Environment ministry on Thursday announced an ambitious collaborative R&D programme to develop next generation sustainable refrigerant technologies as alternatives to the climate-damaging hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs).

The announcement came a day before the International Ozone Day. Though HFC is not an ozone-depleting chemical substance like other refrigerants, it has huge potential to damage climate and therefore its phase down is considered quite important to fight the adverse impact of climate change.

The announcement indicates India's commitment to phase down HFCs by taking its domestic industries on board so that the refrigerant sector does not get affected by it until they find cost-effective cutting edge technology as alternative to HFC which is used in air-conditioners, refrigerators and insulating foam.

Countries from across the globe, including India, will next month meet in Kigali, Rwanda to finalise an amendment to the Montreal Protocol to phase down HFCs.

Amendment to the Montreal Protocol is needed as it, in its present form, only deals with phasing down of ozone-depleting refrigerants like CFCs and HCFCs. Since HFC is not ozone-depleting chemical substance, its phase down under Montreal Protocol requires the amendment.

The move is expected to help the world cut down emission of this dangerous greenhouse gas substantially by 2050 and avoid up to 0.5 degree Celsius of warming by the end of the 21st century.

The research initiative to find out alternatives to HFCs in India will be led by the Council of Scientific & Industrial Research's (CSIR)
Indian Institute of Chemical Technology, Hyderabad.

Besides CSIR and its allied institution, the Centre for Atmospheric & Oceanic Sciences and key industry players in the refrigerant sector will also be part of this R&D initiative.

The ministry along with the Department of Science and Technology (DST) and the CSIR has also decided to create a corpus fund for this research programme. Industry also committed to contribute to the effort.

"With this initiative, India reaffirms its commitment to working with all other nations to safeguard the Earth's natural ecosystem", said the environment ministry while making the announcement on Thursday.

Members of this initiative have already had multiple rounds of consultation to reach a consensus on the contours and the roadmap for this initiative.

The ministry said, "India has a small carbon footprint at citizen level and its sustainable lifestyle results in low contribution of the country to overall emissions of greenhouse gases and ozone depleting substances, as compared with other developed countries. However, there is an urgent need for developing new technologies indigenously as alternatives available today are patented apart from being expensive.

"The research based programme to look for cost effective alternatives to the currently used regfrigerant gases is, therefore essential. The initiative is a significant step forward in line with India's national focus on research, innovation, technology development and Mission Innovation".

By establishing an effective collaboration between all important stakeholders, the initiative is focused on prioritising areas of research in new refrigerant technologies and natural refrigerants.

"This will help the country leapfrog from the current high global warming potential HFCs to technologies with lower climate impact", said the ministry -- an indication that India will be able to move on the HFCs' 'phase down' path quickly only if it gets alternative either through domestic innovation or through getting cost-effective solution from the developed countries.

It reiterated that the proposed R&D initiative is an important step in the direction of enabling the country achieve national development goals, while continuing to maintain a sustainable environmental footprint.

Reversing its long opposition, India had in April last year made a formal proposal to amend the Montreal Protocol to bring phasing down of HFC. The country had, however, sought a "grace period" of 15 years to phase down HFCs so that its domestic industries get enough time to switch over to technically feasible and economically viable alternatives.

If the grace period is accepted in Kigali, developing countries will phase down the refrigerant to an agreed level by 2050 as against the deadline of 2035 for rich nations including the US, Japan and EU countries.

The amendment, once adopted, will make all developing countries, including India, compulsorily phase down HFC under the Montreal Protocol which, at present, does not have a mandate to deal with the non-ozone depleting

Source: September 16, 2016, The Times of India