Refrigerants: Change is the Name of the Game
ORLANDO, Fla. — For HVAC refrigerants, the changes keep coming fast and furious at a time when the global demand continues to grow apace.
RECLAMATION IS PARAMOUNT
Taylor Ferranti, director of sales at A-Gas Americas, no doubt sums up the sentiments of many when he says that 2016 will be a very busy year in the refrigerants market.
“As the industry transitions into the crucial years of the hydrochlorofluorocarbon (HCFC) phasedown, many rippling effects will make their way through the market to HVAC professionals,” Ferranti said. “As R-22 virgin supplies diminish, reclamation will become more important to our market to ensure there is a supply for use in the future. With the dwindling supply of R-22, the prices for Air-Conditioning, Heating, and Refrigeration Institute (AHRI) spec material will increase, as will the value of reclaimed material.”
Ferranti added that the U.S. International Trade Commission’s investigation into and ruling on “dumping” of hydrofluorocarbon (HFC) and blend components from China could lead to price increases for HFCs, which will increase the focus on reclamation for these refrigerants, as well. In addition, changes that have been proposed under Section 608 of the Clean Air Act bear watching. These changes would fully implement the prohibition of knowingly venting, releasing, or disposing of ozone-depleting substances/substitute refrigerants, and also extend the requirements to HFCs.
A-Gas Americas showcased three new items at the AHR Expo, including the company’s recently acquired wholesale cylinder exchange business, Refri-Claim.
“This program is a wholesale-only solution built around making the reclaimation process easy, sustainable, and profitable for our wholesale partners and their customers who choose to participate,” Ferranti said. “As the focus on reclamation grows, we are offering Refri-Claim as part of our Total Solution to partners in the wholesale market.”
Secondly, the company introduced Gas-Trak Online (GTO), which was developed and built by the U.K. division of A-Gas to cater to F-Gas regulations in the U.K. Ferranti said A-Gas Americas is working on modifications to this program for use in the U.S. by targeting current and possible future needs for the market.
“As industry regulations increase, GTO offers fast and simple reporting solutions via a mobile application, which can be used on the move,” he said.
Finally, A-Gas Americas introduced Refrig Health Check, which will utilize the company’s AHRI-certified laboratory in Bowling Green, Ohio, to test refrigerant and oil in a working system. Ferranti described Refrig Health Check as a complete solution in one box. It is available directly to contractors from participating wholesalers.
CONFORMING TO THE PHASEOUT
Jay Kestenbaum, senior vice president of sales and purchasing for Airgas Refrigerants Inc., said R-22 allocations and shortages will be a key issue in 2016. He noted that new manufacturing is reduced to 18 million pounds and all major manufacturers have customer allocations in place.
“This again fuels the need to reclaim R-22 to prevent or reduce shortages,” he said. “We are reclaiming as much as customers send us — we’re running three shifts on Refrigatron™, our proprietary recovery and reclamation system.”
Kestenbaum added that with high-GWP (global warming potential) gases being phased out, Airgas Refrigerants is stocking a full line of alternative refrigerants and has developed a separation column that allows previously unusable mixed gases to be separated into useful components that can be refined and put back into the market.
“The economics of today’s refrigerant market have made it possible to separate and reuse mixed refrigerants rather than destroy them,” he said.
Patti Conlan, market manager, fluorochemicals, Arkema Inc. North America, noted that under the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) Final Rule on the Change of Listing Status for Certain Substitutes, 2016 will be the last year to install new supermarket systems that use R-404A or R-507A — although existing installations can continue to be serviced with these refrigerants. According to Conlan, this rule affirmed that Forane® 407A refrigerant, Arkema’s alternative to R-404A, R-507A, and R-22 in refrigeration applications, can continue to be used in supermarket systems and remote condensing units for both new equipment and retrofits.
Looking to the future, Conlan added that Arkema’s long-term global refrigerant solutions will involve movement to exceptionally low-GWP refrigerants across all HVAC and refrigeration markets.
“Arkema is developing low-GWP refrigerant solutions to meet the future needs of the industry,” she said. “One example is Arkema’s R-449B, a nonflammable, ASHRAE-classified A1 replacement or retrofit for R-404A, R-507A, and R-22 in commercial refrigeration, low-temperature stand-alone equipment, and air conditioning equipment. Equipment testing demonstrates that R-449B can offer improved efficiency over R-404A while cutting the GWP by two-thirds.”
At The Chemours Co., Stefanie Kopchick, North America marketing manager, refrigerants, said, on the air conditioning side of the refrigerants market, the R-22 phaseout is likely to remain top-of-mind in 2016 — especially for those who service a large R-22 equipment footprint and whose customers may not have the capital budget to invest in new equipment.
Meanwhile, contractors working in commercial refrigeration will see the use of R-404A and other high-GWP refrigerants become unacceptable for retrofitting supermarket racks and remote condensing units as of July 20, 2016, and unacceptable for new system installations (including capacity expansions of existing systems) by Jan. 1, 2017.
Kopchick said she anticipates that these changes, implemented via the EPA’s Significant New Alternatives Policy (SNAP) program, combined with the continued phase out of R-22, will lead contractors to seek out opportunities to gain experience with the use of new low-GWP refrigerants, such as Opteon™ XP40 (R-449A). Opteon XP40, was commercialized in the U.S. in September 2015.
“XP40 is nonflammable and offers up to a 12 percent energy-efficiency improvement and a 67 percent reduction in GWP compared to R-404A,” Kopchick said. “It also provides an excellent direct replacement option to supermarkets still running on R-22 that are looking for a more sustainable retrofit solution.”
Opteon XP10 (R-513A), an azeotropic direct replacement for R-134a, also was commercialized in September 2015.
“XP10 provides additional options to contractors looking for a lower-GWP medium-temperature refrigeration or air conditioning solution in a system by itself or as part of a new design cascade system with carbon dioxide,” Kopchick said.
She added that both of these products, along with other developmental HFO products in the Opteon portfolio, are now available in the recently upgraded Chemours PT Calc App.
Steve Mella, CEO of ComStar Intl. Inc., said HFC and HCFC refrigerant prices and availability will be in flux based on the U.S. International Trade Commission’s final ruling on Chinese refrigerant dumping. That ruling could significantly increase the cost of a host of commonly used refrigerants imported from China, including blends such as R-410A, R-407A and R-407C, R-404A, and possibly single-component refrigerants, such as R-125 and R-32.
“A trade commission ruling in favor of the higher import tariffs automatically drives up the price of all blends at the same time that R-22 prices are continuing upward and R-22 availability is decreasing,” Mella said.
Mella said ComStar will be introducing two low-GWP, energy-saving, HFC refrigerants to the U.S. market: RS-44B (R-453A), which is designed to replace R-22 in air conditioning and refrigeration applications without an oil change and the R-404A replacement RS-50 (R-442A).
At Honeywell Refrigerants, Robert Kebby, global marketing manager, said the recent announcements from the EPA will require radical changes to the commercial refrigeration sector in the near term. However, contractors do not face those changes alone.
“Honeywell provides safe and reliable refrigerant alternatives that provide lower GWPs than the products they replace and improved levels of energy efficiency,” Kebby said. “Solstice refrigerants are designed to meet these needs and simplify the conversion process while lowering the cost to the end-user. Two of these recently released products — Solstice® N40 (R-448A) and Solstice N13 (R-450A) — have already proven their performance in many trials conducted in the U.S. and are well-established in the more heavily regulated European market.”
Kebby added that, in continuing this development toward even lower GWP alternatives, Solstice L40X (R-455A), which is coming soon, will provide a less-than-150-GWP alternative to R-404A, albeit in the A2L (mildly flammable) class.
John Murray, executive vice president, KeepRite Refrigeration, echoed the belief that the use of low-GWP refrigerants will increase.
“We are seeing the increased use of R-407A in both medium- and low-temperature applications, thanks to its GWP being roughly half that of R-404A,” he said. “There are other refrigerants being tested and approved that have the potential to lower the GWP further still.”
At the AHR Expo, KeepRite highlighted the evolution of its patented SmartSpeed fan motor technology.
“This technology now goes beyond unit coolers [evaporators] as we are now introducing its application to condensing units,” Murray said. “The end result is additional motor energy savings, compressor energy savings, and system refrigerant savings. This is all a part of KeepRite Refrigeration’s Smart3 [systems, savings, solutions] technologies allowing customers to reduce their environmental impact and energy use and increase system efficiency.”
Brian Bogdan, director of engineering, LG Electronics Air Conditioning Systems, also sees a continued interest in next-generation refrigerants to replace some of those presently used in the industry. In terms of next-generation refrigerant development, in addition to GWP and ozone-depletion potential, the key trends at the forefront of 2016 will include theoretical versus applied efficiencies, flammability, toxicity, and refrigerant handling and safety.
“LG, along with other manufacturers, is already involved with the evaluation of next-generation refrigerants in the AHRI Low-GWP Alternative Refrigerants Evaluation Program [AREP], and will continue to prepare for the next phase in refrigerant choices,” Bogdan noted.
Additionally, 2016 will certainly see a continued interest in variable refrigerant flow (VRF) technology, said Tom Pivovar, senior national training and aftermarket manager, LG Electronics Air Conditioning Systems. According to Pivovar, LG’s VRF technology minimizes efficiency losses, provides sustainable energy savings, and offers low life-cycle costs.
“The technology is continuing to take a larger share of the market each year, and 2016 will be no different,” he said.
In addition to the ban on using R-404A and R-507 in new multi-pack installations starting in January 2017, the SNAP rule also restricts the use of these refrigerants for retrofits, noted Dr. Stuart Corr, techno-commercial director, Mexichem Fluor Inc.
“While there are no apparent restrictions on servicing existing equipment with their original HFCs, for the relatively large number of supermarkets operating with R-22 in the U.S., the ban on retrofit to R-404A or R-507 in supermarkets systems and in stand-alone units from mid-2016 will require the use of one of the approved fluids, such as R-407A,” Corr told The NEWS. “This means the industry will likely be faced with the prospect of handling an increasing number of refrigerants in order to meet the regulatory restrictions on R-404A and R-507 while at the same time transitioning from R-22.”
Corr said R-407A may present an attractive option for supermarkets because of its extensive field experience in both new equipment as well as R-22/R-404A/R-507 retrofit scenarios. He added that, although R-407A represents a good, lower-GWP solution for many, there are still proposed controls that require a lower GWP in some application sectors.
“To this end, Mexichem has a range of low-GWP fluids under development that are being evaluated by cross-industry programs, such as AHRI’s AREP, with very promising results,” Corr said.
At National Refrigerants Inc., Maureen Beatty, executive vice president, agreed the primary area of focus in the refrigerant industry will be the next step-down in the allocation of R-22. She noted that, although the supply is tightening, there is still R-22 available for those customers who have continued servicing requirements.
Another area of focus will be contractors’ needs to understand the impact of the EPA’s delisting decisions related to retail food refrigeration on specific user requirements. Beatty noted that refrigerant users should be aware that delisting does not impact the ability to service the installed base of equipment.
“The industry will also need to pay attention to other EPA activities, including the formal extension of the Section 608 regulations to HFCs,” Beatty said. “And, finally, the industry will continue to learn and understand what lower-GWP refrigerants are and what role they will have in our industry in both the near and long term.”
Publication date: 2/22/2016