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Go for low GWP refrigerants 

low GWP refrigerants 

The refrigeration industry is shifting towards sustainability, driven by adopting low GWP refrigerants and evolving technologies. With a focus on reducing greenhouse gas emissions, the industry is embracing environmentally friendly cooling alternatives to mitigate climate change impacts.

The refrigeration sector is moving away from high GWP (Global Warming Potential) refrigerants towards more sustainable options, spurred by increasing demand for eco-friendly solutions. Natural refrigerants like CO2 and hydrocarbons are gaining traction due to their lower environmental impact, reducing carbon emissions and energy usage.

Choosing the right low-GWP refrigerant for specific applications is crucial. Options like carbon dioxide, ammonia, hydrocarbons, and HFOs (Hydrofluoroolefins), e.g., R-1234yf, R-1234ze, and R1233zd, offer very low GWP, while R32 represents a low-GWP HFC (Hydrofluorocarbons). Refrigerant blends are also designed to have lower GWPs than the ones they replace, combining properties to meet specific requirements. Blending HFOs with HFCs is being explored to mitigate the GWP of higher-density HFCs.

CO2 emissions

On this topic, Manjeet Singh, Sustainable Cooling Expert, considers, “We need to broaden our perspective beyond just refrigerants and consider the entire cooling sector, as the debate has shifted towards a climate change argument. Viewing this issue from a sectoral viewpoint is crucial, given the rapid expansion of the cooling sector in emerging countries. It follows a developmental trajectory similar to other necessities, transitioning to more comfortable living standards. India, for instance, is on the brink of a significant increase in cooling demand, as highlighted in its cooling action strategy.”

An analysis conducted by the United States Environmental Protection Agency projected the future trajectory of refrigerants and emissions. In 2020, emissions were approximately 20 million metric tons of CO2 equivalent. The transition requires it to reduce to align it with global efforts to mitigate climate change. The analysis suggested that, by 2050, emissions could escalate to around 197 million tons of CO2 equivalent, representing nearly a nine-fold increase over the next three decades.

GWP and hydrocarbon refrigerants

The primary objective of opting for low GWP artificial refrigerants is to mitigate the release of greenhouse gas emissions, thus curbing the rise in global temperatures. On the other hand, within the category of natural refrigerants, hydrocarbon refrigerants exhibit low GWP values. This makes them a direct solution for reducing global temperatures. The distinction lies in the approach, as low GWP refrigerants address the issue of greenhouse gas reduction. In contrast, hydrocarbon refrigerants within the natural group offer a direct means to lower global temperatures.

Utilising various low GWP artificial refrigerant materials requires a transition in new products to avoid elevating GWP levels. This shift necessitates the creation of entirely new systems rather than retrofitting existing ones. In contrast, natural refrigerants with extremely low GWP values allow for retrofitting, enabling the replacement of high GWP artificial refrigerants with drop-in substitutes. A practical example is the replacement of R-134a with R-600a in refrigerators, demonstrating the feasibility of such substitutions. This retrofitting approach can be extended to other pre-existing refrigeration and air conditioning systems.

Implementation challenges

The challenges associated with implementing low-GWP refrigerants stem from several factors. Certain sectors need more validated alternatives, posing a significant obstacle. While some countries may tout effective alternatives, their suitability in local contexts remains to be determined.

The debate is shifting towards emissions, including those from refrigerants, which typically account for 10 to 15 percent of equipment lifecycle emissions. The emphasis should be placed on minimising energy-related indirect emissions, which constitute the majority at 85 percent.

India’s refrigerant consumption has traditionally been concentrated in sectors like room air conditioners, chillers, and transport air conditioning. However, as the country progresses, there’s a shift towards processed food consumption, leading to the emergence of supermarkets and a government push to reduce food loss through cold storage systems. Additionally, the demand for foam insulation driven by building insulation requirements diversifies the demand for refrigerant. While this diversification poses challenges, it also presents opportunities to explore flexible technological solutions across different sectors.

Kigali Amendment

Aurgho Ghosh, Senior Manager—VRV Business, Daikin Air conditioning India, adds, “In the past, Refrigerant selection for equipment systems was primarily focused on safety, durability, and economics. However, environmental considerations have become paramount with the advent of environmental agreements like the Montreal Protocol and the Kigali Agreement.

The Kigali Amendment was implemented in 2016 as an extension to the 1987 Montreal Protocol. It aims at an 80% reduction in HFC production and consumption. This reduction is expected to prevent an additional 0.4 degrees Celsius of warming by the year 2100. These amendments are commendable as they compel equipment manufacturers to shift their focus towards developing low GWP refrigerants. However, it is essential to note that even low GWP refrigerants come with loads of indirect emissions, including designing and developing new components like compressors, compressor oils, and switch gears to support these refrigerants. Using low GWP refrigerants is one of many solutions to the problem. Still, the regulating bodies must focus on the recyclability and recoverability of materials like copper, brass, Al, and zinc to establish a balance between direct & indirect emissions.

Refrigeration sectors

The industrial refrigeration sector can be broadly categorised into two segments: the organised sector and the unorganised sector. In the organised sector, systems are designed, installed, and conceptualised according to established standards, norms, and procedures. According to his experience, Anil notes that the organised segment comprises only around 10% of the sector. The majority falls under the unorganised sector, where designs and installations lack adherence to standards and are primarily based on individual experiences.

The transition from the unorganised sector to the organised one can be achieved by embracing and implementing India’s standards. Adhering to these standards mandates adopting properly designed and engineered refrigeration systems.

Flammability concerns

While discussing the concerns over the flammability, Madi Sakande, General Manager, New Cold System adds, “People often overlook the potential dangers of GWP refrigerants. Even smaller appliances like home refrigerators can prove dangerous. A small leakage in such appliances can lead to hazardous situations, particularly when technicians lack proper training and equipment to handle refrigerants safely. Educating technicians and users about the risks associated with flammable refrigerants is required. Just like you need a license to drive a car or awareness when cooking with flammable materials, understanding the dangers of refrigerants should be common knowledge.”


The transition away from harmful chemicals is imperative, and we have ample time to do so. It is a matter of shifting mindset towards embracing low-GWP refrigerants without compromising affordability, durability, and sustainability.

When the R32 refrigerant was introduced in India in 2012, it was crucial to overcome initial apprehensions among dealers and stakeholders. This was achieved through comprehensive technician training on handling moderately flammable refrigerants, regardless of competition. Collaboration and knowledge-sharing among industry rivals further facilitated the transition.

Using natural refrigerants or low-GWP alternatives presents the toughest challenge in industrial refrigeration. Anil D. Gulanikar, Past President of the Association of Ammonia Refrigeration, adds, “The primary obstacle lies in people’s mindset. Many still opt for flammable equipment at home despite knowing the risks. The issue with refrigerants persists due to this mindset barrier. This highlights the need for a shift in perception rather than technical shortcomings.”


The economic implications must be considered while pursuing the reduction of global warming. India’s manufacturing and export hub role underscores the importance of balancing sustainability with practicality. While more sustainable alternatives with lower global warming potential are available, integrating them into mainstream air conditioning systems often requires significant compressor modifications, leading to higher costs.

International cooperation is essential for documenting technological piloting and advancements, particularly in line with the Ozone Secretariat monitoring protocol. While there have been efforts by industrialists to document such advancements, there remains a need for locally contextualised case studies and best practices that can be replicated in other societies and economies. Knowledge exchange on a global scale is crucial for addressing challenges and sharing solutions.

India can leverage economies of scale by aggregating demand for technologies like air conditioners, bringing down costs. This collaborative approach could involve utilities, industries, governments, international development partners, development banks, and refrigerant manufacturers, ultimately driving down costs similar to the success seen with LED technology in India.

As India increasingly becomes a hub for testing, piloting, and adopting sustainable refrigeration technologies, the benefits extend beyond its borders, potentially influencing other economies. This ripple effect underscores the potential for a significant multiplier effect in terms of environmental benefits and business opportunities. Seizing this opportunity for an accelerated transition aligns with environmental imperatives and offers substantial economic and strategic advantages on both local and global scales.

Global initiatives

The European Union has recently ratified new agreements, such as EU 573/2024, which lay out a comprehensive strategy for gradually eliminating HFC consumption by 2050. According to the allocations set by the Commission, the production of HFCs will be progressively reduced to a minimum of 15% starting in 2036. The recent agreement also mandates a complete ban on small (<12kW) monobloc heat pumps and air conditioning systems containing F-gases with a GWP of at least 150, commencing in 2027 and culminating in a full phase-out by 2032.

In Europe, there is a clear shift towards natural refrigerants such as propane and carbon dioxide, considered sustainable alternatives with significantly lower global warming potential (GWP) of 4 and 1, respectively. This move is part of a global trend, with the Environmental Protection Agency in the United States issuing a Final Rule on September 23, 2021, aimed at reducing hydrofluorocarbon emissions by 85% over 15 years. These actions underscore a shared commitment among nations to explore low-GWP alternatives and combat greenhouse gas emissions.

India’s Cooling Action Plan (ICAP) also aligns with phasing out HFCs, although there is a growing demand for a more accelerated approach, similar to European regulations.


Mr. Anil D. Gulanikar, Past President, Association of Ammonia Refrigeration

“Transitioning from unorganised to the organised sector is imperative; embracing India’s standards mandates the adoption of properly designed refrigeration systems for growth and efficiency.”

Madi Sakande, General Manager, New Cold System

“Raising awareness about the dangers of flammable refrigerants is crucial. Ignorance can turn a small leakage into a hazardous situation with a tiny spark.”

Aurgho Ghosh, Senior Manager – VRV Business, Daikin Air Conditioning India

“Balancing sustainability with practicality is crucial. We must prioritise awareness and risk mitigation to integrate more sustainable refrigerants, ensuring operational safety and efficiency while navigating economic challenges.”

Manjeet Singh, Sustainable Cooling Expert

“Transitioning to low-GWP refrigerants is urgent to combat global warming. Accelerated adoption presents economic and environmental benefits.”

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