Chilling for change: How Linde is future-proofing refrigerants

The next generation of air conditioning and food freezing coolants will be more sustainable than ever – and Linde is leading the way to provide them.

Just chilling. Future ACs will run on climate-friendly refrigerants.

When Willis Haviland Carrier initially thought of a name for what’s today considered the first modern air conditioning (AC), he must’ve focused on what his invention does, rather than how to best market it. “Apparatus for Treating Air” it prosaically read on the 1902 patent. Barely did the U.S. engineer anticipate the far-reaching ramifications of his discovery for the century to come. 

None of the amenities air conditioning has brought us – from comfortable traveling, chilled hotel breakfast rooms to office spaces at a pleasant temperature – would have been possible without refrigerant gases. A part of ACs’ heat cycle, they extract warmth from their surroundings by constantly changing their phase. In fact, they’re a key component of any cooling application; from home, public and vehicle ACs to refrigerators, freezers and cooling containers that move dairy, meat and seafood across countries.

Linde is traditionally leading the charge in delivering refrigerant gases to its partners – even more so as an all-new, more sustainable generation of refrigerants emerges.

Change, not climate change

“Typically, you will have a new generation of refrigerants every 15 to 20 years,” says Thanasis Vellios, Senior Manager EMEA Refrigerant Alliance at Linde. While some of us remember CFCs (chlorofluorocarbons), to be found in 1980s hair spray cans and discontinued for contributing to the ozone hole, two additional categories of refrigerants have come under scrutiny. Most HCFCs (hydrochlorofluorocarbons), and especially chlorodifluoromethane, have been proven to deplete the Earth’s protective ozone layer. The group of HFCs (hydrofluorocarbons), however, has been shown to contribute to global warming when released into the atmosphere.

Reducing refrigerants’ footprint

“As a consequence, legislators are phasing out these substances within five to 10 years,” says Vellios. “We as Linde are leading the way to equip partners and producers with the fourth generation of climate-friendly refrigerants.”

While the first fluorinated gases (f-gases) regulation, issued in 2006, focused on reducing emissions by preventing leaks in systems and enforcing sustainable end-of-life recycling, the updated framework, in place since 2015, bans harmful refrigerants from being built into ACs and freezers. The directive’s key component is an incremental quota phase-down – and speciality gas suppliers like Linde have taken decisive steps to address it. While traditional HFCs accounted for 83% of refrigerants in 2017, sustainable fourth generation HFOs – hydrofluoro-olefins – are expected to make up 79% by the year 2030. As early as 2021, Linde aims to have a 50% quota of next-gen coolants in place.

Always a good choice. Modern refrigerants help cool drinks and foodstuff in a sustainable way.
Protecting Planet Earth: Next-gen coolants will be more sustainable than ever.

Cool comforts: A perfect fit for Linde’s portfolio

According to Vellios, HFOs, combined with so-called Natural Refrigerants like CO2 and Ammonia are promising to be energy-efficient alternatives. The demand for both groups is expected to rise throughout the next decades. As societies move towards more diversified use cases in chilling applications, diversifying one’s portfolio of cooling agents is imperative. “We’ll be the only company in Europe to provide a full product portfolio of HFCs, HFOs and Naturals,” Vellios says. A recent EU energy study backs the notion that there’s no one-size-fits-all solution, as the alternatives also have different chemical properties. Unlike previous refrigerants, the new generation of HFOs is flammable, while CO2 can only be kept under pressure.

To stay in the vanguard of change, Linde is actively updating its refrigerant filling plants, blending stations and packaging facilities throughout the world. As of now, the company has invested more than 5.5 million euros in new infrastructure across Europe: an upgraded plant in Poland is already in operation, one in Greece is to be opened in May 2019. 

Smuggling: Undermining safety and sustainability 

As Linde is working to deliver a secure filling network, unbidden guests have shown up at the party. “We’ve seen a rise in bootleggers who make a fortune by smuggling fake, unlicensed or adulterated products into the EU,” Vellios explains. In 2018 alone, according to Vellios, 30.000 tons of illegal products have trickled into the economic area – about one third of the total demand. While Linde follows strict rules when transfilling HFCs and HFOs, as well as chooses partners with safety records and flammable products know-how, gas gangs often sell their batches for 50% of the market value. They also use disposable instead of refillable cylinders. Experts detect the crooked cargo through wrong or missing certifications, too-good-to-be-true prices or deals on dubious websites.

One window, countless opportunities to grow

Linde is countering that development. Not only is the company working with EU law enforcement, it also has agreements with its clients to help them identify fake imports. Working with its EIGA (European Industrial Gases Association)  partners, Linde has founded a dedicated EU team to ensure a sustainable and secure EU rollout of future refrigerants. But even more: The EU is currently developing the so-called Single Window programme . “The initiative will unite hundreds of thousands of customs from all European countries in one application,” Vellios explains. By assisting clients to check the origin of their product, it’ll chiefly help control EU imports. 

Willis Carrier was right 

Having started at the perfect time to make the transition, Linde is leading the charge in introducing the future generation of coolants, further reducing its footprint. Decades after he pioneered his AC prototype, Willis Carrier also mastered to read into the future. "The average businessman will rise, pleasantly refreshed, having slept in an air-conditioned room,” he predicted in 1936. “He will travel in an air-conditioned train, toil in an air-conditioned office or factory, and dine in an air-conditioned restaurant. In fact,” he concluded,” the only time he will know anything about heat waves or arctic blasts will be when he exposes himself to the discomforts of out-of-doors." For large parts of modern society, he couldn’t have been more accurate.

Safe handling and transfilling: A prerequisite when working with refrigerants.