Methodological and Technological Issues in Technology Transfer

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Case Study 4

Hydrocarbon Refrigerator "Ecofrig" in India
Sukumar Devotta and Saroja Asthana
National Chemical Laboratory, Pune 411 008, India

Keywords: India, Switzerland, Germany, ODS phaseout, HC refrigerator technology, N S, S S.

The basic objective of the Ecofrig project is to adapt the hydrocarbon technology (HT), developed by German manufacturers, for Indian domestic and commercial refrigeration appliances in cooperation with a few Indian industry and research partners. The project involved a voluntary partnership between the Swiss, German and Indian governments and private industries. In the first phase of the project two pilot facilities to use cyclopentane (CP) as an alternative to CFC-11 as the blowing agent in polyurethane foam insulation used in refrigerators have been commissioned. In the second phase of the project, the use of hydrocarbon (HC) alternative refrigerant to CFC-12 is being implemented in some industries.

The worldwide phaseout of ozone depleting substances (ODSs) in the major sectors, including refrigeration, was active in 1992 to 1993 under the Montreal Protocol (MP). The Indian refrigeration industry is presently engaged in phasing out ODSs. There are many choices as alternatives to chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs). In this project, the emphasis was given for both Ozone Depletion Potential (ODP) and Global Warming Potential (GWP) in the choice of alternatives. With these bases, hydrocarbons with zero ODP and negligible GWP were chosen. The key issue in the HC based technology is the safety aspects of using flammable blowing agents, i.e. CP and the flammable HC refrigerant.

The globalisation of the Indian economy and the integration of the Indian market with international markets have created new challenges as well as business opportunities for Indian industries. These changes have facilitated multinational acquisitions, import of CFC-free refrigerators into India at comparatively cheaper rates, and encouraged Indian companies to plan for international markets.

The legal basis for the project is the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) the 'Indo-Swiss collaboration in ecological domestic refrigeration', signed between the Swiss government, represented by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) and BUWAL (the Ministry of Environment and Forests), and the Indian government, represented by the Ozone Cell of the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MOEF). The German government, represented by BMZ (the Federal Ministry of Cooperation) and acting through Gesellschaft for technische Zusammenarbeit (GTZ) Gmbh as a co-contributor to the project, had entered into a separate co-financing agreement with the Swiss government. The collaboration between MOEF and the Indian industry partners, namely, Godrej GE Appliances and Voltas Ltd. was formalised through another MOU. The project coordination was entrusted to INFRAS AG, an independent environmental consulting group from Zurich. The Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), New Delhi; National Chemical Laboratory (NCL), Pune; and Tata Energy Research Institute (TERI), New Delhi are the research partners in the project.

Both the Swiss and German governments had made donor contributions towards the cost of consultancy services for planning and project implementation, equipment, materials and other imports, and consultancy services of Indian research institutes, etc. The Indian private industry partners have contributed about 50% of the cost of the project. The Indian government had facilitated the import of plant machinery under this project as Swiss and German contributions, exempted from all customs and excise taxes.

There are two phases of the Ecofrig project, with Phase I from September 1992 to March 1996 and Phase II from March 1997 to 1999/2000. The two components of hydrocarbon technology for India are the blowing agent in foam (cyclopentane) and the refrigerant (HCs: HC-600a or HC-600a/HC-290 blend). During Phase I, two pilot plants based on CP were set up at Godrej and Voltas/Allwyn. Plant machinery was imported from Italy and Germany. The installation was completed as per the German safety norms. Through the operation of these pilot plants, the two Indian industry partners had acquired the know-how needed for the handling of CP blown foam technology on a commercial scale.

The use of HC refrigerants in compressor and appliance manufacture has been achieved only partially with the transfer of know-how for safe designs of domestic refrigerators from Liebherr, Germany to Voltas and Godrej in India. In compressor design for R600a, the additional activities of adaptive research, pilot production, information dissemination, and networking is expected to continue into Phase-II.

The project includes several elements including plant machinery to manufacture refrigerators using cyclopentane foam and hydrocarbon refrigerant. The compressor and other components were adapted to the new foam blowing process and refrigerant.

The experiences gained in CP foam technology, particularly in relation to safety, are being made available to other Indian refrigerator manufacturers and, indeed, for similar projects in other developing countries. The two Indian refrigerator manufacturers have opted for CP blown polyurethane foam for their entire range of refrigerators. This will lead to significant reduction in ODS consumption in India.

At Godrej-GE the conversion to cyclopentane has eliminated 568 MT of CFC11 equivalent to roughly 600'000 MT CO2/a if HCFC or HFC path would have been chosen. 147 MT of CFC12 are in process of being phased out by use of isobutane

Lessons Learned
The project had built capacity in the actual setting up of the pilot (or demonstration) production units (including plant machinery) for CP foam and isobutane, and HC blend-based adaptive research in compressor and appliance design. These are considered essential for sustainable indigenous development. The first hand experiences gained in CP foam technology, particularly in relation to safety, are expected to be made available to other Indian refrigerator manufacturers and, indeed, for similar projects in other developing countries.

The documentation of adaptive research results and dissemination through various international publications by the Indian research partners have been found to be very effective methods for replication and sustainable development.

Dr. Othmar Schwank,
Infras, Zurich, Switzerland;

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