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Clean Agent Long-Term Solution

A small fire in critical facilities such as data centres, telecommunication rooms, oil and gas facilities, power generation and transmission facilities, and other computer-controlled operations can result in catastrophic loss. It interrupts vital operations and damages high-value equipment. In these situations, it is important that fires be knocked down quickly before they have a chance to spread. This ensures that sensitive data, electronics and other equipment will not be damaged in the process of putting out the fire.

During the phase-out of Halon fire suppression agents, many began looking into other fire protection options that did not damage the ozone layer. Some of the most popular alternatives to Halon at the time were hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), including HFC-227ea (such as the FM-200 brand). Even though the ozone depletion potential (ODP) of HFCs is zero, they are potent greenhouse gases. For instance, the global warming potential (GWP) of HFC-227ea is 3,220. This means it is 3,220 times more potent than CO2 in its climate impact.

HFCs used in fire suppression have a higher GWP than those HFCs used in other applications. It has been reported in the Proceedings of the National Academy for Sciences that if nothing changes, HFC emissions are likely to be equivalent to 9 percent to 19 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

Regulations on HFCs
It should not be a surprise that there is growing cynicism and differing perspectives in the clean agent fire suppression market regarding the future of HFCs. Undoubtedly there are multiple stakeholders with diverse interests trying to shape the collective understanding in the market. The fate of HFCs has been discussed at length by policymakers and regulators over the past six years, and 2014 marks the year when the fire suppression market has come to a general consensus about the sustainability of HFCs as clean agents.

It should not be a surprise that there is growing cynicism and differing perspectives in the clean agent fire suppression market regarding the future of HFCs. Undoubtedly there are multiple stakeholders with diverse interests trying to shape the collective understanding in the market. The fate of HFCs has been discussed at length by policy makers and regulators over the past six years, and 2014 marks the year when the fire suppression market has come to a general consensus about the sustainability of HFCs as clean agents.

There are some definitive events unfolding on a global basis that will help the market come to grips with the ultimate fate of HFCs. Although there are regional differences in implementation, these differences are inconsequential for investment decisions, like fire suppression, which need to consider the lifetime of any valuable asset being protected. In parts of Asia, the impact of these regulatory initiatives may be slightly delayed, but for those interested in sustainable investments to protect their valuable assets, there are important issues to be aware of and choices to be made. It may be helpful to add some clarity to the events unfolding in 2014.

Europe
On March 12, 2014, the European Parliament voted to support a European Commission proposal to cut the use of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) 79 percent below average 2009 to 2012 levels by 2030. The European Council has also now approved the law on April 14 and its provisions will begin in 2015. Because HFCs sold into fire suppression have some of the highest global warming potentials (GWPs) relative to other sectors, these HFCs will likely be more severely impacted in comparison to those sold into other sectors.

Impacts of the EU Regulation on the Fire Suppression Market:

  • 227ea, HFC-125, and HFC-236fa are targeted in the overall scope of the regulation under the HFC phase-down.
  • HFC-23 (FE-13) will be prohibited from being placed on the market after January 1, 2016.
  • HFC-3M Novec 1230 Fire Protection Fluid is not impacted by this regulation.

Under the HFC cap and phase-down, HFC-producers will be allocated a production/import quota for HFCs and will have difficult decisions to make. Because the quota will be in CO2 equivalents and HFCs sold into the fire suppression market have some of the highest GWPs, this framework does not favour such a move. For example, an HFC producer would consume the same percentage of a quota by making either one ton of HFC-227ea, three tons of HFC-245fa, or five tons of HFC-32. This dynamic will put a substantial amount of uncertainty on the future supply and costs of HFCs sold into fire suppression. Because the fire suppression market already has cost-effective substitutes available, the transition away from HFCs may be more seamless than for other sectors.

United States
On Tuesday, June 25, 2013 President Obama announced the release of a Climate Action Plan. The Climate Action Plan includes a series of initiatives and executive actions that the Obama Administration will pursue to combat climate change.

Within the initiative to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the plan proposes to reduce the use of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) both domestically and internationally through the Montreal Protocol and promote low-emissions technologies and climate-friendly chemicals. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will also use its authority under the Clean Air Act to encourage private sector investment in low-emissions technology by identifying and approving climate-friendly chemicals while prohibiting certain uses of more harmful HFCs.

The availability of sustainable substitutes in fire suppression allows for U.S. EPA to achieve substantial HFC reductions from this sector. In 2014, U.S. EPA has already announced they will propose a rule in 2014 to change the status of HFCs under SNAP. Status change considerations will be made for individual gases on a sector by sector basis.

Southeast Asia
South-east Asia is highly vulnerable to climate change as a large proportion of the population and economic activity is concentrated along the coastline. Even though the region is not a major source of greenhouse gas emissions, south-east Asia has taken proactive goals and actions to address climate change through various environmental, economic and social activities. These aggressive goals include Indonesia, committing to a 26 percent GHG emission reduction from business-as-usual (BAU) by 2020; Malaysia, committing to 40 percent reduction in energy intensity by 2020 compared to 2005 levels; Philippines, reducing 20 percent from BAU; and Singapore, committing to a 16 percent emission reduction below BAU by 2020.

In 2008, Singapore established a national strategy – the Building Control (Environmental Sustainability) Regulations – to mitigate climate change from buildings by imposing minimum environmental standards for all new buildings. Although the BCA Green Mark Scheme has not yet explicitly excluded substances with high GWP, it encourages building owners and occupants to select more sustainable and environmentally friendly alternatives by awarding them Green Mark points for their green choices.

Singapore is focused on implementing green building initiatives, like the Building and Construction Authority (BCA) Green Mark Scheme, because buildings and infrastructures can contribute one-third of the greenhouse gas emissions in a country (United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), The Emissions Gap Report).

The BCA Green Mark Scheme has since established specific standards for certain sectors, including data centres. And because it is recognised that HFCs used in fire suppression have a high GWPs, the BCA-IDA Green Mark for Data Centres awards up to two Green Mark points for the use of fire suppression with an ozone depletion potential (ODP) of zero and a global warming potential (GWP) of less than 100.

Similarly, in Malaysia, the Green Building Index (GBI) has taken significant measures to increase awareness of the environmental impacts of the clean agent fire suppression options available and, in particular, the climate impacts of HFC-227ea and HFC-125. The GBI (according to its latest edition) is an “. . . environmental rating system for builders . . . for evaluating the environmental design and performance of Malaysian buildings . . .” As such, the GBI Index, under its “Materials & Resources (MR)” section, has issued the following criteria regarding the use of fire suppression agents:

  • Use environmentally-friendly refrigerants and clean agents exceeding Malaysia’s commitment to the Montreal & Kyoto protocols.
  • Use zero ozone depleting potential (ODP) products: non-CFC and non-HCFC refrigerants AND fire suppression clean agents.
  • Use fire suppression clean agents with zero ODP and negligible global warming potential (GWP) less than or equal to 10.

It is now widely recognised that sustainable fire suppression technologies are available to replace HFCs in fire suppression. The Malaysian government is recognising the availability of that technology and encouraging its use.

Mixed messages and contradictions create uncertainty in the market and add a degree of difficulty to business planning. Once you filter through the smoke, the facts regarding policy and regulatory trends on HFCs may not be convenient, but they are really quite clear. In planning the future of a fire suppression business or for the installation of sustainable fire suppression, one needs to consider that today’s policy realities suggest a future that severely restricts or financially burdens those using HFCs for their fire suppression solutions.

Waiting for the Smoke to Clear?
Mixed messages and contradictions create uncertainty in the market and add a degree of difficulty to business planning. Once you filter through the smoke, the facts regarding policy and regulatory trends on HFCs may not be convenient, but they are really quite clear. In planning the future of a fire suppression business or for the installation of sustainable fire suppression, one needs to consider that today’s policy realities suggest a future that severely restricts or financially burdens those using HFCs for their fire suppression solutions.

Not all fire suppression agents are created equal. Fortunately, there has been great progress in the availability of truly sustainable fire protection including 3M Novec 1230 Fire Protection Fluid. Novec 1230 fluid has been commercial since 2002 and is a readily available alternative to immediately replace the use of HFCs in fire suppression, enabling the industry to essentially eliminate its dependence on potent greenhouse gases.

Novec 1230 fluid has an ODP of zero with a GWP of less than one. It does not damage sensitive equipment, paper or furnishings and leaves no residue. It is stored as a liquid, making transportation much safer and easier than HFC gases. This fluid has been widely used in data centres, telecommunications centres, oil and gas processing facilities, electricity generation and transmission infrastructure, as well as archives and museums and other valued assets where continuity of operation is paramount.

Decisions about fire protection need to be for the long term and the type of extinguishing agent used is an important part of that decision. Sustainability has both environmental and economic components. When total cost of ownership is part of the agent selection process, sustainable technology is ultimately the choice.

 

Terry Goh is a Marketing Specialist at 3M

Terry Goh is a Marketing Specialist at 3M

Kurt Werner is the Environmental Affairs Manager at 3M

Kurt Werner is the Environmental Affairs Manager at 3M

For further information, go to www.3m.com

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