Scantec Austalia
Scantec Refrigeration Technologies low-charge ammonia installation in Australian Distribution Center. Photo Credit: Scantec Refrigeration Technologies.

Stefan Jensen of Scantec Refrigeration Technologies Details the Roadblocks Facing Natural Refrigerants in Australia

The company’s Managing Director spoke to NaturalRefrigerants.com about HFO regulations, training and resistance to ammonia AC.

Australia has made strides in adopting natural refrigerants, with Queensland recently granting its first compliance certificate for large-scale propane (R290) heat pumps and chillers and end users like Woolworths strongly embracing transcritical CO2 (R744). However, natural refrigerants still face roadblocks in the country, according to Stefan Jensen, Managing Director at Scantec Refrigeration Technologies.

Jensen laid out those impediments in an exclusive interview with Jan Dusek, ATMOsphere’s Co-Founder and COO. ATMOsphere is the publisher of NaturalRefrigerants.com.

The two main problems he cited were a lack of policy direction for HFO refrigerants that degenerate into PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances), including TFA (trifluoroacetic acid), and the lack of appropriately trained personnel to work with natural refrigerants.

In the interview, Jensen also expressed his frustration with the “market resistance” in Australia to ammonia (R717)-based solutions for large-scale air-conditioning projects.

Scantec provides low-charge ammonia solutions and transcritical CO2 packages for commercial and industrial applications.

“It’s not a technical problem to get ammonia chillers into what some people call hydronic air-conditioning, but there are many people in Australia who cannot see that this is the future.”

Stefan Jensen, Managing Director of Scantec Refrigeration Technologies

Refrigerant policy

As of late 2023, the connection between HFO refrigerants and the generation of TFA and other PFAS in the environment had no bearing on Australian refrigerant policy, according to Jensen.

Before passing away in February 2024, Patrick McInerney served as the Director of the Mercury, Ozone and Climate Protection Section at the Department of Climate Change, Energy, the Environment and Water (DCCEEW). The department, tasked with protecting Australia’s natural environment, sets policies and programs to address climate change and preserve water resources.

“In a meeting with the DCCEEW in Canberra near the end of 2023, I had a colleague directly ask the late Patrick McInerney if the stuff we are hearing about PFAS and HFOs would have a bearing on the Australian policy regarding refrigerants, and McInerney simply said, ‘No, it would not,’” Jensen remarked.

An increasing number of studies, including those from the U.S., China and Australia, link the degradation of HFOs, particularly HFO-1234yf and HFO-1234ze(E), both of which have a 100-year GWP of less than 1, to the formation of the super greenhouse gas HFC-23, which has a 100-year GWP of 14,600.

At the 35th Meeting of the Parties (MOP) to the United Nations Montreal Protocol in Nairobi, Kenya, the delegates tasked the three scientific panels that support the Protocol’s decision-making with analyzing the risks related to PFAS, including TFA. According to the United Nations Environmental Program Ozone Secretariat, McInerney attended the 35th MOP held October 23‒27, 2023.

“[McInerney] participated in all the meetings of the parties over the last 20 years or more, so he was certainly involved in all the HFC phase-down policy discussions,” Jensen said, indicating that he has not followed the news concerning McInerney’s replacement and whether that would alter Australia’s policy direction.

Australian cities have started to take a stand on refrigerants, with Parramatta City, New South Wales, leading the charge. In its Development Control Plan – a city planning document – published in December 2022, the city requires new HVAC&R equipment to have a GWP of less than 10.

“Using natural refrigerants will reduce the impact of the emissions,” the city council said.

Training issues

Another issue facing the rapid uptake of natural refrigerant solutions in Australia is the lack of appropriately trained natural refrigerant personnel.

“As far as training is concerned, we are taking on more and more apprentices because we can’t get people,” Jensen said. “We have to train them.”

Inderpal Saund, Business Development Director APAC for Beijer Ref Australia, agrees with Jensen. In a presentation at the ATMOsphere APAC Summit 2024, held February 6–7 in Tokyo, Saund said the APAC region’s ability to embrace the past two decades of advancements in refrigeration technology will depend on training. Very few “everyday” technicians in the area work with ammonia, CO2 or propane, he added.

Fortunately for Jensen, training the next generation of ammonia refrigeration experts hits close to home. He told Dusek that his oldest son takes care of the detailed engineering for Scantec and that his youngest just qualified as a refrigeration mechanic. However, Jensen is not ready to pass on the torch.

“I don’t want to stop working because I like the work,” he said.

Read Part 1 of Our Interview With Stefan Jensen

Ammonia-based air-conditioning

Jensen also shared his frustration with the resistance in Australia to ammonia refrigerant in large-scale air-conditioning projects.

In 2010, Scantec replaced an air-cooled R22 air-conditioning system in a Logan City public building south of Brisbane with a water-cooled ammonia-based system. According to Jensen, the new system cut the air-conditioning energy consumption of the building roughly in half.

Jensen conducted a 2019 follow-up report on that installation, looking at refrigerant losses, energy consumption and maintenance costs. “We exceeded the customer’s expectations in every respect,” he told Dusek, adding that the ammonia charge has “never been replenished” in more than 10 years.

However, the Australian market “is resisting ammonia-based air-conditioning technology,” said Jensen, commenting that Europe does not seem to feel the same way, pointing to its successful use in the Terminal 5 project in the U.K.’s Heathrow Airport.

“It’s not a technical problem to get ammonia chillers into what some people call hydronic air-conditioning, but there are many people in Australia who cannot see that this is the future,” Jensen said.

He did state that over the past few years, Scantec has seen a rise in demand for its industrial-sized centralized low-charge ammonia refrigeration systems, with its “order book full for the 2024‒2025 financial year and a little beyond.” In a 2021 ATMOsphere interview, he predicted this would eventually happen due to the energy efficiencies provided by the refrigerant with the correct system design.

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