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Refrigerant Phase-out Not So Far Away

August 22, 2005
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A lot of attention is being paid to the upcoming regulation around efficiency (13 SEER). I wonder if the refrigerant phase-out issue is feeling a bit like the red-headed stepchild? For anyone who hasn't already heard - manufacturers won't be building any more 10-, 11-, or 12-SEER units after Jan. 23, 2006, which is right around the corner. However, 2010 must seem like a long way off. Certainly, not near enough to be thinking about changing from today's R-22 to one of the commonly accepted residential and light commercial replacements.

Unless, of course, you've already begun to make the change to an air conditioner or heat pump product that uses an alternate refrigerant. Carrier and Bryant dealers, for example, have been touting Puron®, their branded R-410A refrigerant since 1996. Nearly all the major unitary manufacturers are also offering at least some alternate refrigerant products in their line-ups. In the not-too-distant future, you'll find yourself purchasing Puron, DuPont Suva®, or Honeywell Genetron AZ-20® - all R-410A blends. Or, you may be using ICOR's NU-22, an R-417A blend that can easily be dropped into existing R-22 system designs.

Still, the transition to a more environmentally-friendly refrigerant has been somewhat slow. R-410A, known for its contribution to higher-efficiency product designs, has not been that practical for use in 10-SEER equipment. By the way, 10-SEER products represented about 80 percent of all residential A/C sales from 1992 through 1998, and had averaged about 75 percent during the last seven years. Obviously, there hasn't been a huge need for the alternate refrigerants just yet.

You can expect the demand for new refrigerants to accelerate in 2006 as the 13 SEER energy mandate takes hold.

Ozone Depletion: Real Or Hype?

Approximately 90 percent of all ozone is produced naturally in the stratosphere. Though it can be found throughout the entire atmosphere, the greatest concentration is at an altitude of about 15 miles. This is known as the "ozone layer." This layer is important because it's essentially the earth's SPF-45 sunscreen. It filters damaging ultraviolet rays.

Ozone depletion occurs when the balance between the natural production of ozone and the natural destruction of ozone is tipped in favor of destruction. Educated scientists argue about the realities of ozone depletion and what causes it. Too many amateur "experts" make exaggerated claims. Some would have us think that there is enough ground-level ozone around to fill any holes in the stratosphere.

If it were only that easy; ground-level ozone is a component of smog, which is a serious pollutant. Besides, it can't absorb enough incoming solar radiation to make up for stratospheric ozone loss.

The point is that almost all reasonable people have acknowledged the fact that the natural balance has been tipped. Whether chlorine-laden refrigerants have contributed to that imbalance or not doesn't much matter now. As an HVAC contractor, you are going to be using refrigerants in the near future that are stripped of chlorine.

Not only does that mean the old refrigerants won't be used by manufacturers beginning in 2010, it means that supplies of R-22 will become very expensive as we get closer to that date. And prices for service/repair supplies of R-22 will be available at even higher prices after 2010.

Remember the phaseout of R-12 in 1996? According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, 30 pounds of R-12 cost about $80 in 1990. Thirty pounds cost more than $800 in 2000.

The United Nations Environmental Protection Agency projects a severe global shortage of R-22 for servicing equipment starting as soon as 2014.

I just didn't want refrigerants to get lonely.

Source: http://www.ec.gc.ca/ozone/docs/UO/faq/en/faq.cfm.

Mike Murphy is editor-in-chief. He can be reached at 248-244-6446, 248-244-2905 (fax), or mikemurphy@achrnews.com.

Publication date: 08/22/2005

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