Copper’s high conductivity, durability and workability gives it a dominant role in the fast-growing and rapidly changing Heating, Ventilation, Air Conditioning and Refrigeration (HVACR) market. Design change is a key feature of this industry, as the use of more environmental-friendly refrigerants and more efficient products are required, at a reasonable cost.

The HVACR market comprises a variety of product types used in both residential and commercial applications, from room air conditioners and large commercial systems to commercial and industrial refrigeration. Altogether, these systems make up a $140 billion market that has grown by 55.5 per cent over the last 12 years, according to a study conducted by International Copper Association. Room air conditioners make up the majority of the units sold, and they also form the largest sector for copper. The market for room air conditioners requires annually about 1.04 million tonnes of copper, compared with 430,000 tonnes for refrigeration products and 220,000 tonnes in chillers.

Copper has played a key role in market drivers like climate change mitigation, product efficiency and design improvements that have expanded the HVACR market and present an opportunity for continued growth. Meanwhile, emerging markets present further opportunities for market expansion.

Countries like India, Indonesia and the Philippines have high populations as well as a high number of cooling degree days, which measure potential demand for air conditioning. These countries also have the lowest density of room air conditioners in place. These market factors represent a significant demand opportunity for additional air conditioning units. The market demand for copper is forecast to reach three million tonnes by 2022.

While emerging markets are forecast to drive HVACR demand, copper’s unique properties have allowed the metal to help improve the efficiency and design of HVACR 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. For example, smaller diameter, thinner copper tubes and the inner grooving of copper tubes have been used to optimise product designs and increase efficiency in heat exchangers. These modern MicroGroove heat exchangers have dropped to 5 millimetres in diameter down from 9.52 mm over the past 20 years. They are more efficient, use less refrigerant and can work with high-pressure refrigerants. Similarly, motor-driven systems have been improved to deliver better and more efficient design. High-efficiency motors are more likely to use copper stator windings. In this way, copper’s efficiency and its ability to be worked into smaller and more complex designs help to deliver better, more eco-friendly products for the same cost. The HVACR market will continue to adapt to climate change mitigation and efficiency demands. At the same time, growing populations in emerging markets will likely demand more air conditioning units. These trends are expected to have a significant impact on the market and, copper will continue to have a big role to play.