Natural refrigerants at the Kobe Symposium - exclusive interview with JRAIA president, Tetsuji Okada

By Pilar Aleu, Oct 29, 2014, 10:50 6 minute reading

Ahead of the Kobe International Symposium on New Refrigerants and Environmental Technology 2014, took the opportunity to speak to Tetsuji Okada, the new president the Japan Refrigeration and Airconditioning Industries Association (JRAIA), the event organiser, about alternative refrigerants and his vision for the coming years. JRAIA is the leading HVAC&R association in Japan. Can you please briefly introduce JRAIA and your role and vision, as the new president?

Tetsuji Okada: JRAIA was established in 1949, so this year is its 65th anniversary. It has 147 member companies, 99 regular members and 48 supporting members. Members mainly include AC&R technology manufacturing companies, but also electric power companies such as TEPCO or gas utilities such as Tokyo Gas.

I was appointed as the new president of JRAIA in June. I lived in Europe for four years so I am expected to help expand the organisation’s global activities. My vision for JRAIA in the coming years, which is being published for the first time here, is based on the next points:

  1. Help prevent of global warming
  2. Open JRAIA up to the world by addressing issues such as globalization and the competitiveness of the Japanese industry

I’d like to strengthen the following points internally: 

  • Work on JARIA’s image to the outside world, and nationally
  • Revise internal compliance (modify some of the internal rules relating to technical committees, standardization, competition law, etc)
  • Strengthen JRAIA governance (unify JRAIA’s voice, cooperate more closely with government)
  • Improve internal sustainability (hire young engineers from companies etc.) We know you were involved in the development of the EcoCute in Mitsubishi Electric (MEC). Can you please tell us more about your experience?

Okada: I joined MEC in 1980. I was in development & engineering for AC domestic use. In 1998 I became involved in the Eco Cute outdoor unit development.

EcoCute was first introduced in Japan in 2001. MEC commercialised the final product in 2006. After that I was transferred to the Eco Cute factory, where I was department manger for hot water system development. The core technology we were engineering was a new CO2 water heat exchanger. We developed a twisted type of HX tube. At that time the new design achieved a 20-25% improvement of heat transfer efficiency.

MEC now continues to keep the high market share of the EcoCute in Japan. It manufactures the tank units in its Gunma works factory, established about 50 years ago, and the outdoor units in the Shizuoka works factory. JRAIA is organising Kobe Symposium in November. Can you tell us about the history of the conference and how it evolved over the years? What are your expectations for this year?

Okada: The Kobe Symposium started in 1992, and from the very beginning it was an international conference. Every year we have around 400-500 delegates with 50-80 overseas attendees. The goal of the conference is to update the industry on latest research and issues relating to future commercialisation. After the second symposium the title changed to The International Symposium on New Refrigerants and Environmental Technology. This year the main topic is the assessment of slightly flammable refrigerants. We plan to have about 40 presentations and around 20 posters presenting latest research. Can you tell us what are we going to see this year in Kobe for CO2, ammonia, hydrocarbons (HCs) and water refrigerants?

Okada: Natural refrigerants are not the main topic of the symposium but every year this emerging trend is discussed. This year we will have number of presentations on CO2 in commercial refrigeration, including:

  • Development of an energy saving system for Convenience Stores using CO2 as the refrigerant, Miyagi Kosuke, Sanden Corporation
  • Development of a non-Freon refrigeration system using Carbon Dioxide as the Refrigerant, Takashi Inoue, Panasonic Corporation
  • Development of a high-efficiency CO2 scroll compressor, Yoshiyuki Futagami, Panasonic Corporation
  • Research and development of micro-fin adsorber, Shinsuke Takeuchi, Denso (R718)
  • Development of a hot water circulation heat pump using low GWP refrigerants, Mayekawa Mfg. Co. Ltd (poster session)
  • Ongoing NEDO Projects(Technology Development of High-efficiency Non-fluorinated Air-conditioning Systems), NEDO (poster session) Can you please tell us about JRAIA’s latest activities relating to natural refrigerant R&D projects and risk assessment?

Okada: Starting in November JRAIA and JARAC (Japan Association of Refrigeraiton and AC Contractors) will be offering courses on different applications for existing refrigerants, including CO2 for commercial refrigeration. Covering the whole country, from North to South, we will have 10 training course sessions for CO2 in commercial refrigeration for technicians and installers of showcases. This initiative was supported by the government, which wants to accelerate the introduction of low GWP and natural refrigerants. Today, a lack of training for natural refrigerants is one of the barriers slowing their widespread adoption.

We are in the process of arranging the dates and will soon announce all the details soon. The natural refrigerant market is growing in Europe, America but also in Japan. In which application do you see natural refrigerants getting a major market share in Japan and when?

Okada: To evaluate any given solution JARAI uses the so called 3E+S concept: Environment Performance, Energy Efficiency, Economic Feasibility and Safety.

I believe that commercial refrigeration using CO2 will become one of the preferred options in the future if it does well from the 3E+S perspective. In the industrial refrigeration industry, for which the R22 ban will come in 2020, we may see ammonia becoming the mainstream solution for cold stores and food processing facilities. A number of Japanese companies are known for their natural refrigerant technologies around the world. Do you think the Japanese industry as a whole is in a good position to maintain its global competitiveness?

Okada: Yes I do. But it depends on the product category. For instance I see the share of natural refrigerants technologies for hot water heaters and commercial refrigeration continuing to increase. New projects lead by government or research agencies such as NEDO might lead to new commercial products. We believe the EcoCute is limited to the Japanese market because of the hot water consumption culture. Therefore, the success of Japanese technology might be more on related to larger size systems. EcoCute is considered a “Japanese success story” for the natural refrigerant industry. What do you believe is important to see the EcoCute’s continued success in Japan?

Okada: The characteristics of CO2 as a refrigerant make it particularly suitable for the EcoCute market in Japan. Hot water of more than 90°C is a very suitable application for CO2.

After the Fukushima accident the EcoCute market experienced lower unit sales. The key issue here is the energy policy. It is very difficult to say how this discussion will develop. However, we believe a new household electrification (all-denka) campaign by electric utilities, in benefit of smaller electricity bills and communicating of all benefits of this technology, would re-start the market again.
Initiatives related to buildings, such as energy saving measures introduced for new buildings, would also have a positive effect on the EcoCute market. Thank you!


By Pilar Aleu

Oct 29, 2014, 10:50

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