Japanese manufacturers are competing to develop new products and technologies for variable refrigerant flow (VRF) air conditioning systems, which were originally developed in Japan. As this market has expanded, however, Chinese and Korean manufacturers have grown more prominent, which has given rise to reverse innovation in Japan. Examples of this can be seen in expanded capacity and efficiency improvements. Against this backdrop, following are some of the latest in VRF technology trends.
Addressing the Revised Fluorocarbon Recovery and Destruction Law
In Japan, the Act on Rational Use and Proper Management of Fluorocarbons (the Revised Fluorocarbon Recovery and Destruction Law) went into force in April 2015. The original Fluorocarbon Recovery and Destruction Law also regulated recovery and destruction of used fluorocarbons, but the revised law obligates managers of buildings that are the users of the equipment to properly manage the target equipment. As VRF system capacity grows larger, the systems also use more refrigerant and thus fall under the scope of the Revised Fluorocarbon Recovery and Destruction Law.
Companies are beginning to offer web-based services to calculate fluorocarbon leak volumes as a strategy to create sales opportunities. Using these web-based services, users can register data on fluorocarbon leak volumes for each system as well as data on recovery and destruction at the time of equipment disposal. This allows them to easily create reports on the total volume of refrigerant leaks at each business site without the use of expert help.
Hybrid VRF adapted to energy diversification
At the HVAC&R Japan 2016 exhibition, one manufacturer unveiled a hybrid VRF system that connected a gas-engine VRF system and an electric VRF system to the same refrigerant circuit, thus allowing one product to run on two energy sources. The hybrid VRF can switch its energy source depending on usage conditions to lower operating costs taking advantage of the different measurement methods and unit costs of electricity and gas.
And since gas companies in Japan are able to also sell electricity with the liberalization of the electricity market as of April 2016, users of hybrid VRF combining both gas and electricity may be able to take advantage of incentives when concluding power contracts.
Hybrid systems are thought to have technological disadvantages, such as from the mix of the hermetic refrigeration cycle of electricity and the open refrigeration cycle of gas, but the strategic sales potential of hybrid systems make them very interesting.
Polarization of VRF designed for cold regions
There has been a market polarization of VRF between high efficiency, high-ambient-temperature types and standard types. VRF designed for cold regions have also followed this polarizing trend.
There are no significant differences in the refrigeration cycle between high-efficiency, high-ambient-temperature types and standard types, with the exception of special features offered by a particular product series. Howeve, with VRF designed for cold regions, there are specialized systems that use a refrigeration cycle for cold regions, for example two-stage compression and injection, and systems that use a standard refrigerant cycle, which are designed more for semi-cold regions.
Broadly speaking, there are cold regions in the world that experience very cold temperatures and snowy cold regions that experience low temperatures with high humidity. Since aur-source heat pumps have inherent drawbacks at low ambient temperatures, product development to address the specific conditions of each region is required to overcome these drawbacks.
Expansion of open network compatibility
Open networks were originally conceived with the idea of centrally managing units of multiple manufacturers in a central air conditioning system. Centralized management had a reputation incompatibility between the main equipment and the control systems offered by specialized control manufacturers. However, there are needs in global markets for total building management including other equipment along with the air conditioning system. Therefore, in these markets VRF needs to be compatible with open networks to operate in large buildings. Recently, specialized instrument manufacturers have come out with more systems that are user friendly and offer control through LCD touchscreens to centrally managed air conditioning systems that combine central air conditioning and VRF. Amid this trend, open network compatibility of VRF control systems as part of building management is also becoming a necessity in Japan.
Development of overseas standard models in Japan
Each country has different standards for building construction and module sizes, and offers indoor units specific to the country. While there are technical issues such as development efficiency and expanded variation, over the last several years there have been signs of manufacturers beginning to develop models in Japan that originated overseas. The ceiling-concealed, ducted slim-type indoor units found in China are one example of this, as are hot water supply units and water-source units from Europe. Modifications to meet Japanese standards and electricity specifications are required, however, to use these models in Japan. While these units have yet to take off in the market, they have the potential to see explosive sales growth if they can find new applications.
Source: JARN, July 25, 2016