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Friday, 17 January 2014

UNIDO project to green Chinese air-conditioning production serves as example for Africa and West Asia

Global use of air-conditioning is rocketing. Many of the world's fastest growing economies are located in the hottest parts of the world, and the need to keep cool has become a priority for people in many countries. In India, for example, sales of air-conditioning units are growing by 20 per cent each year.

With last year's report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change stating that the number, frequency and intensity of hot days and heatwaves are increasing, and with entities such as the World Bank warning of a global temperature increase of four degrees Celsius by the end of the century, demand for air-conditioning is only likely to increase.

In this context, a UNIDO demonstration project that has helped convert a production line for residential air conditioners to ozone- and climate-friendly technology has clear relevance and importance.

The production line conversion took place at Midea, a manufacturing company that has one of the largest air-conditioner production set-ups in China. Midea’s main products include residential air conditioners, refrigerators, washing machines and compressors. The air conditioner production line converted by UNIDO has a production output of 200,000 units per year.

Previously, Midea’s air-conditioners used HCFC-22,  an ozone-depleting substance and greenhouse gas, as refrigerant gas. The production line was converted from HCFC-22 to propane (R-290), a hydrocarbon which does not deplete the ozone layer and has a very low global warming potential. Moreover, the new optimized system at Midea has improved energy efficiency by 10-15 per cent, indirectly contributing to the mitigation of climate change.

The project, funded by the Multilateral Fund for the Implementation of the Montreal Protocol, contributes towards China’s commitment to freeze the consumption of HCFCs by 1st January 2013, in line with the country’s obligations under the Montreal Protocol. In addition, this project could have an important impact on the entire Chinese market since this alternative technology to HCFC-22 with minimal climate impact has been proven viable and can now be adopted by other refrigeration and air-conditioning manufacturers. The project has also significant demonstration value for the safe manufacturing, installation and servicing of products with flammable refrigerants.

Ultimately, the environmental impact of the project is the following:
-    240 tonnes of HCFC-22, or 13.2 tonnes of ozone-depleting potential, were phased-out;
-    967,490 tonnes of CO2-equivalent emissions will be reduced each year.

This demonstration project is pioneering and of great importance, since R-290 was the main technology chosen by China for the residential air-conditioning sector under its overall HCFC Phase-out Management Plan.

The conversion at Midea serves as example for many developing countries, opening a new door for further developing South-South cooperation. This experience is proving useful for other UNIDO projects in West Asia (Middle East and Near East), as well as in Africa.

In West Asian countries, the phase-out of HCFCs has become a challenge, as, at present, the most commonly employed alternatives to HCFC in the air-conditioning sector in the region have high global warming potentials. Therefore, UNIDO, in cooperation with the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), has developed a project for countries in the region which aims to shed light on potential sustainable technologies for countries with high ambient temperatures.

This project will test the performance of alternatives to HCFCs with low global warming potential through the development of prototypes. The project will later facilitate the technology transfer and experience exchange of alternatives with low global warming potential in various air-conditioning applications operated in high ambient conditions. Midea’s experience with R-290 is very important in order to demonstrate to West Asian countries the performance, as well as the efficiency and safety features, of the new system.

In late November 2013, UNIDO organized an expert group meeting for the national ozone units of 21 sub-Saharan African countries to discuss challenges and opportunities during the phase-out of HCFCs in Africa. A prototype air-conditioning unit was shipped form Midea in China to UNIDO’s headquarters for the meeting. During this event, UNIDO and the German development agency, GIZ, demonstrated the functioning of the Midea air conditioning unit working with R-290. UNIDO was able to showcase the safety issues related to the operation, maintenance and servicing of R290 air conditioners. This was a valuable learning opportunity, which could lead to the replication of such similar projects in other countries and demonstrate the viability of green and safe technologies in the refrigeration sector.

By Raquel Aledo, UNIDO Refrigeration and Aerosols Unit, and Charles Arthur
Posted January 2014

See also:

Global Air-conditioning: are we cooling our way to a warmer planet?

China's leading air conditioner companies shift to R290

How China’s Midea went from appliance maker to global player

Video: UNIDO's Montreal Protocol projects in China