Time to Move Away From R-22

LITCHFIELD PARK, Ariz. - The message regarding HCFC-22 from those involved in supermarket refrigeration systems was a pretty basic, straightforward one at the recent 27th Annual Food Marketing Institute Energy & Technical Services Conference.

If you are planning to install a new system, don’t even think about using R-22. And if you have systems running on R-22, start making plans to retrofit away from that refrigerant. The message came not from equipment or refrigerant manufacturers, but from two supermarket engineers speaking to their peers. The overriding theme in the talks from Ken Welter (manager, Refrigeration Engineering, The Stop and Shop Supermarket Co.) and George Ronn (manager, EPA Compliance and System Controls, Supervalu, Inc.) included the following:
  • R-22 is an ozone-depleting refrigerant subject to venting fines.
  • Production of R-22 is being phased down; it is likely that demand will outweigh supplies within eight years, unless use of the refrigerant is reduced on a faster pace than its current track.
  • There are nonozone-depleting HFC refrigerants that are proven to work in supermarket refrigeration, including several that can work with mineral oil.
“R-22 is still being used because of its energy efficiencies and low first costs,” said Welter. But the leak issue and “fear of fines should be a greater motivation.” (HCFCs like R-22 are subject to venting fines, HFCs are not.)

Ken Welter says to move away from R-22 as soon as possible.

Time's A-Wasting

He referred to the approach as “Beat the Clock” for the R-22 phaseout, and “Beat the Heat” for those possible venting fines.

Much of his talk focused on the retrofit of R-22 to alternatives such as R-422A, -422B, and -422D, which, like R-22, work with mineral oil and are available from several suppliers. A retrofit, he said, involves an expansion valve changeout and installation of a subcooler.

Smaller supermarket chains can look at the remodeling timetable for their stores and factor in a retrofit of R-22 systems over a period of time, he said. He also noted that since each chain owns its R-22, what is removed from one store could be used in another store until the latter store is due for a remodel.

For larger chains, he said, retrofits have to be made more aggressively. Welter said 500 stores could equate to 1,500 systems using R-22. “You can’t assume a good supply of R-22” during the life of all that equipment.

He further noted that production of R-22 will cease in 2020. That means a chain with 1,500 systems running on R-22 would have to change out nine systems a month over the next 13 years.

“Every month of delay is further behind the curve,” Welter said. That is one more reason not to install a new system with R-22, but to rely on refrigerants such as R-404A and R-507.

Both he and Ronn went into detail as to how to change out an R-22 system with various HFCs that work with mineral oil. Ronn noted that R-22 systems can also be retrofitted with R-404A, which works with POE oils, but there “is a lower overall cost to convert” to an HFC that works with mineral oil. He also said there have been instances of energy reduction in systems converted from R-22 to an HFC/mineral oil refrigerant.

Timothy Juliani says the EPA is promoting GreenChill.

Proactive Projects

In conjunction with the issue of refrigerant leaks, Ray Hoglund, president and CEO of Hill-Phoenix, and Ed Estberg, senior director of facilities, Raley’s, reported on efforts within the Commercial Refrigeration Manufacturers Division of the Air Conditioning & Refrigeration Institute in conjunction with FMI.

They reported on a voluntary effort to anonymously gather refrigerant leak data from retailers to form a baseline as a way to measure efforts to curb leak rates.

Another project described at the conference was called “GreenChill.” According to Timothy Juliani of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Office of Air and Radiation, the program promotes the adaptation of new technologies and strategies that address ozone depletion and global warming, as well as ways to increase energy efficiencies. He described it as a nonregulatory initiative.

The program includes:
  • Development of corporate policies reducing emissions by specific amounts with a one-year time frame.
  • Use of only HFCs in new and remodel store projects.
  • Exchange of best practice procedures.
  • Sharing of what Juliani called operating data with the EPA that would first be channeled through a third party (in this case, the Oak Ridge National Labs). The third party would “scrub” aspects of the data to ensure confidentiality while providing information that still promotes the new technology and energy efficiency objectives of the project.

Julius Banks believes a crack down on leak rates is coming from the EPA.

Leak Rates

All this is coming at a time in which the EPA is looking at revising its leak repair regulations.

Julius Banks, National Recycling and Emissions Reduction program manager for the EPA, told attendees that there is a proposal to lower the allowable leak rate below the current 35 percent for supermarkets, mandate repairs for all leaks, revamp recordkeeping, and address the issue of “continued use of leaking components.”

He said there would be a period of public comment and it was possible that new regulations could be in place in the spring of 2007.

Deborah White, FMI’s vice president and associate general counsel, said FMI is in regular contact with the EPA and providing input on the viability of any regulations. “FMI will continue to comment on what (EPA) proposes, the legality of doing that, and making sure the data is supported,” she said.

The idea, she indicated, was not to have rules beyond what the industry can realistically deal with. “We don’t want a rule that says, ‘Trees must be purple.’”

Publication date: 12/04/2006

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