HVAC Manufacturers Adopt Low-GWP Refrigerants Despite HFC Ruling
Environmental stewardship, global competitiveness lead OEMs toward alternative refrigerants
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) cannot require HVACR manufacturers to replace so-called high-global warming potential (GWP) refrigerants with lower GWP replacements. That was the opinion of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia circuit judge, Brett Kavanaugh, on Jan. 27. Kavanaugh’s decision established that the court will not reconsider an Aug. 8, 2017, opinion that signified the EPA cannot ban hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) under Section 612 of the Clean Air Act.
The ruling conceptually overturns a 2015 EPA proposal by former President Barack Obama’s administration to phase out the use of HFCs in retail food refrigeration HVACR applications.
While HFCs appear to be around a bit longer than initially anticipated, many compressor manufacturers insist that fact won’t inhibit them from pursuing lower GWP options in an effort to remain globally competitive and environmentally responsible.
Regardless of the U.S. government’s position on HFCs, Danfoss stands firm on its decision to move forward with the refrigerants it deems environmentally responsible.
“Danfoss remains committed to, and is continuing to invest in, products that use refrigerants that have minimal environmental impact and meet the current and future regulations in every country,” said Eddie Rodriguez, strategic marketing manager, Danfoss Turbocor Compressors. “Danfoss encourages the further development and use of low-GWP refrigerants to help slow, and ultimately reverse, the process of global warming while helping to ensure continued global well-being and economic development along with the future viability of our industry.”
While it may take several years, Rodriguez said he does indeed foresee a future without HFCs. “Most countries are already implementing policies that call for the phasedown of the production and usage of HFCs,” he said. “For example, the European Union’s F-gas regulation is set to reduce the availability of HFCs by 79 percent in 2030. In addition, most countries are signatories to the Kigali Amendment that also calls for the phasedown of HFCs in the future. Even in the U.S., while not a signatory to the Kigali Amendment at this time, several states, including California, are moving aggressively to phase down the use of HFCs.”
Dustin Steward, senior marketing manager, Bristol Compressors LLC, said with the implementation of the Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol, global markets will continue to demand more environmentally acceptable refrigerants.
“The market is demanding alternatives that enhance performance and have reduced environmental impact, such as R-32,” he said. “More environmentally friendly refrigerants that can also offer performance improvements make it difficult for system manufacturers to ignore. Being a global company, Bristol must keep a focus on markets worldwide.”
Steward believes the industry should be distancing itself from HFCs but feels such drastic changes must be done in harmony.
“Manufacturers are chasing efficiency and reduced environmental impact,” he said. “If a refrigerant can get them closer to that goal, it should be explored. The change, however, should not be cost-prohibitive for OEMs.”
Rajan Rajendran, vice president, system innovation center and sustainability, Emerson, said the manufacturer approaches refrigerant use from a GWP perspective.
“We view refrigerants based upon their region-specific requirements,” Rajendran said. “Each of our customers, and ultimately their end users, must make refrigerant decisions based on local regulatory mandates and their own operational objectives. Refrigerant costs, local regulations, and GWP will continue to be the primary factors in our decision-making.”
Rajendran said natural refrigerants have been, and will continue to be, an integral part of Emerson’s refrigerant strategy due to the global nature of its customers.
“Ammonia, propane, and CO2 are three natural refrigerants that have long played specific roles in commercial and industrial refrigeration,” he said. “With increasing demand for lower-GWP refrigerant options, each of these will continue to have a place in our product road map.”
John Prall, technical support engineer, Embraco, said natural refrigerants offer contractors and end users several benefits.
“Propane brings lower noise levels and also provides significant gains in system efficiency,” he said. “Natural refrigerants also have a lower impact on global warming. R-404A and R-134a, which are both HFCs, have GWPs of 3,920 and 1,430, [respectively], whereas R-290’s GWP is 3. R-290 also offers opportunities for OEMs to reduce their SKUs through inventory reduction, operational excellence, etc., because it is a refrigerant that works very well in low- and medium-temperature applications. With R-290, service contractors are able to vent the refrigerant to the atmosphere rather than spend time recovering the refrigerant during servicing.”
Now that R-410A may be around longer than the industry expected, there appears to be less urgency to develop new low-GWP refrigerants — though looks can be deceiving.
“Regulators set the rules,” said Michael Robertson, senior account manager, component solutions, LG Electronics USA. “LG’s goal is to be ready for any changes in the marketplace while also being an environmentally conscious producer of compressors. Our engineers will always challenge business as usual because developing the technology of the future is part of LG’s DNA. We will continue to research and test ways to produce safer, stronger, and more energy-efficient compressors. Regardless of the refrigerant, LG wants to provide our manufacturing partners compressors that create value for their products.”
While natural refrigerants bring a great deal of benefits to the industry, they also feature a few negative traits as well, including flammability.
“LG firmly believes safety is paramount,” Robertson said. “From compressor design to researching refrigerant options, we’re dedicated to engineering and manufacturing the
safest possible compressor solutions. Additionally, LG works with our equipment manufacturing partners to develop techniques for suppressing flammability and to educate contractors about safe practices for installation and maintenance.”
Rajendran said Emerson will continue to follow the applicable standards in place to govern the use of flammable refrigerants.
“These standards are currently under review, and we’ll monitor any changes that may occur,” he said. “We will also continue to leverage our stewardship initiatives to help consumers stay informed.”
Prall said R-290 and R-600a are safe and non-toxic, and he believes the risks regarding flammability are low.
“Most household and light commercial applications’ refrigerant charges are equivalent to the charge of a handful of lighters,” he said. “Due to some safety concerns, rules on how to design and maintain equipment using these gases have already been very well established. Manufacturing companies and industry organizations have been working diligently to make sure technicians are trained to safely handle these refrigerants and service equipment.”
Rodriguez said more applications that utilize A2Ls will lead to consumers being more receptive to their benefits.
“The use of A2L refrigerants can be a viable low-GWP solution,” he said. “Large parts of the world, specifically in Europe and Asia, allow for the use of A2L refrigerants in air-conditioning equipment and have been successful in using them.”
Publication date: 3/26/2018