I saw this news story come across my e-mail this morning and needless to say, I was surprised. It’s not everyday you see that Chemours and Arkema partnering up with one another. In fact, in the recent past they have been fairly bitter rivals going back and forth in HFC court battles. Arkema was one of the plaintiffs in the law-suit against the Environmental Protection Agency and their proposed HFC phase outs. (Chemours was on the losing side.) This back and forth battle all had to do with the new HFO refrigerant line. Arkema was trying to delay the transition away from HFCs while Chemours was pushing ahead as fast as possible.
Over the recent years Chemours and Honeywell have been very protective of their HFO brands Opteon and Solstice. In fact, they have patents on most of their newer HFO refrigerants which prevent the other larger manufacturers like MexiChem and Arkema from manufacturing their own versions. It makes perfect sense and it’s a good business decision, but it does pose a problem of too little competition in the market. More or less, Chemours and Honeywell have a monopoly on the developing HFO refrigerant market. They control the price and the marketplace.
There was a step forward announced yesterday between Chemours and Arkema on Chemour’s Opteon XP40 refrigerant. (R-449A) The two companies both sent out a press release stating that Arkema is now a certified distributor within the European Union. (For those who don’t know Arkema is a French based company.) This step allows Chemours to enter the European Union market with their newer XP40 refrigerant at a pivotal time. Across the EU companies are looking for alternative lower GWP refrigerants to be compliant with the F-Gas Regulations and that’s not even mentioning the sky-high prices that R-404A hit in the European Union last year.
Opteon XP40 was seen as a perfect fit as it is a near drop-in replacement product for R-404A and R-507A. This also gives Arkema a viable alternative option to all of their customers. They will be able to market this Chemours product under their own Forane brand name (Forane 449A), so many customers may not even know that it is a Chemours’ product. In most cases it will be seamless, but I do have to wonder if it is a bit awkward for Arkema. After all, they are used to being a manufacturer, not a distributor.
When I think of refrigerant manufacturers four names pop right into my head. Chemours, Honeywell, MexiChem, and Arkema. Now, obviously, the first two Chemours and Honeywell are the biggest. I like to think of these guys as our ‘gold’ manufacturers. We see a lot of innovation and new technologies from these companies and they have plants and factories across the globe. Chemours’ revenue in 2017 was over six billion dollars. Honeywell was forty billion.
Our ‘Silver’ refrigerant manufacturers are MexiChem and Arkema. These companies are very large producers as well and have very recognizable brand names across the industry. While they are not the size of Chemours or Honeywell they are nothing to sneeze at. MexiChem’s 2017 revenue was just shy of six billion dollars. (Keep in mind that includes plastics and other manufacturing.) Arkema’s revenue from 2015 was over seven billion dollars. (Again, more products then just refrigerants.)
Arkema is a French based company headquartered just outside of Paris. They are a fairly ‘new’ company having been founded in 2004. I say ‘new’ in quotations as Arkema is as new as Chemours was. (Chemours was just an off-shoot of DuPont.) Arkema was an off-shoot of the French oil company known as Total. Total is one of the largest oil and gas companies in the world.
Arkema has three main divisions: Coating Solutions, Industrial Chemicals, and Performance Products. They are one of the world’s largest producers of fluorinated chemicals under their brand name Forane. Their refrigerants and their Forane brand name can be found across the globe and are recognizable to most folks within the industry. Forty percent of their total sales take place within the European Union. Another thirty percent take place Americas. In fact, their operation sounds very similar to a Belgian based company that I work for during the day.
What is XP40?
R-449A, or Opteon XP40, is a new HFO refrigerant blend comprised of R-32, R-125, R-1234yf, and R-134a. This refrigerant, like Honeywell’s R-407F, was designed as a replacement product for R-22, R-404A, and R-507A. The difference here is that this an HFO refrigerant rather than an HFC. The XP40 is non Ozone depleting and has a GWP number of one-thousand two-hundred and eighty-two. That’s about five-hundred less then R-22 and two-thousand six-hundred and forty less than R-404A. That is a HUGE reduction in GWP on 404A applications. XP40 is non-toxic and non-flammable so safety is not an issue either. Along with that the Opteon XP40 is actually more energy efficient then CO2.
The best thing about XP40 though is that it is designed as a more or less drop-in replacement to R-404A. What that means is very little retrofitting work for the customer and for the contractor. XP40 can be used in supermarkets (Racks, walk-in coolers/freezers), food service, cold storage, food processing, chemical processing, and even in your local ice rink. I’ve written about XP40 in the past and it’s potential applications in ice rinks.
While I don’t see XP40 sticking around forever as it still does have a GWP of over one-thousand I can safely say that it is a definite stand-by and a step in the right direction. Once we move all of the higher GWP R-404A and R-22 systems over to a lesser GWP refrigerant like XP40 we can then begin looking at future refrigerants with even less Global Warming impact.
As I said in the beginning of this article I was surprised to see Chemours and Arkema partner together. I’m very anxious to see how this partnership works between them. Will Arkema welcome their new role as just a refrigerant distributor? Will Chemours also go through other channels to distribute their HFO line within the European Union, or will they stay loyal to Arkema? How does Honeywell view this arrangement? This will definitely be an interesting arrangement.
Oh, and I hope you liked the featured picture for this article. I took this last year when I was in Paris for work. You can see the Eiffel back there if you look hard enough!