Dealing With R-22 Shortfalls

June 22, 2009
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Despite a slowing economy contributing to “declining demand” for HCFC-22, there are still expected to be “some shortages” of the refrigerant as early as 2010. And the new Obama administration is creating a “political climate leaning toward more aggressive climate legislation” even as the HVACR industry moves to get HFCs such as R-410A to be regulated separately and perhaps less severely.

These were some of the comments from Warren Beeton, vice president of engineering, Emerson Climate Technologies, in a recent wide-ranging Webinar event that sought to provide more definitive direction regarding refrigerant issues the industry is facing.

HCFC-22

Allowances by the Environmental Protection Agency for production of virgin R-22 show a potential 20 percent shortfall in 2010 and 2011. But while Beeton said “mitigating factors such as inventory carryover and declining demand” might ease the shortfall, there will still “be some shortages of R-22. Recycling, reclaim, and retrofitting will be required.”

He urged contractors to continue to focus on reducing leaks. When asked about the reclaim sector, Beeton said, “The amount of reclaimed R-22 is increasing rapidly - but from a low base.”

HFCs

Currently, Beeton said, legislative activity is underway that could result in a phase down in the production and importation of HFC refrigerants beginning in 2012 and continuing into 2050. The concern regarding HFCs relates to their global warming potential (GWP). In the United States, “future legislation may gradually phase down but not eliminate HFCs,” he said.

The phase down could become a worldwide endeavor, he said. He noted that the European Union would review F-gas regulations in 2011. While current regulations in Europe call for a phaseout of HFC-134a in automotive air conditioning, there are also “regulations on stationary under consideration.”

And Australia is debating a carbon tax starting in July 2010.

Globally, there is “increasing interest in a phase down of HFCs,” he said.

Beeton said the industry could ride out a phase down of HFCs through 2020 by reducing refrigerant emissions and utilizing conservation measures such as charge reduction, but after that would need to have alternatives ready. Currently an HFO refrigerant, R-1234yf, is being looked at for use in automotive air conditioning in Europe. Its advantage is a low GWP of 4 compared with 2,088 for R-410A and 1,430 for R-134a, he said. Also, he said, the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) is funding research regarding low GWP fluids.

Warren Beeton, vice president of engineering, Emerson Climate Technologies, said refrigerant shortages are imminent.

THE OBAMA ADMINISTRATION

Beeton said the Obama administration supports climate change legislation. “The stated goal is to reduce United States greenhouse gas emissions to 80 percent below 2005 levels by 2050.”

Recent changes in leadership in the influential House Energy and Commerce Committee (now chaired by Henry Waxman, a California Democrat), Democratic majorities in both the House and Senate, and “environmental groups empowered” are creating “a new political landscape.”

Temporarily impeding developments in this regard is the economy. “The economic situation is likely to slow progress on climate change legislation,” Beeton said. But once the economy improves, the pace could step up, he said.

The first place to watch for action is California with its Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006 which calls for greenhouse gas reductions to 1990 levels by 2020 and the ability of the California Air Resource Board to set policies, regulations, and fines.

SEPARATING HFCs

Whatever happens in the United States and worldwide on environmental issues, there are efforts, Beeton said, to provide “separate treatment of HFCs” in the United States and “a separate international agreement on HFCs.” He noted a number of industry trade associations are involved in such an effort. The idea is to treat HFCs in a manner that will better accommodate the needs of consumers and manufacturers while accomplishing the environmental goals of the legislation. This could lead to a longer life for HFCs, such as R-410A, that is being promoted as the most cost-effective and energy-efficient choice for air-conditioning, especially with any acceptable alternative still a long way off in development.

Such a position still faces challenges, Beeton noted. In the United States, “some are still advocating keepings HFCs in the same basket as other global warming gases, Congress is leaning toward significant auctioning of allowances, and cap and allowance schedules are still a big question.”

CONTRACTORS ACTION PLAN

If end users or contractors are concerned about possible shortages of R-22, and are considering retrofits of R-22 equipment to HFCs, Beeton urged that manufacturers’ recommendations be followed. For R-22 systems using Copeland brand compressors, this means retrofitting R-404A, R-407A, or R-407C with a POE oil for refrigeration; and R-422A or R-422D with mineral oil for refrigeration racks.

He also noted with the focus on R-410A air conditioning systems, there is a full line of R-410A compressors for service needs. “R-410A is the recommended choice for a non-ozone depleting (HFC) refrigerant in new a/c equipment, and it has a long future as the a/c refrigerant of choice.

“However, if you do service a R-22 air conditioning system with an HFC retrofit refrigerant, R-407C is acceptable for compressor reliability and warranty.”

At the same time, he assured contractors that the “servicing of R-22 systems will continue after January 2010.” In that regard, “Emerson will continue to supply R-22 components for service compressors, TXVs, refrigeration condensing units, etc.”

Publication date: 06/22/2009

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