The global refrigeration industry is in the midst of a regulatory-driven transition toward a new generation of environmentally sustainable refrigerant solutions. This shift has major impacts on all private and community ice rinks, both large and small, operating in North America. For rink operators and owners, this study details key factors impacting the selection of refrigerants and refrigeration systems in today’s changing environment. 


An estimated three quarters of currently operating National Hockey League (NHL) ice arenas were built in the mid-1990s. In addition to these larger arenas, there are thousands more private, community, and locally owned rinks across North America. Many of these rinks are much older and are nearing, if not well past, the expected usable lifetime of the refrigeration systems that enable ice making. To keep these facilities up and running, now is the time to plan for the future of your rink, including considering if, when, and how to retrofit, upgrade, and/or replace your ice-making chiller.

Even for rinks constructed more recently, many of the refrigerants currently used in chillers face an uncertain future with increased safety and environmental regulations. This includes a ban on the production and importation of R-22 in the U.S. and Canada beginning Dec. 31, 2019.


When chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) were first introduced asrefrigerants, they were applauded as “miracle compounds” for replacing dangerous industrial gases (e.g., sulfur dioxide, ammonia, methyl chloride, etc.). However, following many decades of use, more concerns over ozone depletion and, more recently, climate change have driven the refrigeration industry to innovate a new generation of more environmentally sustainable solutions. Whether you’re talking about environmentally driven regulations or technology, the change in today’s refrigerant landscape is directly tied to two concepts:
• Ozone depletion potential (ODP)
• Global warming potential (GWP)

Although they are related, ODP and GWP are not synonymous. ODP defines the potential for substances to reduce the amount of UV-blocking ozone in the atmosphere; whereas, GWP is the potential for a gas to trap heat in the earth’s atmosphere, resulting in climate change. These concerns have driven both new regulations and technological innovation in recent years.


The refrigerant and equipment regulations impacting rink operators vary by country, region, and even by state or municipality. Here’s an overview of what you need to know.

R-22 Phaseout
The U.S. and Canada, along with much of the developed world, are in the final years of the Montreal Protocol-initiated R-22 phaseout. Having eliminated R-22 refrigerant in new equipment for some time, the supply of R-22 for service is now being limited—with a total ban on the production and importation of R-22 beginning Dec. 31, 2019. 

Kigali Amendment
In an effort to align global regulations to the Montreal Protocol, the Kigali Amendment was agreed to in October 2016. This agreement provides a framework for both developed and developing countries to phase down the use of high GWP HFCs globally. As of November 2017, 20 countries had ratified the amendment, which means it will go into effect on Jan. 1, 2019. Upon ratification of the amendment, participating countries committed to a tiered HFC reduction from an established baseline, on a CO2 equivalent, or GWP, basis.


It comes as no surprise to rink operators that running a large chiller to maintain a high-quality ice pad requires a lot of electricity. System design and refrigerant choice are critical because they not only directly impact the electric bill, but they also contribute to environmental carbon emissions from power generation. In the long run, energy use represents a large percentage of a chiller’s operational cost; therefore, selecting an energy-efficient refrigerant and an efficient system design is most desirable.

New generations of traditional system designs have incorporated many energy-efficient features that allow use of low GWP refrigerants, such as HFOs, while at the same time improving energy performance. These energy savings during simple gas conversions (retrofits) with chiller barrel replacements or minor service-style changes including oil, filter, and gaskets are due to a number of factors including improved thermodynamic properties of the new refrigerants as well as a “tune-up,” or recommissioning effect, on the chiller.

Finally, when thinking about the carbon footprint of the ice plant,
it does not make sense to choose a refrigerant with a very low
GWP value if the energy efficiency of the system is not good. For example, CO2-based systems, when operating in a trans-critical mode during warmer outdoor temperatures above ~70° F, have poor energy performance, which results in increased energy consumption/costs and carbon emissions.


When considering a new system, or major modification to an existing ice plant, many rink owners are strongly influenced by the capital cost of the chiller system itself. Over the lifetime of perhaps 20 to 30 years, the total cost of ownership (TCO) should also take into account energy costs, service and maintenance costs (including service refrigerant), and even specialized training costs. In some areas, regulations require trained operators to be on site during operation with highly toxic refrigerants like ammonia (R-717)—this could become a significant cost as well.

For many systems, the TCO is strongly impacted by energy, followed by capital and maintenance, with the cost of the refrigerant itself representing a very small percentage of the total. Therefore, selection of a a sustainable refrigerant should trend towards choosing an energy-efficient system design that minimizes operating and maintenance costs, mitigates safety hazards, and can be supported by the existing workforce of skilled technicians.


The safety of rink workers—and the large number of customers, players, and guests who visit rinks each day—is of paramount concern to every owner/operator. Part II of this white paper series will delve into the detailed safety information that must be considered when selecting a refrigerant and chiller system. As an owner/operator, you should consider the short (acute)- and long (chronic)- term toxicity properties of potential refrigerants as well as their flammability potential, asphyxiation risks, and high pressure hazards.


Based on the evolving refrigerant regulatory landscape, change is necessary. Whether it’s now or later, a retrofit or a new system, for an existing facility or new construction—change is critical to ensure refrigerant availability, compliance, and business continuity. There’s no one-size-fits-all solution, but a holistic approach to refrigerant selection will ensure the best decision for your rink and your bottom line.

Existing Systems
While regulations may not require an immediate change for your chiller system, if it is still running on HCFC-22 and leaks, the depleting supply of R-22 could make the repair more expensive than it’s worth. Eventually, a repair may not even be possible, depending on the availability and remaining inventory of reclaimed gas supplies.

When deciding to retrofit or remodel, here are some factors to consider:

  • Cost and future availability of installed refrigerant;
  • System age and reliability;
  • System design (flooded, DX, etc.) and conversion cost (time, labor, and components);
  • Replacement refrigerant performance (capacity and energy efficiency);
  • Safety, health, and environmental properties of replacement refrigerant;
  • Compliance with current and future regulations;
  • Availability of skilled mechanical contractors/operators;
  • Timeline/window for system changes; and
  • Government, energy, or other available financial incentives.

New System
Whether replacing an aging ice rink chiller or installing one for a brand new rink, there are additional considerations:

  • Initial capital and installation costs;
  • Ongoing maintenance costs;
  • Availability of skilled mechanical contractors/operators;
  • System types and designs (turnkey versus build-up system, etc.);
  • Compatibility with existing infrastructure (machine rooms, brine, etc.);
  • Safety, health, and environmental properties of replacement refrigerant;
  • Costs for code and regulatory compliance (on site trained/certified operators, etc.);
  • Refrigerant performance (capacity and energy efficiency);
  • Impact of potential leak on surrounding communities, businesses, etc.;
  • Compliance with current and future regulations; and
  • Government, energy, or other available financial incentives

Fortunately, technology has advanced in the 20 or more years since the original chiller equipment was installed in most existing ice rinks. A number of leading OEMs now produce chillers based on safe, low GWP HFO refrigerants, such as Opteon™ XP40 (R-449A) or XP10 (R-513A). HFOs have competitive energy performance and have been selected for many new ice plant installations.


In the 100 years since modern refrigeration systems made their debut, the technology has significantly evolved. The array of options makes decision-making complex and leaves some professionals wondering whether it’s worth making a switch when another technology may be around the corner.

HFOs Offer Long-Term Solution
HFO refrigerants, such as Opteon™, have been in commercial use for nearly a decade and are a well-established and thoroughly researched category of replacement refrigerants. This technology was specifically developed to address the environmental limitations of former refrigerants and provide a long-term solution that doesn’t sacrifice safety and health performance.

HFOs also have properties very similar to the refrigerants they’re replacing, making it simple for the limited supply of skilled contractors to adapt to these low GWP refrigerants and install, operate, and service them efficiently and safely in both existing chillers and new systems.

Publication date: 1/7/2019

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