Clock Winds Down For Conversions

October 14, 2004
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DALLAS - Decision-makers who still have a lot of systems running on HCFCs - or CFCs - may have gotten a wakeup call during seminars that were part of the 25th annual Food Marketing Institute (FMI) Energy and Technical Services Conference.

Ed Estberg, senior director of facilities for Raley's Supermarkets, North Highlands, Calif., stated that his company's 135 stores have been converting to HFC refrigerants for the last 11 years, noting that 71 percent of the 365,000 pounds of refrigerant used in various systems is R-404A. The goal for Raley's is to complete the conversions by 2010.

The big crunch in R-22 supplies is coming in 2015, Estberg said. Any stores still running on that refrigerant - or perhaps, any store decision-makers who have been approving the installation of R-22 systems - may face refrigerant supply problems. "If you haven't started, you need to get started now," he said. "I see no other alternative."

Sure, there are conversion costs. Raley's has been taking its time to spread out the costs over a number of years. The closer to crunch time the conversion comes, the higher the annual costs if many systems have to be converted at once, Estberg said.

Even with full-speed-ahead urging for use of HFC refrigerants, FMI and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) find themselves discussing the possibility of what is being described as a partnership agreement concerning issues related to venting refrigerants.

In some ways it would mirror a similar arrangement in the baking industry, which faced widespread charges of illegal venting and ended up agreeing to pay a fixed amount of penalties, do a better job of policing itself, and move away from HCFCs in a rapid manner.

In the supermarket industry, the only significant venting fines so far were levied on a chain of stores in the Chicago area. Conference attendees were told that stores in Texas and New England have recently been brought to EPA's attention.

Ed Estberg, Raley’s senior director of facilities, states, “You need to get started now.”

Leaks And Losses

Attorney Deborah White, associate general counsel for FMI, said a key area of concern for store owners, engineers, and contractors is refrigerant leakage. The EPA is seeking tighter limits than the current 35-percent leak rate.

FMI countered that the EPA often refers to refrigeration systems as "appliances." White wondered how a supermarket system, "often with 17 miles of refrigerant piping," could be considered an appliance.

Julius Banks, EPA National Recycling and Emissions Reduction Program manager, said discussions between the EPA and FMI are "give and take. They are not confrontational. We will arrive somewhere in the middle."

Banks also said that if the industry had done a better job stopping the leaks in CFC and HCFC systems, much of the current to-do over HFCs might have been unnecessary.

EPA National Recycling and Emissions Reduction Program manager Julius Banks.
The apparent lack of widespread leak tightening and recovery/recycling practices is being echoed within the industry. Warren Beeton, vice president of Engineering, Copeland Corp., an Emerson Climate Technologies Co., said that at least one-third of aftermarket refrigerant sales "can't be accounted for." This could be due to widespread "blowing off of charges," which he said can be "confirmed by atmospheric data.

"If true," he added, "the industry is not on a sustainable path for long-term HFC use."

Beeton said refrigerant users in the United States "really have to look at responsible use, because we are not living up to [current venting restrictions]." HFCs are under attack in some parts of Europe because of the refrigerants' global warming potential; Beeton said organizations like the EPA, FMI, and others "need to get on the same page. The global sustainability of HFCs depends on us."

Honeywell Refrigerant technical services manager Mark Spatz.

Refrigerants

Beeton also endorsed R-410A as the best choice among the HFC refrigerants for air conditioning applications, in one respect because it represents the "lowest system cost" among these refrigerants.

Mark Spatz, manager of Refrigerant Technical Services for Honeywell, looked at choices among low- and medium-temperature applications. R-404A "performs best of all the refrigerants" over that range, he said, noting that expansion valves and possibly other valves may need replacement due to the higher mass flow rate.

He also looked at the possibility of using mineral oil with R-404A, although as an HFC it is most common to use synthetic oil like a POE.

"Test results with an oil separator showed acceptable oil return with mineral oil, but further testing will be needed to confirm that," he said. In addition, "Without an oil separator, mineral oil was trapped in the receiver," he said. "So we wouldn't recommend use of mineral oil in a system without an oil separator."

Publication date: 10/18/2004

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