ACHRNEWS

Recent Developments in Refrigerants

August 7, 2006

Refrigerants are vital to a contractor, especially during the summer with its increasing air conditioning needs and taxing demands on refrigeration equipment. So, what's happening in the refrigerant sector is important. Here then is a summary of some of the most recent developments.

RECLAMATION

Several sources within the industry, including wholesalers, are commenting on reports from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency concerning supplies of R-22, which continues to be the most popular refrigerant in air conditioning and still is a much-used refrigerant for refrigeration. It is scheduled to be phased out for use in new equipment in 2010 followed by a 99.5 percent phaseout in production as of Jan. 1, 2020.

Wholesalers said it appears the only way to keep adequate supplies is by increasing recycling and reclamation efforts. But the wholesaler organization Heating, Airconditioning, Refrigeration Distributors International (HARDI) surveyed its members and saw very little R-22 coming back from contractors for purity analysis and/or reclaim, creating fears that supplies of R-22 will dry up sooner rather than later. There are those within HARDI calling for better efforts on the wholesalers' side to alert contractor customers to this issue.

Responsible use of refrigerants produced by manufacturers is being stressed throughout the HVACR industry. (Feature photo courtesy of Arkema.)

WORLDWIDE

The dynamics of the refrigerant issue extends beyond supplies and beyond U.S. shores. Other developed countries have embraced the phaseout of HCFCs like R-22 even faster than the U.S. and have moved to HFCs like R-404A, R-507, and R-410A.

At the same time some parts of the world, like Europe, face pressure from environmentalists to phase out HFCs because of global warming issues. Thus far, the HVACR industries in those countries have rebuffed that push by pointing out the energy-efficiency advantages of HFCs over alternatives offered by environmentalists (with energy usage a factor in global warming) and promising to better police itself in terms of refrigerant-handling practices.

Warren Beeton, Copeland Corp., recently returned from an international conference concerning refrigerants in Australia where he presented a paper on various issues from a U.S. perspective.

He noted Australia itself is an example of efforts being made worldwide in refrigerant containment. He said the country has a "very comprehensive technician licensing and authorization program" when it comes to dealing with refrigerants. In that country, he said, refrigerant handling issues and possible fines rest with the technician, not the owner of the equipment as in the United States.

He said Australia's program for recycling and reclaim is being looked at by the Air-Conditioning and Refrigeration Institute in the United States as a model for what such a program should be. One aspect, he said, is for refrigerant manufacturers to pay a fee per pound of refrigerant sold with that money going into a fund used to pay contractors who return refrigerant for analysis and possible reclaim.

AUTOMOTIVE AIR CONDITIONING

While European countries did hold onto HFCs for stationary refrigeration applications, the European Union (EU) did order a phaseout of HFC-134a in automotive air conditioning. The mobile a/c industry expressed some concern over CO2, advocated by some as an alternative. Instead both DuPont and Honeywell announced research into as yet proprietary refrigerants that they said could be used more successfully in automotive a/c. (Previous issues of The NEWS highlighted those developments.)

They are joined most recently by Sinochem, a Chinese-based refrigerant production company that has a presence in Houston. That company said it has "plans to produce a new proprietary fluorochemical for refrigerants that will meet the EU F-gas requirements to reduce the global warming potential of refrigerants in future automotive air conditioning systems."

That first wave of releases was followed by a July release from DuPont that said it had released technical information on its "next generation" refrigerant that the company is calling DP-1.

"We are very encouraged by this initial testing," said Mark Baunchalk, global business manager for DuPont Refrigerants. "All indications are that DP-1 will be compatible with conventional R-134a mobile air conditioning system technology, and, unlike alternatives such as CO2, will have the potential to enable a cost effective global transition."

OOPS

While the Montreal Protocol dealt with ozone depletion issues, it was the subsequent Kyoto Protocol that focused on global warming. The United States did sign off on the Montreal Protocol, but not Kyoto, the latter because of questions over how fairly the emission reduction targets were being distributed among nations.

Now some of those that did sign onto Kyoto are having misgivings about meeting targets.

The British Broadcasting Company (BBC) reported in May that the United Kingdom is unlikely to meet its targets. It quoted Margaret Beckett, environmental secretary, as saying more needs to be done to reach a 20 percent reduction in carbon dioxide emissions by 2010. Interestingly, the story said the government was not targeting industry solely. "People need to cut their personal emissions," noted Beckett. The Archbishop of Canterbury said, "People have a moral responsibility to change lifestyles in order to curb global warming."

AFTERMARKET MARKET

In the alternatives to R-22 sector, DuPont Refrigerants announced in late June, the North American commercial launch of R-422D - marketed by DuPont as Isceon® MO29. The refrigerant is recommended as a retrofit replacement option for R-22 in "many medium- and low-temperature direct expansion refrigeration applications including commercial supermarket systems, and in some stationary expansion air conditioning applications including DX water chillers," according to a statement from the company.

EVALUATING THE DYNAMICS

The diversified nature of issues facing contractors, technicians, wholesalers, and manufacturers is reflected in a market outlook report from Arkema, a refrigerant manufacturer with plants in the United States, Spain, France, and China.

One challenge it sees in the move from R-22 to R-410A is the ability of manufacturers to produce enough R-410A to meet the expected demand. "The market needs capacity for R-410A. Currently there is not enough capacity for the full transition to R-410A - particularly R-32 [one of the refrigerants in the R-410A blend]."

The company sees "significant demand for R-22 through 2020." But the fact that R-22 is undergoing a phase out means "recycled and reclaimed refrigerant will have to increase significantly to ensure reallocations."

Arkema also reported on the alternatives to R-134a in automotive air conditioning and noted that the final phaseout in the automotive sector in EU countries is 2017. At the same time, what might happen to R-134a in auto a/c outside the EU is not as clear-cut "making investments [in alternatives] more difficult." The company's message to those who handle refrigerants is reflective of many in the industry.

"More emphasis on responsible use of refrigerants is required as it relates to such practices as recovery, safe handling, collection, disposal of waste refrigerants, proper storage, and proper charging of equipment and safe transportation of equipment and cylinders containing refrigerant."

HELPING OUT

Aid for technicians in all matters refrigerant-related is getting a boost from ICOR International, which announced in July that it has "enhanced its technical support services."

The Tech 2 Tech answer center is designed to provide service technicians with refrigerant-related diagnostic support from 7:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Eastern Standard Time at 800-433-TECH.

"There has been a sharp increase in retrofit activity in the ACR sector with many companies making the move to HFC blends far ahead of the federal mandates," said Jim Terry, manager of engineering services for ICOR. "With so many refrigerant options available, service technicians are in need of a reliable sounding board they can reach from the jobsite."

Publication date: 08/07/2006