As regulatory limits loom on older fluorinated refrigeration chemicals, companies are investing in a new generation of fluorochemicals with low global warming potential (GWP). In the latest such move, Occidental Chemical says it will spend $145 million to expand its Geismar, La., site to make a raw material for “next-generation, climate-friendly refrigerants.”
Although OxyChem won’t provide details, evidence suggests the raw material is 1,1,2,3-tetrachloro-1-propene, also known as HCC-1230xa. In 2011 OxyChem announced plans to produce it in a joint venture with Dow Chemical. The two then described HCC-1230xa as a chlorocarbon “designed to enable the efficient production of the next-generation refrigerant hydrofluoroolefin (HFO)-1234yf, which has low global warming potential and zero ozone depletion.”
The joint venture appears never to have been formed, and Dow subsequently sold its chlorinated solvents business to Olin. However, OxyChem didn’t halt work on HCC-1230xa. In November 2014 the firm received a U.S. patent covering improved methods to make it.
Regardless of whether OxyChem will be making HCC-1230xa or another precursor, demand for HFO-1234yf is clearly on the rise. Global automakers have already adopted it as the most viable option to replace hydrofluorocarbon (HFC)-134a, a refrigerant with a GWP 1,430 times as great as carbon dioxide. HFO-1234yf has a GWP of less than 1.
Positioning to meet the demand, Honeywell International plans to open a HFO-1234yf plant in Geismar, La., in 2017 and recently added India’s Navin Fluorine and the Chinese firm Juhua as licensees to make the refrigerant. Japan’s Asahi Glass is already a Honeywell licensee. In addition Chemours, which developed the refrigerant with Honeywell, is planning a $178 million plant in Ingleside, Texas.
But even these additions may not be enough. New limits on HFCs coming, perhaps as soon as 2018, under an extension of the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer will further ramp up demand for HFOs to be used in stationary air-conditioning units, says Ray Will, a fluorochemical specialist at consulting firm IHS. “A lot of eyeballs are following this development,” Will says.