In the more than a decade of its existence, hundreds upon hundreds of stories, flyers, info sheets, PowerPoint presentations, and slides have been produced talking about it. With the demise of R-22, it will - if it already hasn’t - become the most important refrigerant in the industry.
It is even showing up on the radar screen beyond the industry. For example, it has found its place in Wikipedia, the modern version of the Encyclopedia Britannica. It devotes only four paragraphs to the subject, but the opening one does start to tell the story as to ‘Why R-410A?’
“R-410A is a near-azeotropic mixture of difluoromethane (R-32) and pentafluoroethane (R-125), which is used as a refrigerant in air conditioning applications. Unlike many haloalkane refrigerants, it does not contribute to ozone depletion, and is therefore becoming more widely used as ozone-depleting refrigerants like R-22 are phased out.”
But why R-410A specifically? Why not the dozens and dozens of other HFC refrigerants that have been analyzed and even tried to do what R-22 long did?
“R-410A features greater capacity, higher efficiency, and a better TEWI [total equivalent warming impact] rating than other HFC (nonchlorine) refrigerants for air conditioning applications. On top of that, R-410A was specifically designed for the latest high-efficiency systems,” said Karl Zellmer, vice president of sales, Emerson Climate Technologies, Air Conditioning Division.
“Every major air conditioning manufacturer in the United States has chosen R-410A to replace the majority of the industry’s R-22 applications in residential and light commercial markets. They have done so because OEMs understand that R-410A allows them to improve system performance, while addressing tough new energy and environmental standards against refrigerant leakage and greenhouse gas emissions.”
Those points have been well known to the industry for more than a decade. The Wikipedia article noted, “R-410A was successfully commercialized in the air conditioning segment by a combined effort of Carrier Corp., Emerson, and Allied Signal (now Honeywell).” It also noted the introduction by Carrier of a R-410A residential unit in 1996.
According to Chris Nelson, vice president of sales and marketing for Carrier Residential and Light Commercial Systems, “Carrier has offered non-ozone depleting cooling solutions for more than a decade with Puron refrigerants [Carrier’s brand name for R-410A]. “Prior to Puron, most residential air conditioners and heat pumps used R-22, a chlorine containing refrigerant that can contribute to depletion of the Earth’s ozone layer.”
SLOW TRANSFORMATIONBut from the launch of R-410A in 1996 to its major emergence in the months to come, there has been a decidedly slow transformation.
According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in its 2008 report to the industry on the phaseout of R-22, “Despite the availability of alternatives (such as R-410A) more than 90 percent of residential a/c split systems sold in 2004 (eight years after the introduction of 410A), were still charged with R-22.”
While that number has shifted more favorably to R-410A, the EPA report also quoted an Emerson study of late 2007 that said, “Forty percent of contractors and distributors will wait until 2010 to convert their sales to equipment containing alternative refrigerants (rather than R-22).”
From a manufacturer’s perspective, the EPA report quotes a York study of 2005 that found, “While the transition to buying commercial equipment that uses alternatives has occurred in the past few years, consumers will likely continue to buy residential equipment that uses R-22 until the phaseout date, especially if R-22 remains cheaper than the alternatives.”
THE LEARNING CURVEDespite the long-time presence of R-410A, it still has a learning curve, in part because contractors have continued to focus on R-22 equipment. But manufacturers have been and continue to saturate the market with literature on R-410A, much of it consisting of Q&A formats. To demonstrate this, Google the term “R-410A” and you will see close to 1 million entries.
“How the refrigerant is used is of paramount importance and a good system installation is crucial to all this,” said Steve Hayward, technical services business manager for Mitsubishi Electric, a company that was among the publishers of such fact sheets.
“We felt that there was a lot of misinformation in the market, and with more and more manufacturers introducing systems that use R-410A, there was a crying need to set out the facts in a straightforward way.”
Curbing the learning curve extends beyond manufacturers. Many contractors are trying to entice their customers to look at R-410A equipment. For example, West Autauga Heating & Refrigeration of Billingsley, Ala., went right to the cost issue on its Website. “At the present time, R-410A is more expensive than R-22. However, over time the two refrigerants will switch places. Then the R-22 will be in high demand and short supply, causing prices to rise dramatically.”
And contractors who have been using R-410A report they are comfortable working with it. Wade Taylor, general manager of Taylor Refrigeration and Air Conditioning in St. Augustine, Fla., noted his company has been installing such units since 1997 and currently more than 90 percent of their residential air conditioning work is with R-410A equipment.
“We’ve got it down to a good system. Now installing and servicing it is no big deal,” he said.
So here is a refrigerant that has been around for a long time - so far back that it debuted in a year in which Bill Clinton was president, “Braveheart” was the Best Picture Oscar winner, and gas was about $1.20 per gallon. It has taken more than a dozen years for R-410A to show up in the spotlight and now - with production of new R-22 about to be seriously curtailed - it is the talk of 2009.