The China Household Electrical Appliances Association (CHEAA) is providing technical support to China’s leading air-conditioner suppliers to help them transform their production lines and replace ozone-depleting refrigerants with propane (R290), as well as improve the units’ energy efficiency.
CHEAA is a non-governmental, not-for-profit industry association for home appliance manufacturers in China and undertakes government-led projects, such as the phase-out of HCFCs and HFCs in the home appliance sector. It is participating in a program in which the Chinese government is partnering with the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) and leading air conditioner manufacturers to find sustainable cooling solutions. UNIDO describes the program on its website.
China is the global leader in the production of air-conditioning appliances, producing around 70% of the nearly two billion room air conditioners installed worldwide each year. It also has one of the world’s fastest growing domestic markets for air conditioners. This is reflected in the fact that, from 2000 to 2020, energy demand for space cooling in Chinese buildings increased on average by 13% each year.
“Many managers of room air conditioner companies realize that natural refrigerant will be the future and technical conversion has to be done sooner or later,” said Wang Lei, Secretary General of CHEAA. “It was not an easy time for the industry in year 2020 because of COVID-19; however. the production volume of room air conditioners using natural refrigerant has continued to grow.”
The most recent example of a company switching from HCFC to R290 ACs is Chang Hong, an electronics supplier company. In 2019, Chen Wenjuan, General Manager of the Sales Department, started to promote a project for the production of an R290 refrigerant mobile air conditioner, “personally participating in and guiding user research, design appearance, product definition, and project management,” said UNIDO. “The birth of a new product often requires constant polishing,” she said. “During the project development stage, I had to hold video conferences with customers two to three times a week, and due to the time differences, the meetings were arranged after 7pm and went on until 10. Whenever there was a meeting for this project, I had to attend it in person.”
Under Wenjuan’s direction, the project took a year to complete and the product was launched in March 2021.
Strict safety requirements
As part of the UNIDO phase-out program, the Shenyang Sanyo Refrigeration Equipment Company began to transform its production line to R290 ACs in 2017. Su Nan, Head of the Finance Department and Operation Management Department at Sanyo, played an important role in the implementation of the project.
In transitioning to propane, Sanyo put forward strict safety requirements for the compressors’ production and testing, and the configuration plan of the production line and laboratory site selection had to be repeatedly evaluated.
To meet the safety requirements, Su organized staff to provide important operational support for decision-making in project appraisal, laboratory construction, equipment procurement and production line transformation.
Early in the development of R290 ACs in China, there was some resistance to introducing the substance, mainly because R290 is highly flammable. However, a UNIDO pilot project at the Midea air-conditioning company, involving the Ministry of Environmental Protection and the China Household Electrical Appliances Association, showed that propane was safe, as well as energy efficient, and in 2016 other companies started to use it instead of HCFC-based refrigerant, UNIDO said.
Wang is quietly satisfied with the progress made in its sustainability efforts. “I think it is the responsibility and mission of our generation and I believe it will be one of most meaningful things in my career,” she said. “As a woman, one of our advantages is patience. Over more than 10 years, I have, together with my colleagues, developed a lot of work and realized some achievements.”
“Many managers of room air conditioner companies realize that natural refrigerant will be the future and technical conversion has to be done sooner or later.”Wang Lei, China Household Electrical Appliances Association
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