out ozone depleting refrigeration gases all over the world and to replace them with Hydroflurocarbons (HFC). While HFC does not destroy the ozone layer, it is a green house gas with an extremely high global warming potential. They are capable of trapping enormous amounts of radiation and cause a greenhouse effect, stronger than carbon dioxide.

Though HFC currently accounts for only one per cent of green house gas (GHG), it is the fastest growing GHG. “That’s why there’s pressure on India to leapfrog to HFC 1234yf that causes less global warming but is expensive,” said Sukumar Devotta, former director of Nagpur-based National Environmental Engineering Research Institute and the Indian negotiator for the Montreal Protocol.

The cost increase will happen on two counts. The eco-friendly cooling gas, produced by four companies, DuPont, Arkena, Honeywell and Diakin, and new process technology that appliance manufacturers will have to install in their plants. As per the Montreal Protocol, developed countries began phasing out ozone depleting Chloroflurocarbon (CFC) in the 1980s and the developing world got rid of CFCs by 2010. CFCs were replaced by HCFC, which rich nations intend to phase out by 2020 and developing countries by 2030

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