Africa’s first ATMOsphere event a success!

By Ilana Koegelenberg

The first ATMOsphere networking event in Africa took place during FRIGAIR and officially started the natural refrigerants conversation between government, industry, and end users.

shecco’s ATMOsphere networking events and conferences are known throughout the global industry for its work in promoting the uptake of natural refrigerants. Firmly established as the world’s leading conference series on natural refrigerants, taking place across the world, South Africa proudly became the ninth country (and the first on the continent) to host a networking event of this kind.

The first ATMO FRIGAIR took place on 7 June at the Gallagher Convention Centre, in an adjoining hall to the FRIGAIR 2018 exhibition. It was held in collaboration with exclusive sponsor and host, Commercial Refrigeration Services (CRS), whose technical director, Wynand Groenewald, has dreamt of having a local ATMOsphere event for many years.

The room was a mix of contractors, representatives from the Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA), end users such as Woolworths and Makro, and key stakeholders from all over the country. A total of 131 people from 64 participating organisations attended on the day, raising the bar for networking events across the globe.

We were privileged to welcome three visitors from shecco to South African shores for the inaugural event: Lydia Matthäus-Wiltink (global events manager); Alvaro De Oña (chief operating officer and head of media); as well as Andrew Williams (shecco European editor). They spent some time on the CRS stand during FRIGAIR and got to see for themselves where we were in terms of natural refrigerants. Williams could be seen running around the show interviewing people left, right and centre, gathering info on the progress on natural refrigerants in the country and beyond our borders.

It is worth noting that there definitely were more products at the show geared towards the natural refrigerants market than at previous shows. I even saw R290 compressors and a variety of CO2 system components for all applications. International trends are finally starting to filter through …

Making history

The aim of the event was to showcase global developments with natural refrigerants and assess how South Africa measures up against the rest of the world. Various expert speakers delivered short, 10-minute presentations on the opportunities and challenges of natural refrigerants in South Africa and from the rest of the world. The talks touched on training in South Africa as well, and looked at end-user experiences with natural refrigerants, before concluding with an impressive panel discussion on the way forward for natural refrigerants in South Africa and Africa as a whole.

The agenda included an impressive mix of high-profile speakers from South Africa and internationally:

  • Alvaro De Oña – COO and head of media, shecco
  • Kenneth Bank Madsen – global application expert (Food Retail) of Danfoss
  • Grant Laidlaw – president of the South African Institute for Refrigeration and Air Conditioning (SAIRAC)
  • Alex Kuzma – head of engineering, Woolworths
  • Malcolm Moore – group project manager at In2Food
  • Obed Baloyi – director of Waste Policy and Information Management, Department of Environmental Affairs
  • Wynand Groenewald – technical director of CRS.

Switching to naturals straight away

The event was kicked off by De Oña who, as chair of the session, welcomed everyone to the momentous occasion with the help of Groenewald. He asked visitors to stand up and introduce themselves to someone they haven’t met before — it was a ‘networking’ event after all.

Once everyone settled down again, De Oña gave a brief introduction about shecco and the ATMOsphere brand. shecco is a Belgium-based company that has been active in the global HVAC&R industry for over 15 years, promoting the uptake of natural refrigerants through innovative solutions and market development. They publish various Accelerate magazines across the world and also own the popular websites R744.com, hydrocarbons21.com, and ammonia21.com (among others). They also produce a series of white papers and host various webinars — all to educate the market and further the ‘natural’ cause.

He spoke on why they wanted to come to Africa and promote the uptake of natural refrigerants here as well. He explained that the Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol is putting pressure on all countries to phase down ozone depleting substances (ODSs) at a faster rate. “This is a golden opportunity for South Africa to leapfrog from ozone depleting substances to natural refrigerants without going to the middle step first,” he explained, referring to HFCs.

South Africa is currently busy phasing out HCFCs, trailing a tad behind many of the other signatories of the Montreal Protocol. The country is not set to start phasing out HFCs until 2024. But De Oña made the point, as so many had before, that it made sense to skip straight to more environmentally friendly refrigerants, as we know that this is where the world is headed.

A history of refrigerants

De Oña was followed by Kenneth Bank Madsen of Danfoss, who took the audience through a brief history of natural refrigerants, highlighting significant milestones. His presentation took a historical walk through CO2 development in particular, bringing us up to recent times. He spoke about what is new, and asked the questions, “What now? What will the future bring?”

He looked at challenges for the future and emphasised that we need to work on bringing down the cost of training. It wasn’t just about the challenges, though; he also looked at “solutions for the future”, giving insight into what is happening with natural refrigerants across the world.

He explained that globally, the barriers for flammable refrigerants are finally being removed and that policies affecting the market are constantly being revised. Madsen urged everyone to keep up with international trends. “If you don’t do your homework early enough, it will hit you as things happen very quickly,” he said.

He showed a picture depicting the amount of CO2 systems across the world, with South Africa boasting 102 known trans-critical CO2 systems. Although there has been significant growth in this market, currently CO2 installations still only represent 1% of the retail market size in South Africa.

Training matters

Up next was Grant Laidlaw, SAIRAC president, whose talk focused on the training curriculums in the local industry, specifically centring around the new refrigeration and air-conditioning qualifications that are currently being approved.

Although the curriculum has now been brought up to standard, the next step is to get the training up to scratch, he said. Training more installers and technicians on how to operate natural-refrigerant systems is crucial to widening their uptake in South Africa, he explained.

He also spoke on safe handling of refrigerant licences and the issues we as a country have with training and safe handling. “For safe handling of refrigerants that are flammable and high pressure, the training providers, industry, and industry associations will have to get together to decide what constitutes a safe handling license,” Laidlaw said.

Laidlaw said we still have a challenge with finding workplace providers for training artisans.

The industry has come a long way in addressing the skills and training issue, but there is still a lot of work to be done. In particular with ensuring the safe handling of natural refrigerants.

A short coffee break followed Laidlaw’s presentation.

The Woolworths experience

After the break, Alex Kuzma, Woolworth’s head of engineering, took to the stage to take visitors through Woolworth’s journey with natural refrigerants, starting 12 years ago already. This was a historical moment in itself, as Woolworths has never spoken on a public forum about their choice to go natural.

According to Kuzma, Woolworths currently boasts nine subcritical installations for its retail stores and 61 trans-critical systems. He explained that 60% of the retailer’s energy bill goes towards refrigeration and therefore it was critical that they relook the efficiency and longevity of their refrigeration installations. “Going down the CO2 road is a good business journey in terms of energy efficiency and reducing carbon emissions,” he explained.

He spoke on the company’s experience with CO2 and that despite initial resistance, it has proved a smart move for its refrigeration solution. Kuzma explained that there were various obstacles initially for adopting CO2 trans-critical solutions in South Africa’s food retail industry. These included a higher initial cost (about 45% higher when compared to previous systems); fear of the unknown; system complexity; difficulties in sourcing components; and the development of local skills. However, these challenges have since been overcome and the company has been putting in CO2 systems wherever possible, even retrofitting some older stores with CO2 systems. “Redoing stores with trans-critical CO2 plants pays for itself in a couple of years,” he said.

“CO2 is sustainable and future-proof,” explained Kuzma. “You put it in, and you don’t have to worry about it anymore,” he said. “Anyone putting in HFC plants now … brace yourselves, because it’s going to get ugly!” he added.

In2Food backs CO2

Next up was Malcolm Moore of In2Food. The company is currently busy constructing its new premises in Boksburg, which will boast the largest CO2 trans-critical installation in the southern hemisphere: an impressive 2.75MW.

In2Food supplies a broad range of products to a few, carefully selected high-end retailers and wholesalers globally, their main client being Woolworths. They supply the majority of processed foods found on Woolworths’s shelves — from soups to prepared foods.

“There is such a big opportunity for natural refrigerants globally, but we have to start at home.” – Wynand Groenewald, CRS

Moore spoke about why the company decided to go the CO2 route. Although ammonia seemed the obvious choice as Moore had experience with this system and there were many more suppliers and installers offering this solution, CRS, however, worked hard to convince Moore of the benefits of choosing CO2 — making a business case around lower initial investment and running costs, and additional features such as heat reclaim.

The installation will begin in August 2018, with commissioning planned for November this year. The factory should be up and running by January 2019. Watch this space — we’ll keep you posted as the 15 250m2 food processing project progresses.

Government’s commitment

The DEA got on board for the event as well, and Obed Baloyi, who chairs the quarterly HCFC stakeholder meeting, was up next to talk about the phasing out of ODSs in South Africa and how far we have come.

Baloyi and his team have been working with industry for many years to ensure we comply with the Montreal Protocol and facilitating the phase outs in a way that minimises the impact on industry and the economy. “We are a developing country, so we can’t just consider the environment, we also have to consider people and jobs,” said Baloyi. “What’s most important for us is to make sure that we leapfrog HFCs,” he said. “The good news is that alternatives to HFCs do exist.”

“What’s most important for us is to make sure that we leapfrog HFCs. The good news is that alternatives to HFCs do exist.” – Obed Baloyi, DEA

South Africa is yet to ratify the Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol, which puts in place a global HFC phase-down pathway, before it comes into effect in January 2019. The proposal is currently with parliament. But at the event, Baloyi told attendees that government plans to have regulations in place within the next year to regulate HFCs.

South Africa has not started issuing quotas for HFCs or regulating these refrigerants yet. “We’re a little bit late, but we’re only five minutes late,” Baloyi said, referring to the country’s position in comparison to the rest of the world. “We don’t want to be 30 minutes late, or we’ll end up with huge stockpiles of HFCs in our country,” he said. “We want to get the balance right from the beginning, to make sure that we don’t create a new problem for ourselves going forward.”

Baloyi emphasised that the only way forward is for government and industry to work together. He expressed it as a formula of x + y +z = success, where, x = government; y = industry; and z = commitment.

The story so far

The last speaker before the panel debate was Wynand Groenewald of CRS, without whom this event would never have been possible. He had a dream of starting the conversation in South Africa as he had seen done so many times overseas. But I do not think he realised just how much work it would take … In the end, it all came together though.

Groenewald thanked everyone who has been instrumental in developing CO2 and natural refrigerants in South Africa. He thanked clients and end users, as well as shecco for their international support.

In his own mini history lesson, Groenewald proudly told how South Africa was the fourth country to install a CO2 trans-critical system in the world and the first to do so in what is considered a ‘high-ambient climate’. Currently there are nearly 18 000 trans-critical CO2 systems in the world but there is still a lot more potential, he said. “We have only scratched the surface; we still have a long way to go,” said Groenewald.

“We need to work closely together so in future we can still have a planet we can call ‘home’,” he concluded.

Panel discussion

Before the ‘networking’ could resume, an official panel discussion was held, expertly chaired by De Oña. Throughout the event, he had been facilitating questions to speakers — either directly from the floor or via the online Slido platform where attendees could post questions via their phones.

On this same online platform, the shecco team posted some interesting questions, such as which country do you think has the greatest potential for growth in terms of natural refrigerants; and what is the biggest barrier for the uptake of natural refrigerants? ‘Lack of awareness’ was voted the biggest barrier.

The panel consisted of Groenewald, Moore, Kuzma, and Baloyi — for the first time in South African history, bringing together industry, end user, and government to publicly discuss the future of natural refrigerants.

Questions were heard from visitors such as Margaret Molefe (director of hazardous chemical management, DEA) and John Ackermann (president of the Southern African Refrigerated Distribution Association, or SARDA).

De Oña had some questions of his own and kept the conversation going, engaging all panellists with a focus on the future of natural refrigerants in South Africa.

“There is such a big opportunity for natural refrigerants globally, but we have to start at home,” Groenewald concluded.

After the panel discussion, attendees had the opportunity to enjoy some refreshments and chat to the speakers and international visitors.

This is only the beginning

Natural refrigerants seem to be the way forward and shecco has indicated that they would be interested in continuing the conversation with South Africa and Africa as a whole.

“We are incredibly happy with the success of our first ever ATMOsphere event in the African continent and could clearly see that the interest from the South African market to learn more about natural refrigerants is very strong. We hope to come back to this lovely country in the near future to continue help making the business case for NatRefs with manufacturers, end users, and the government alike,” said Matthaeus-Wiltink after the event.

Follow the #GoNatRefs hashtag on social media to stay in the know. Or keep an eye out on the various local (www.hvacronline.co.za and www.coldlinkafrica.co.za) and international (www.R744.com and www.ammonia21.com) websites.

You can also have a look on YouTube where shecco has uploaded a number of video interviews filmed at FRIGAIR about the natural refrigerants topic. I even did one myself!

The future is ‘natural’ — what do you think?


Click here to read the Aug 2018 issue of RACA Journal

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