Refrigeration / Refrigerants & Reclaim

There’s Reason to Fuss About Hydrocarbons’ Flammability

March 18, 2013
A reader raised concerns over a refrigerant product on the shelf of a farm supply store. The product had as its sales pitch, “Why switch from the traditional R-22 refrigerants,” and it was noted on the label that the package contained the equivalent of 30 pounds of HCFC-22.

The fuss was over whether or not such wording implied use as an alternative to R-22, a refrigerant for which costs were rapidly rising and supplies dwindling. At the time of this writing, a lot of folks, including the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), were looking at that issue.

Caution: Hydrocarbons Aboard

But what I do want to note is that the product in question consists of at least two hydrocarbon refrigerants — propane and butane — making up about 95 percent of the composition. That makes it extremely flammable and, from what I understand, it is not something that can be retrofitted into R-22 systems. (It should be noted that the packaging did not directly say that is could be retrofitted.)

At the same time, hydrocarbons are being used in refrigeration in domestic refrigerators in Europe and Asia. And the EPA has given Significant New Alternatives Policy (SNAP) approval to some hydrocarbons in some commercial applications in the United States. But those were all specifically for systems designed for use with HCs.

Not a Good Mix

Those involved in working with refrigerants stress that great attention has to be paid to safety when working with hydrocarbons. Yet, the product in question had phrases like “Do It Yourself’ and “No License Required.”

What caught my attention is that the product was being sold at a farm supply house — the kind of place where you can readily buy propane tanks for operating gas-fired backyard grills. I’m not a big fan of such grills. I use a charcoal grill and light it by putting newspaper in the lower portion of a cylinder then putting coals over the top and lighting the paper. Once the coals glow in the cylinder, I dump them in the grill — carefully. No propane, not even lighter fluid. A real Mr. Macho, right?

The point I’m trying to make in terms of stationary HVACR is that technicians need to know exactly what refrigerants are in the systems they are working on, and if they can’t get use the same stuff again, they need to know exactly what they can use. And that means contacting HVACR wholesalers and established refrigerant manufacturers.

I’m just not sure farm supply stores are the best places to clarify all that.

Publication date: 3/18/2013

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