Tue | Sep 17, 2019

Engineers' Angle | Protecting the ozone: Jamaica’s refrigeration industry

Published:Sunday | February 10, 2019 | 12:20 AM
An air-conditioning system outside a house.

Jamaica committed to the use of ozone-friendly technologies and to phase out ozone-depleting substances (ODS) when it became a party to the Montreal Protocol in 1993.

The National Ozone Unit (NOU) at the National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA) manages all activities related to the phase out of ODS in Jamaica.

ODS such as hydrochloro-fluorocarbons (HCFCs) – a family of chemicals containing hydrogen, chlorine, fluorine, and carbon – and chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) – a family of chemicals containing chlorine, fluorine, and carbon – have found application in the foam-manufacturing sector, the aerosol-manufacturing sector, and more significantly, in the refrigeration and air conditioning industry. They are, therefore, generally regarded as refrigerants.

However, since the phase out of CFCs on January 1, 2006, support has been provided to the aerosol and foam manufacturers to retrofit their process to use ODS alternatives as raw materials.

Jamaica developed a HCFC phase-out management plan (HPMP) which started in 2013 with the main objective of phasing out the importation of HCFC on or before January 1, 2040.

The HPMP utilises a schedule of gradual reduction in HCFC imports until 2040, starting with the average importation for years 2009 and 2010 as the base and reduction targets of 10 per cent, 35 per cent, 67.5 per cent, 97.5 per cent, and 100 per cent by years 2015, 2020, 2025, 2030 and 2040, respectively.

Under the HPMP, only a select group of importers, who were actively involved in the trade of HCFC refrigerants at the time, were given quotas to import HCFC refrigerants. At present, Jamaica is doing extremely well, having greatly reduced HCFC imports ahead of schedule.

Successful Alternatives

One group of alternatives which has been successfully introduced to the market is hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) – is a family of chemicals containing hydrogen, fluorine, and carbon – which do not contribute to the depletion of the ozone layer.

Currently, HFCs such as HFC-134a (R-134a) are the most commonly used ODS alternatives in Jamaica. However, these saturated HFCs, while they meet the requirement as ODS alternatives, have adverse effects on the environment because of their high global warming potential (GWP), contributing to climate change.

As a result, the Kigali Protocol, an amendment to the Montreal Protocol, mandates countries to phase down the usage of HCFs, which is slated to commence in 2024 in Jamaica.

As time progresses, it is expected that newer refrigerants including unsaturated HFCs, the hydrofluroolefins (HFOs) – a family of chemicals containing hydrogen, fluorine, and carbon – with lower GWP – will see greater use.

The use of natural refrigerants and other ODS alternatives which address both the ozone and climate policies must be considered.

The use of natural refrigerants such as hydrocarbons, ammonia, and carbon dioxide are central to the approach to meeting phase-out targets, while other options become market ready.

However, there are still concerns with the use of these natural refrigerants because of the safety and health risks if leaks occur. These concerns must be addressed through training and educational programmes.

Locally, there is an increasing interest and use of these natural refrigerants. The refrigeration and air conditioning sector is the largest consumer of the ODS alternatives in Jamaica.

However, adoption of ODS alternatives is limited by the available equipment, especially since there is a fear that any retrofitting of current HCFC equipment to use alternatives could void warranty.

Given this challenge, the Government has provided capacity building and technology support for the various sectors. But more technical support to the service industry is needed to provide specific training and capacity building on the ODS alternatives to encourage and promote their use and to guide the industries on the best international practices on servicing and safe handling.

The ability of the sectors to adapt to the increasing need for the ODS alternatives is central to enable a smooth transition from ODS substances.

Furthermore, the acceptance of ODS alternatives, globally, has also seen the introduction of more energy-efficient technology. While this is likely to reduce the energy cost of operating the equipment, the use of more energy-efficient technology will also see reductions in energy use and consequently lead to a reduction in carbon dioxide emissions from electricity production.

Environmentally, there must be consideration for the types of ODS alternatives used and the risk to human, flora, and fauna.

- Kirkland Rowe is a senior lecturer in the Mechanical Engineering Department at the University of Technology, Jamaica, and a certified energy manager. Send questions and comments to editorial@gleanerjm.com or jie@cwjamaica.com. You may also leave your comments for the JIE’s Technical Committee at our Facebook page: Jamaica Institution of Engineers — JIE.