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Present and future of natural refrigerants and connectivity

September has been a month especially busy for HVAC/R stakeholders in Spain: Atmosphere Ibérica, focused on the use of natural refrigerants in Spain and Portugal; Tecnofrío, a national conference about refrigeration installations; and Eurovent Summit, the European biennial meeting of Eurovent Association whose slogan was “¡Viva La Conectividad!”. I was lucky to attend both Atmosphere Ibérica and Eurovent Summit, held in two of the most famous Spanish cities: Madrid and Seville. Not a bad choice to talk about cooling: while in central and northern Europe autumn was arriving, the thermometers in Sevilla showed temperatures of 38°C!

Atmosphere Ibérica was held on 18 of September, less than eleven months after the first edition. However, I had the impression that much more time had passed, considering the impact that the European phase-down caused in the market during that period! While last year the event was focused on the challenges of natural refrigerants in warm climates, in this edition there was little mention to the climate conditions and the difficulties involved but many examples of successful implementation of technologies. It was assumed that solutions for refrigeration with natural refrigerants already allow most of the applications and geographical areas to be covered, and the objective now is to facilitate their use in A/C: “The use of natural refrigerants is being also extended to A/C sector” was one of the first statements of A. de Oña, Shecco COO.

Regarding the phase down of HFC refrigerants, the news about the increase in prices has considerably decreased with respect to 2017, but unfortunately the illegal market of refrigerants has been one of the main topics in the media. On this matter, A. Kaschl remarked that the European Commission is working to strengthen control at customs in order to avoid the illegal market of refrigerants.

The publication of the “Plan PIMA Frio” in September will certainly help in the phase down in Spain. It consists of subsidies for the implementation of alternative refrigeration installations to fluorinated gases with high GWP in commercial refrigeration installations. The quantity is 650 €/kW of cooling power, as explained by G.Martínez, Oficina Española de Cambio Climático.

The main barrier now for the successful transition to natural refrigerants is the specific knowledge required. “Training, training and training” stated F. Sanz, from AEFYT, in reference to the need of having trained technicians and engineers to use natural refrigerants. This is currently one of the challenges and concerns of our sector, not only in Spain and Portugal, but in all the countries where the use of natural refrigerants is being extended. It was certainly one of the main topics of the day during presentations (with a dedicated session), workshops and coffee breaks.

The afternoon was dedicated to the presentation of different technology case studies. Most of them were focused on solutions for increasing the efficiency of CO2 systems such as ejectors, integration of air conditioning and hot sanitary water, and FTE; some proposed propane for different applications such as heat pumps and ice-cream refrigerators; the last one combined the two refrigerants, consisting of a pilot installation with propane and CO2 in cascade

After such an interesting day in Madrid, I came back to Italy with the conviction that HVAC/R sector is making a great effort for the successful phase down of HFCs, but much more will have to be done in the next years.

One week later I travelled to Seville. I was excited to take part in the wide variety of meetings and activities organized by Eurovent association and to celebrate their 60 anniversary. More than 500 HVAC/R stakeholders from 32 countries attended this four day event where lots of topics were discussed during the day and evening activities. 

During the first day the attendants were very busy, with lots of meetings in which the future of regulations and certifications for a wide variety of appliances was discussed: from air handling units to condensing units. The welcome reception took place in the evening, where Naci Sahin, President of Eurovent Association, welcomed the participants remarking our role of best drivers of sustainability, energy efficiency, indoor air quality, safety and reliability. Then, we spent a nice time listening to “Eurovent band” and playing the game “Who wants to be a Climate millionaire?”, with interesting themes not only about refrigerants and ecodesign, but also about Andalusian culture. 

The second day I attended the meeting of the Product Group 'Commercial Refrigeration Equipment', hoping to see a common agreement between European manufacturers for the requirements of the Ecodesign Lot 12 and Energy Labelling. Some details will still have to be defined, such as the location of the label in the cabinet, but I am confident that these regulations will be published, hopefully next year. In the afternoon, I switched from theory to practice, attending a demonstration on the handling and use of R-32, with a practical test of loading and unloading refrigerants in a split unit. During the evening, we had the opportunity to enter the “connectivity world” by listening to four great presentations about Internet of Things. “What can be digitalized will be digitalized” stated Karsten Fuchs from ebm-papst. 

My last day in Eurovent Summit was dedicated to Spanish industry. A symposium organized by two Spanish associations, AEFYT and AFEC, covered the main topics affecting HVAC/R sector nowadays. Among them, there was a very interesting discussion on how useful an external certification would be to respect the standards if it was mandatory for all the equipment. In the last session, I had the opportunity to present two examples that demonstrate how the use of connectivity helps to optimize HVAC/R systems. Cyber security, consumed energy and cost were the main concerns of the audience. 

A nice dinner with a spectacular flamenco show in a typical Andalusian cortijo was ideal to relax after such an intense day! Before dinner, my colleague Andreina Figuera stated in the introduction speech that connectivity is becoming a reality not only for machines but also for people, remarking the importance of connection to generate ideas and continue the evolution of our industry: “Humans will continue to be unique, unreplaceable for intuition to generate great ideas, to have common sense, to show emotions and to exploit creativity”. This is why it is essential to participate in events such Atmosphere and Eurovent Summits, where we can share our ideas about the present and the future of relevant topics for humans, such as environment and technology evolution. 


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