Insights into Editorial: Staying cool
India has launched the second phase of the programme to eliminate the use of hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFC) as part of its commitment under the Montreal Protocol, which requires the complete removal of chemicals that result in ozone depletion and aid global warming. India has already successfully implemented HPMP stage-I.
The Montreal Protocol seeks to cut the production and consumption of ozone depleting substances in order to protect the earth’s fragile ozone layer. It also aims at phase out HCFCs by 2030.
What are HCFCs?
Hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs) are a large group of compounds, whose structure is very close to that of Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), but including one or more hydrogen atoms. Under normal conditions, HCFCs are gases or liquids which evaporate easily. They are generally fairly stable and unreactive. HCFCs do not usually dissolve in water, but do dissolve in organic (carbon-containing) solvents. HCFCs are chemically similar to Hydrobromofluorocarbons (HBFCs), Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and Halons and therefore display some similar properties, though they are much less stable and persistent. HCFCs are also part of a group of chemicals known as the volatile organic compounds (VOCs).
How might it affect the environment?
HCFCs are unlikely to have any impact on the environment in the immediate vicinity of their release. As VOCs, they may be slightly involved in reactions to produce ozone, which can cause damage to plants and materials on a local scale. At a global level however, releases of HCFCs have serious environmental consequences. Although not as stable and therefore not so persistent in the atmosphere as CFCs, HBFCs or Halons, they can still end up in the higher atmopshere (stratosphere) where they can destroy the ozone layer, thus reducing the protection it offers the earth from the sun’s harmful UV rays. HCFCs also contribute to Global Warming (through “the Greenhouse Effect”). Although the amounts emitted are relatively small, they have a powerful warming effect (a very high “Global Warming Potential”).
Indian HCFC phase- out plan 2:
- Under HPMP-II, India has secured $44.1 million for the implementation of the Montreal Protocol for phasing out 8,190 metric tonnes or 769.49 ODP (Ozone Depleting Potential) tonne of HCFC consumption between 2017 to 2023, in order to meet the compliance targets under Montreal Protocol for 2020.
- The phase out of HCFCs in the HPMP stage-II will be addressed through several technology conversions at a number of large, medium, small and micro enterprises in the polyurethane foam sector, a few large enterprises in the air conditioning manufacturing sector and activities in the refrigeration and air conditioning servicing sector. India is committed to ensuring the smooth transition of these enterprises to new technologies and values the interest of SMEs most.
- In the process, targeted technical assistance and awareness programmes will be implemented focused on SMEs during the HPMP stage-II to ensure timely and sustainable phase out of HCFCs.
- Under HPMP-II, more than 400 enterprises, including over 300 micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) in the foam manufacturing sector and six large air-conditioning manufacturing enterprises will be supported for conversion from HCFCs to non-HCFC technologies.
- The plan also provides for promotion of energy efficiency, development building codes integrating HCFC phase out issues, cold chain development with non-HCFC alternatives and development of standards for new non-ODS.
- It also specifically focuses on the MSME sector in foam manufacturing. Adequate attention has also been given to synergize the refrigeration and servicing (RAC) sector trainings under HPMP II, with the Skill India Mission, in order to multiply the impact of skilling and training. According to estimates, nearly, 16,000 service technicians will be trained under HPMP-II.
What else needs to be done?
- The data for refrigerant consumption during 2015 compiled by the European Union show that in the developing world, split air-conditioning units, car ACs and commercial refrigeration record the highest use of these chemicals. It is imperative the Central government ensures that its efforts to upgrade industries using the $44.1 million in funding available under the Protocol are scaled up to meet the need fully.
- Modernising the technology used by 400 industrial units, many of them small and medium enterprises, by 2023 has to be complemented by policy changes that encourage adoption by consumers.
- Systemic change requires the active participation of State governments, which can enact and enforce new building codes and purchase regulations that are envisaged in the current phase.
- Newer refrigerants with lower global warming potential are available to industry, and there are some early adopters, while research on chemicals with greater energy reduction and very low contribution to global warming has to continue.
- Credentialed training of service technicians in the newer technologies is welcome as it will bring about change of refrigerants used in the repair and replacement market and create additional employment.
- It is important to make consumers aware of green options among products in terms of the underlying technologies, and incentivise adoption through tax structures.
- The Environment Ministry’s proposal to prescribe energy-efficient temperature limits for air-conditioning units in public facilities is promising. A lot of energy is wasted because of poor infrastructure and lack of understanding of efficiency metrics.
- The Centre should also conduct audit of public buildings to determine whether they are suitably designed, as climate control relies as much on passive influences such as insulation, green roofing and the nature of materials used in construction.
CFCs and HCFCs have contributed to the quality of modern life, particularly as valuable components in refrigeration and computer technology. However, their impact on the atmosphere has prompted several countries to agree to stop producing them.
- At present, HCFCs are used in various sectors like refrigeration and air conditioning (RAC) and foam manufacturing. These sectors are directly related to urban development, agriculture through cold chain, and industrial development.
- Research results suggest that there is a need to develop acceptable alternatives to HCFCs. Two possible alternatives to HCFCs are already being used successfully. Refrigerators that use propane gas, ammonia, or water as coolants are being tested in research laboratories, and use up to 10% less energy than typical models using CFCs as a coolant.
- Telephone companies are experimenting with crushed orange peels and other materials to clean computer circuit boards, as substitutes for another important use of CFCs and HCFCs. Certain microorganisms are also being tested that degrade HCFCs and HFCs, which could help in controlling emissions of these compounds during manufacturing processes involving their use.
The continued success of the Montreal Protocol in its goal to eliminate HCFCs by 2030 will depend on reducing the acquisition costs of cleaner technologies. The greater affordability of solar photovoltaic power and its rapid adoption at various scales is a clear pointer. More people will have access to air-conditioning and refrigeration in coming years, and the focus of government policy must be to make them energy-efficient and eco-friendly.