The concern comes with the introduction of HC-based refrigerants in canisters as small as 8 ounces that some in the industry fear may be misused by “do-it-yourselfers” to top off R-22 air conditioners.
In some instances, the HC refrigerants are being promoted as blends of hydrocarbon fluids designed as a direct replacement and retrofit refrigerant option for replacing R-22 refrigerants in stationary air conditioning and refrigeration systems.
The issue primarily relates to how the servicing is done.
“The concern is an unqualified person who may work on a residential system who is not professionally qualified or educated on the system,” said Mark Miller, executive director of Manitoba Ozone Protection Industry Association (MOPIA). “This person may wrongfully top-off an R-22 system or an HFC-410A system and/or vent the refrigerant to the atmosphere, which is improper.”
Miller noted, “At the present time, hydrocarbons are not regulated substances. However, they may have certain conditions of use under Manitoba’s Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Mechanic Trade Regulation, the B52 Code (related to proper practices and safety), or by insurance underwriters.”
Another perspective comes from Jim Thomas, president of Refrigerant Services Inc. in Canada, a manufacturer of HFC refrigerants for retrofit applications.
“Most in our industry are very concerned about the use of hydrocarbon refrigerants in systems designed for non-flammable refrigerants. In general terms, any replacement refrigerant would need to have a safety rating the same as the design refrigerant to be considered safe.
“Most manufacturers of HC refrigerants recommend their use only where there is no potential source of ignition. This would mean the equipment and occupied space would have to be explosion proof which is not the case with existing systems designed for a non-flammable refrigerant.
“I would say that those in the HVACR industry in Canada would agree that HC refrigerants do have their place but not in the current existing equipment.”
IN THE U.S.The issue is somewhat different in the United States. In Canada, the sale of small canisters of CFCs, HCFCs, and HFCs is banned - whereas 12-ounce canisters of HFC-134a are still sold in the United States in auto supply stores.
“The issue the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has is with small cans of flammable substances (such as HCs), not with small cans of 134a,” said Steve Mella of ComStar International. His company is following the growth of the HC refrigerant market with interest because ComStar also markets a HC refrigerant - 188 HC - but not in the small canister that is the issue in Canada. The refrigerant is approved currently by the EPA for use in household refrigerators and freezers as well as in residential and light commercial air conditioning.
Mella went on to note that the “EPA has not yet made a final ruling on the minimum or maximum cylinder size for HC refrigerants.” He did say that straight propane - an HC - is sold in 1-pound cylinders in the United States for use in camping stoves and lights.