Are there enough refrigerant supplies to go around?
With this current equation, Jim Lavelle, technical sales manager for National Refrigerants (Philadelphia, PA), believes there will be an adequate amount of CFCs and HCFCs for those who need them.
Speaking here at the recent International Conference of the Refrigeration Service Engineers Society (RSES), Lavelle provided the following review of familiar refrigerants.
- R-11 — “Expect plenty of supply over the expected life of equipment in service,” he said, despite the fact the refrigerant has not been produced for U.S. consumption for a number of years.
Lavelle said the supply could be attributed to more effective leak reduction methods and the continual phaseout of R-11 chillers, freeing up refrigerant in those machines for other use.
- R-12 — “Tight, not oversupplied,” is how Lavelle assessed this refrigerant. He said most R-12 went to the automotive sector, and the last of the R-12 auto air conditioning systems went into cars in 1995, with the vast majority of those cars expected to “die out” by 2002.
- R-502 — The refrigerant has been experiencing somewhat of an oversupply, thanks to the rapid drop off in its use in the supermarket industry, said Lavelle. In that sector leak control is a high priority, as is the frequent tearing down of out-of-date stores and retrofitting mechanical equipment during the renovation of older stores. New and renovated stores do not use R-502, he noted. Lavelle said the oversupply has kept the price down. However, he said he expects supplies to drop, which would affect price.
- R-22 — Three sectors (air conditioning, refrigerant blends, and the plastics industry) are currently competing for this refrigerant. Lavelle said supplies will start to drop rapidly after 2004.
While Europe is making rapid moves away from R-22, it remains a “long-term” refrigerant choice in North America, said Lavelle, who predicted “potential shortages.”
- R-134a — As one of the first HFC alternatives and a choice for automotive and residential refrigeration, manufacturers brought a large number of R-134a production plants on-line. This, said Lavelle, caused a “big oversupply,” resulting in manufacturers exporting supplies to Japan.
At present, demand is starting to near plant production capacities. Lavelle said current prices “are the cheapest you will see in 10 to 20 years.”
At the time of his talk, Lavelle noted that while HFCs were subject to no venting regulations, technicians do not need EPA certification to purchase HFCs. But he said it is possible that such certification will eventually be needed, as is currently the case for the purchase of CFCs and HCFCs.