In the self-contained refrigerated display case market, new hydrocarbon-charged unit sales continue to take a larger market share in Australia – up to 50% of sales in 2020.

This assessment comes from “Cold Hard Facts 2021,” a review of the refrigeration and air-conditioning (RAC) industry in Australia by the national Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment. Released in December 2021, “Cold Hard Facts 2021” analyzes data from 2020 to identify key developments and emerging trends.

First published in 2007, “Cold Hard Facts” has been republished periodically, including in 2013, and annually since 2018.

The report also looked at installations of CO2 equipment in Australia, stating that “CO2 refrigerant is firmly entrenched in the mainstream supermarket sector with larger commercial refrigeration systems.”

While sales of hydrocarbon refrigerants are not reported in Australia, an inspection of offerings at industry exhibitions during 2019 and anecdotal reports from the supply chain suggest that sales of hydrocarbon-based self-contained refrigeration with charges smaller than 150g (5.3oz) “could have made up as much of 50% of all sales in this category in 2020,” said the report.

Moreover, with major manufacturers reporting a concerted move to transition most of their designs to hydrocarbons, “it is reasonable to assume that most new sales across smaller commercial refrigeration formats will employ hydrocarbons within the next three years,” noted the report. This will significantly increase the market share of hydrocarbon equipment in the total bank of installed self-contained commercial equipment in Australia, currently 5%.

Constrained by the 150g charge hydrocarbon limit on commercial cabinets, the market in Australia has been focused on delivering hydrocarbon equipment in the common smaller formats for catering equipment, storage cabinets and two-to-three-door display cabinets. Taking advantage of the opportunity in larger cabinets, HFO/HFC blends have started to be used, with charge size of up to 3kg (6.6lbs), said the report.

However, in June 2020, a new edition of AS/NZS 60335.2.89, the safety standard for commercial cabinets and ice machines, raised the charge limit for propane (R290) to 494g, following the comparable global IEC standard announced in 2019. Equipment using more than 150g of hydrocarbons needs to meet additional safety requirements.

The new charge limit has led to the development of larger hydrocarbon-charged equipment and is expected to “hasten the transition of self-contained commercial refrigeration to hydrocarbons with a corresponding dampening effect on HFCs in the bank [of commercial cabinets],” the report said.

In fact, the report cited a “major food retailer” that last year engaged in “a significant roll out of around 500 self-contained display cases, each containing 180g of hydrocarbons.”

Meanwhile, smaller self-contained display cases charged with hydrocarbons “are delivering significant energy-efficiency improvements across this populous and continuously operating stock of equipment,” the report said.

Domestic fridges and portable ACs employ HCs

The transition of new domestic refrigerator sales away from high-GWP refrigerants is effectively complete, with 99% of domestic refrigerators and freezers sold in 2020 containing hydrocarbon (isobutane/R600a) refrigerant, the “Cold Hard Facts 2021” report said. In 2019 just 10.8 metric tons of R134a was imported in domestic refrigeration systems, almost entirely in very small, very low-charge portable and vehicle refrigeration systems, compared to a peak of 139 metric tons imported in domestic refrigerators in 2008.

As a result, the percentage of hydrocarbon-charged domestic refrigerators and freezers in the total stock of equipment grew to an estimated 50% (about 10.2 million units) in 2020. “As older stock is removed from service and replaced, the proportion of hydrocarbon-charged domestic refrigeration is expected to be greater than 90% of the stock of this equipment segment by 2030,” said the report.

Meanwhile, in the domestic air-conditioning market, more than 80% of the portable ACs sold in 2020 were charged with R290 refrigerant, the report said. In Australia’s Greenhouse and Energy Minimum Standards (GEMS) register, 83% of portable air conditioners contained hydrocarbons as of July 1, 2021.

However, hydrocarbons have “minimal applications” in stationary air conditioning. 

Growth in NatRefs bank

The report estimated the bank of natural refrigerants (CO2, hydrocarbons and ammonia) in commercial refrigeration and mobile applications in 2020 to be 1,500 metric tons, up considerably from 700 metric tons in 2016. The volume of CO2 refrigerant used, primarily in the supermarket sector, is estimated to be at around 230 metric tons in 2020. The report further estimated a bank of 5,000 metric tons of ammonia in use in the cold food chain.

The bank of regulated f-gas refrigerants experienced “no significant growth” in 2020 despite surprisingly strong equipment sales. That, combined with increasing use of lower-GWP refrigerants, resulted in the average GWP value of the overall Australian bank of refrigerants reaching its peak in 2019 – 20, with a steady decline expected in the years ahead.

In regard to energy consumption, the report says that in 2020 the Australian stock of RAC equipment – comprising 58.1 million pieces – is estimated to have consumed more than 67,750GWh of electricity, around 25% of all electricity produced in the country.

Total GHG emissions attributed to RAC in 2020 were estimated to be 61.3 million metric tons of CO2e, approximately 12% of Australia’s total GHG emissions. RAC emissions includes 3,300 metric tons of direct HFC emissions.

Continuing energy-efficiency improvements in RAC equipment could enable peak energy-related emissions to be reached in the decade ahead, the report said.

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