x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Experts to chart the way to a UAE free of ozone-killing chemicals

A September conference will gather experts to find alternatives to chemicals used in refrigeration and air conditiong that are destroying an important part of the earth's atmosphere.

DUBAI // It won't happen overnight.

But as one step in the UAE's effort to eliminate hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs) by 2040, industry experts and environmental officials will meet for a conference in Dubai next month to brainstorm ways of meeting that goal.

As one of the roughly 200 countries to have ratified the Montreal Protocol, the UAE is expected next year to start phasing out HCFCs, which are chemicals that linger in the atmosphere for decades and damage the ozone layer. Located about 16 kilometres above the Earth's surface, the ozone layer absorbs ultraviolet radiation from the Sun, protecting people and the environment.

However, the layer has been thinned out by substances including refrigerants such as HCFCs and chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), the latter of which have already been banned.

Still, HCFCs are not entirely bad, said Surendar Balakrishnan of the publishing house CPI Industry, which is organising next month's event.

HCFCs remain among the most commonly used refrigerants in the country, he said, and they do have environmental advantages.

"It is a fact that they are very efficient," he noted. "Their energy efficiency is among the highest, and that makes a lot of difference in terms of electricity use."

Chillers running on HCFCs have been installed in the UAE's first certified green building - the district cooling plant at the Wafi leisure complex in Dubai. HCFCs are also being installed in retrofits, in which more energy-efficient air-conditioning systems are the goal.

According to Narciso Zacarias, an engineer at the environmental department of Dubai Municipality, there is still plenty of time for industry to phase out HCFCs.

"The programme now is to limit the import of this substance gradually," he said. "There is time to replace chillers by 2030 and even 2040."

To comply with its obligations under the Montreal Protocol, the UAE would have to freeze imports of HCFCs next year and reduce their use gradually thereafter.

By 2030, they should be almost discontinued, and by 2040 no HCFCs should be in use.

Mr Zacarias said the Ministry of Environment and Water and local bodies in each emirate must enforce compliance. The ministry is preparing a nationwide inventory of HCFCs in use. Once it is completed, importers will be given quotas limiting how much they may bring into the country.

Besides their effect on the ozone layer, refrigerants will also be reviewed based on health and safety issues related to their use, toxicity, flammability and potential contribution to global warming.

For example, hydrofluorocarbons are compounds that are not harmful to the ozone layer but have powerful and long-lasting global-warming effects once released into the atmosphere. Mr Surendar said this is the reason for banning their use in car air-conditioning units in Europe.

The September conference will also consider alternatives such as ammonia and some hydrocarbons.

Each has its drawbacks: ammonia is dangerous if it leaks in large amount, and the hydrocarbons can explode if they are not kept at the correct temperature and pressure.

 

vtodorova@thenational.ae