Guest Post: The Indian Mobile Air Conditioning Industry: the Business Case for Phasing-Down Potent-Greenhouse Gases in India and Globally (Part 2)

As part of ongoing research, NRDC and CEEW are engaging in discussions with leading room and mobile air conditioning manufacturers in India and the market outlook toward phasing down high global warming potential (GWP) hydroflourocarbons (HFCs). In this second post, we describe business perspectives and progress in achieving an HFC phase down as part of the mobile air conditioner market in India.

Co-authored by Bhaskar Deol and Nehmat Kaur, NRDC India Initiative.

The Indian automobile industry and mobile air-conditioner market consist of Indian and global brands focused on domestic and export markets. Nearly all automobile air conditioners produced or marketed in India use chemical refrigrants, HFC-134a, which has a high GWP of 1430. However, the alternative refrigerant HFO-1234yf with a GWP of 4 is now being used in cars produced in North America, Europe, and Japan, and in some cars produced in China providing an impetus for the Indian industry to look at a transition away from HFC-134a to cars that use low GWP refrigerants to be able to compete in global markets. There is an added opportunity for the industry to help shape a strong amendment to the Montreal Protocol and use financial assistance under the Protocol and allow for a cheaper technology transition.

The discussion with automobile companies in Delhi and Pune, India last week, highlighted these main points:   

  • Automobile companies require a sense of technical alternatives available for HFC-134a and the benefits of moving to those alternatives.
  • Automobile companies have raised concerns about the safety of alternative chemicals being used in international markets, as well as their availability if the global market collectively transitions to chemicals currently produced and patented by only 2 companies.
  • An estimate of the costs associated with the transition needs to be strengthened and the industry recognizes the lack of this information to be a significant challenge.
  • One of the biggest challenges articulated by automobile companies is a lack of organization in the Indian automobile servicing sector – which is where a lot of leakage of refrigerant into the atmosphere.

There are three viable refrigerant options to replace HFC-134a in automobiles: HFO-1234yf, HFC-152a, and CO2.

HFO-1234yf is a “near drop-in” replacement requiring minor equipment modifications and using off-the-shelf or easily fabricated components. Some stakeholders point out that the current price of HFO-1234yf is about five times more than HFC-134a as a result of the more complex chemistry involved in its production and application patents. Consequently, the total cost of an HFO-1234yf system (including equipment modifications and refrigerant) will be more than an HFC-134a system. Assuming HFO-1234yf systems need service as frequently as HFC-134a systems, the lifetime ownership cost will also be more expensive. However, if automakers implement available technology to avoid leakage, the ownership cost will be comparable with current systems. And if car makers also implement available technology to increase energy efficiency, the ownership cost will be even lower than current HFC-134a systems.

Our report Cooling India with Less Warming discusses technically proven alternatives that can help industry continue its growth trajectory, while addressing the challenges posed by climate change.  The report also articulates barriers and opportunities faced by companies trying to bring these alternatives to market. Companies have carefully evaluated options available to them, but are pressured by a challenging business outlook, rising input costs, conflicting consumer demands of low cost and high efficiency. Manufacturers asked for technically proven, commercially viable alternatives and a policy roadmap for energy efficiency improvement that could be delivered cost effectively.

As global negotiations are held, it is a crucial opportunity for Indian industry and government to come together to announce that they are ready to take on the challenge of transitioning to an environmentally friendly energy-efficient future.  

Bhaskar Deol is a chemical engineer based in New Delhi and works as an India representative and consultant.  Nehmat Kaur is an economist based in New Delhi and works as an India representative and consultant.