01 September 1998 00:00 [Source: APC]With their ozone-depleting properties, CFCs are being phased out in favour of more environmentally friendly alternatives. Bill Macdonald takes a look
The rapid growth of the fluorochemical industry in the Asia-Pacific has slowed due to the effects of the economic crisis. However, with the continuing phase-out of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), customers are looking for alternatives. The industry is completing a transition from the production of ozone-depleting CFCs to more environmentally benign hydro-chlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs) and hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs).
HCFCs, with a substantially lower potential for depleting the upper atmosphere ozone layer than CFCs, will play an important interim role through the early years of the next century, when they too will be phased out in favour of HFCs, which have no ozone-depleting potential.
Refrigeration and air-conditioning will continue to provide the dominant market for fluorochemicals, but will be characterised by sluggish growth, reflecting the maturity of the refrigeration equipment market. Motor vehicle air-conditioning will provide the best growth opportunities for refrigerants because of strong demand for aftermarket servicing.
The Montreal Protocol dictated that production of CFCs should be terminated by 1996. However, for developing countries an additional ten-year period for phase-out was allowed.
Throughout the region the pace of phase-out is somewhat mixed. 'It depends on the countries,' says James Harris, AlliedSignal's fluorocarbons business development manger for Asia-Pacific, 'some countries, such as Taiwan and Hong Kong, have moved towards the quite aggressive phase-out of CFCs, while other - mainly Asean - countries are moving more slowly.'
However, some are starting programmes to ban CFCs. The Philippines will, from next January, ban the importation of two major groups of ozone-depleting substances. The Environment Department has announced the banning of CFC 11, 12 and 13 blends containing CFC-114 and CFC-115, and halon 1211 and 1300.
###6901###Countries such as China and India also lag behind developed nations in curbing CFC production and use. India's production of CFCs has risen 300% to 16 000 tonne from 4000 tonne more than a decade ago.
However, things are beginning to change. The Indian Institute of Chemical Technology (IICT) is helping to commercialise India's first indigenously developed CFC substitute, HFC-134A, an ozone-friendly substitute for refrigerant gas CFC-12.
Two companies involved in the project with IICT, Naveen Fluorine Industries and Sriram Fibres, will initially set up a Rupee50m ($1.4m) pilot plant to produce 5kg/hr of HFC-134A, with plans to eventually build a 2000 tonne/year plant.
AlliedSignal markets Genetron 134a (HFC-134a) refrigerant for automobile applications. Genetron 134a is a non-ozone-depleting hydrofluorocarbon-based refrigerant used in the air-conditioning systems of new vehicles. Genetron 134a is produced in the US by AlliedSignal.
The company's main fluorocarbons business centres on refrigerants and film-blowing agents. Like other industries, these have been hit by the economic crisis engulfing the region.
'Our types of products go into consumer goods, white goods, the market for which is really fuelled by countries which have a growing middle class,' says Harris. 'When Asia was growing at about 7-8% per annum, the OEM market was growing very rapidly.' Like all suppliers, the market demand has decreased because of the Asian economic crisis, he adds.
However, AlliedSignal continues to build up its distribution network in the region and in the long run expects to set up a manufacturing facility in the region. 'Eventually, somewhere down the road we're going to have a manufacturing presence,' says Harris. 'It's still the largest growing market in the world.'
The company also has a joint venture in the region with Asahi Chemical. AlliedSignal-Asahi was established in June 1997 as a joint venture 51%-owned by AlliedSignal and 49% by Asahi Glass, to undertake the zero ozone-depletion potential HFC business, and is developing the market with the support of both parent companies.
As well as promoting the refrigerant HFC-410a as a replacement for HCFC-22, which is used in air-conditioners and other ventilating equipment, AlliedSignal-Asahi is developing the urethane foaming agent HFC-245a. Samples are supplied from the pilot plant of AlliedSignal, and it is aimed at the HCFC-141b replacement market.
HFC-410A is currently produced by AlliedSignal at its Geismar, Louisiana, US, plant. Local production is targeted for 2000. At present the product lineup, startup timing and production scale are in process of being firmed up, with Asahi's Chiba site as prime candidate location, and a definite programme will be decided by the first half of 1999.
Last year, AlliedSignal and Elf Atochem reached an agreement for the manufacture and marketing of refrigerant blends for use as CFC substitutes in refrigeration and air-conditioning applications. Under the agreement, AlliedSignal manufactures and markets R-409A (Forane FX56) for use as an R-12 substitute in medium-temperature refrigeration systems, while Elf Atochem markets R-410A (AZ-20), as a replacement for R-22.
Although there has been a fairly large drop in the fluorochemical market, Harris expects the growth to resume within the next five years. 'We're still very positive about Asia in the long run,' says Harris. 'The real challenge is to be part of that potential.'
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