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Chinese breakthrough could make HFO refrigerant production easier

RESEARCHERS in China have developed a new way of manufacturing HFO refrigerants such as R1234yf, which requires 10 per cent less energy while increasing the yield from chemical reactions used in production from less than 30 per cent to more than 85 per cent.

The high price of HFO refrigerants is due in part to the difficulty of manufacturing them, so progress toward easing the process and making it more efficient could help reduce the cost in years to come.

Responsible for this technological breakthrough is Juhua Group Corporation’s National Engineering Technology Research Centre of Fluoro-Materials.

Juhua plant in China
Juhua plant in China

If the name sounds familiar, it is because Juhua began producing Honeywell’s Solstice brand of R1234yf in China last year.

According to a report produced by Dutch science, technology and medical publisher Elsevier on behalf of the Chinese Academy of Engineering and Higher Education Press, Juhua’s method of synthesising HFOs overcomes problems related to the two mainstream production methods currently in use.

The main problem is the difficulty of controlling the temperature during the chemical reactions, which can deactivate the catalysts used because of carbon build-up or sintering (particles clumping together).

Juhua has developed an optimised catalyst that resists carbon deposits and sintering, among other qualities.

It also works temperatures 40 °C cooler than existing processes, leading to both energy savings and a doubling of catalyst lifespan. This is critical because the catalysts used in HFO production are made from scarce and expensive raw materials.

Specially developed catalytic reactors have also been developed and built, which the report says have “excellent heat exchange and easily controllable reaction temperature”.

These advantages enabled Juhua to “overcome the technical bottlenecks of conventional catalytic reactors”, according to the report.

Another advantage is the creation of fewer byproducts of the production process

Using this technology, Juhua has built a number of process units for HFO manufacture with an annual production capacity of 1000 tons between them.

“At the present time, these process units are running smoothly,” says the report.

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