The protocol for change

As the Middle East braces itself for the phasing-out of ozone depleting refrigerant gases, Adam Dawson takes a look at the gases set to take their place and the effects they will have on the MEP sector.

ANALYSIS, MEP

At a time when talk of global warming is on everyone's lips, the Middle East is about to play its part when the region sees the phase-out of ozone depleting refrigerant gases over the next seven years.

According to the Montreal Protocol signed in 1987, countries in the region will not be able to use CFCs after 2010 and there will be a freeze placed on the importing and manufacturing of equipment using HCFCs after 2016. Both gases have traditionally been used in air conditioning systems for residential and industrial properties and their phase-out and the dangerous environmental implications associated with venting will have wide implications on the MEP sector.

Despite the freeze on HCFCs expected to come into force in 2016, the Middle East is still awash with units using the ozone-depleting gas. “It’s very common in the Middle East for people to still buy HCFC units because there are no regulations in place like there are in other parts of the world,” explains Kareem Sadek regional area sales responsible, Daikin. “We are expecting a freeze on the use of this gas in 2016 and are being told that it is bad for the ozone layer, yet people are still being sold these units,” Sadek adds.

The three most common gases subject to the phase-out are known as R11, R12 and R22. The former two are CFCs, which will be banned in three years time, and the latter, which is far more prevalent, is an HCFC.

According to Javed Arshad general manager of air conditioning manufacturers UTS Carrier, it is the manufacturers who are driving the use of this outdated gas. “If the manufacturers didn’t make these air conditioning units then people wouldn’t buy them,” he reasons. “There are many machines running perfectly well on R11 and R12 which will have to be replaced in three years time.

“Unfortunately some manufacturers have started making units in the Middle East that use R22, so I think this gas will be here for as long as possible,” says Arshad.

Current replacements for these refrigerant gases are known as HFCs; these do not pose a risk to the ozone layer. The two most common examples are R134a and R410a. “R134a is the gas of the future,” states Arshad. “It is the gas used in automotive air conditioning units and is increasingly being used by manufacturers in the production of their air conditioning units because it isn’t flammable and is non-toxic.”

Figures show that there are enough HCFC gases already in the UAE, so no more needs to be imported.

The gas that is already being used in air conditioning units needs to be reclaimed and used again. Problems occur when the older residential units using CFCs and HCFCs break after around 15 years.

Enviroserv is a local company that was set up to deal with the problems of storing and disposing of ozone-depleting gases. It recovers, reclaims and sells the gas back to people and companies who have older air conditioning units.

“The UAE signed the Montreal Protocol but there was no company or procedure in place to see that it was carried out properly,” explains general manager Stuart Fleming. “There were previously no regulations as there were in Europe and America, so many contractors would simply vent the gases in the units being serviced or changed and replace it with new gas,” he states.

The problem will only be compounded because the new gases cannot be used in many of the older air conditioning units. “The people who service these units must be educated in how to deal with the new gases, which is also a problem,” says Sadek. “Many people treat the new gases in the same way as CFCs and HCFCs.”

It is to places like Europe that the Middle East is now looking for inspiration. “Europe is tightening up on regulations with regards to leakage and the qualification and training of contractors,” says Miriam Rodway of the Institute of Refrigeration. The Fluorinated Gases Regulation came in last year and states minimum qualification requirements for people involved in the containment and recovery of ozone-depleting substances. This is very important if you want to stop these gases from escaping into the atmosphere,” adds Rodway.

Fleming agrees that the UAE is taking a leaf out of the EU’s book. “The Federal Environment Agency and Dubai Municipality are pushing for total contractor accountability for the loss of gases and an upgrading of technicians to international standards,” he says.

“The idea they have in mind is similar to the European model where contractors will have to pass a test in order to use and buy gas. They will be given a card and all the gas they recover will have to be logged.

Inspectors will then know who is and who isn’t allowing these gases to escape into the atmosphere. This isn’t a legislative move yet, but they have been recommended to look into it,” he states.

This should help greatly when the freeze of HCFCs happens in 2016. If the gases in these air conditioning units are being reclaimed, they can be used again so units will have a longer life cycle.

Many manufacturers such as Daikin and York are manufacturing air conditioning units that use the new HFC gases R134a and R410a and these are available in the Middle East. Daikin’s residential Flexi Type range uses R410a and can be fitted to ceilings or walls. It consumes up to 30% less energy than non-inverter units and has an air purification and photocatalytic deodorising filter.

Meanwhile York has the Millenium Gas Engine Drive centrifugal chiller, which uses R134a and is an efficient natural-gas alternative to electric chillers.

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