What Real-World HFC Retrofits Could Mean for Refrigerants’ Future

December 17, 2012
The attention that’s being paid to HFC refrigerants used as retrofits in HCFC-22 systems is among the more positive developments in the industry.

Refrigerant manufacturers are working with contractors and end users in doing such retrofits in real-world situations. More and more case histories are starting to cross my desk (make that computer screen) these days.

That tells us a number of things. First, we are going to be getting a track record of how these retrofits are really working in terms of operating conditions and efficiencies. We will for sure know how they are holding proper temperature, which is so critical in refrigeration. And we will see what it is costing in terms of energy needed to run the systems. And, eventually, we will get a good idea of the lifespan of the R-22 equipment after the retrofit.

Another aspect will be the sorting out of HFCs offered as retrofits. There are 20 or more currently being promoted. There could well be a paring down of those as more equipment comes on-line, either by certain HFCs not measuring up as hoped, or some rising to the top as preferred choices. We will never get back to the days of two or three CFCs, but maybe something far less than 20 HFCs might be possible.

Two more variables will enter the picture. One involves the use of some HFCs that have a small amount of HC to help in oil return and will still use mineral oil. If some of those HFCs with HC that have an A1 safety rating catch on, the issue of an oil changeout during a retrofit will be avoided.

The second variable is what will happen should more attention be paid to the global warming potential (GWP) of HFC refrigerants. Regulatory actions or even political pressures could make the low GWP HFCs a more preferred option — should they still deliver a properly operating system at an effective cost.

There is still a lot of sorting out to do in all this. But at least the sorting out has extended beyond the test labs and into the real world.

Publication date: 12/17/2012