Heat exchangers are an integral part of any AC unit. Market share of copper heat exchangers in the room AC market reached over 80 per cent in 2018 (after it witnessed a low point in 2014 with 55 per cent market share). Avinash Khemka, Chief Manager, HVAC at International Copper Association India (ICAI), explains the advantage of copper in AC manufacturing.
How is the market for heat exchangers in India?
In air conditioning and refrigeration segment, heat exchanger is one of the major components to complete the refrigeration cycle. Heat exchangers market is directly related to the air conditioners and it cannot be considered in isolation. In other words, market for heat exchangers in nothing but that of the ACs/ air conditioning system. India is among the largest and fastest growing markets globally for room air conditioners (RACs) with about six million units sold in 2018. The RACs market has been growing at CAGR 15 per cent in last few years.
Two types of heat exchangers for comfort air conditioning are popular in the Indian market viz - copper tube aluminium fin heat exchangers and all aluminium Microchannel heat exchangers also known as PFCs. It is true that almost a decade ago copper tubes heat exchangers began to lose market share to PFCs. A low point was reached in 2014, when the share of copper tube heat exchangers decreased to 55 per cent in the outdoor units. However, the corrosion resistance of copper prevailed and copper heat exchangers are now recapturing market share. The trend back toward copper has been dramatic in the last four years, as end users of aluminium microchannel experienced many cases of failure and leakage. As a result, OEMs started switching back to copper heat exchangers and as per industry estimates, copper heat exchangers have over 80 per cent market share in 2018.
How is the industry reacting to energy efficiency needs?
Since the revision of Star Labelling by the Bureau of Energy Efficiency in 2018, AC manufacturers are specifying condensers and evaporators that transfer heat efficiently. Laboratory experiments show that heat transfer coefficients (HTCs) are highest for smaller diameter inner-grooved copper tubes compared to larger diameter tubes and smooth tubes. Higher HTCs result in more efficient RAC systems. These systems also use less material and less refrigerant.
Microgroove coils made from smaller diameter inner-grooved copper tubes deliver an unprecedented combination of reliability and energy efficiency. They are more affordable than traditional designs because they use less material. Typical Microgroove copper tube outer diameters are 7 mm, 6.35 mm (0.25 inch) - for commercial air conditioners and 5 mm – for room air conditioners.Many coil makers and OEMs have added MicroGroove heat exchanger production lines to their plants or even built new facilities dedicated to the production of MicroGroove heat exchangers in India.
How can copper tubes increase the energy efficiency of heat exchangers?
Copper’s high conductivity, durability and workability give it a dominant role in the fast-growing and rapidly changing Heating, Ventilation, Air Conditioning and Refrigeration – or HVAC(R) - market. Design change is a key feature of this industry, as the use of more environmentally friendly refrigerants and more efficient products are required, at a reasonable cost. Copper has played a key role in market drivers like climate change mitigation, product efficiency and design improvements that have expanded the HVAC(R) market and present an opportunity for continued growth.
While emerging markets are forecast to drive HVAC(R) demand, copper’s unique properties have allowed the metal to help improve the efficiency and design of HVAC(R) products without a significant increase in costs.
Growing climate change concerns and an increase in minimum efficiency performance standards (MEPS) and labelling of room air conditioners worldwide have created a greater demand for product efficiency. Copper’s inherent properties are helping to meet this demand through improved designs.