ATLANTA — At its booth this year, Arkema took the opportunity to promote R-32 as a transition refrigerant for the air conditioning market. Arkema’s global business director of fluorochemicals, Matthew Ritter, said that while the company does not necessarily believe that R-32 will be the final answer, it is a very good choice for that segment of the market.
“R-410A is obviously still important, but we’re using the AHR Expo to position R-32 as a step in the air conditioning segment,” he said.
There are many benefits to using R-32, noted Ritter, including the fact that it is a single-component refrigerant, it is readily available, and it could be a more cost-effective solution for a lot of applications. In addition, it has been widely adopted in Europe and Asia, so many compressor manufacturers and ancillary suppliers are already supporting R-32.
“At Arkema, we see it as a very good choice but maybe not the ultimate solution,” he said. “We still have some development work we are doing, and we are looking at other materials as well. But R-32 is a solid winner, and it already has a proven track record in Europe and Asia.”
While some U.S. OEMs will likely adopt R-32, Ritter predicts that there will be a mix of refrigerants that will eventually be used in the air conditioning segment — there will likely not be one solution for all products, as R-410A was for R-22.
However, the barrier to R-32’s acceptance in the U.S. market is that it is an A2L refrigerant, meaning it is mildly flammable. Right now, equipment can only legally use 5.3 ounces of an A2L refrigerant, so the codes and standards would have to be rewritten for it to be adopted on a wider scale. Some predict that it could take until 2024 for HVACR products to be available with A2L refrigerants, such as R-32.
Then there’s the training issue, as contractors would have to learn how to handle mildly flammable refrigerants properly. As Ritter noted, contractors today are used to carrying seven base refrigerants, but in the near future, they will have to carry propane and a mix of fluorinated and non-fluorinated solutions as well. That is why Arkema is sponsoring ACCA’s new online qTech® training program entitled Technician Training on Flammable Refrigerants.
“We think it’s important to make sure people are trained to use these types of refrigerants,” said Allen Karpman, director of government affairs, Arkema. “In addition, there’s a problem with older people retiring and not enough younger people coming into the profession. And with the economy doing well, it’s going to be even more difficult to attract people to the industry. And everyone will have to know more. That’s why it’s paramount that a good training program be adopted everywhere, so people understand what they’re doing.”
Training is particularly important to ensure technicians are not mixing refrigerants in equipment, which is becoming a bigger problem now that there are numerous solutions available. Arkema is addressing that through one of its key initiatives for the industry.
“We are focused on quality, because there are a number of blenders that are offering materials that we believe are of a lower quality, so contractors need to know the original source,” said Ritter. “There are also many instances of mixed refrigerants in the field, and, as an industry, we need to stay on top of that. In the U.S., with the regulatory situation still unclear, a lot is going to change. The states are starting to make their own decisions, due to a lack of appropriate federal direction.”
That is why it would make sense for the U.S. to ratify the Kigali amendment, which most of the HVACR industry supports, said Karpman.
“We have a temporary problem, and we need a workable federal mandate, but to resolve that with 50 permanent state solutions is not the way to go,” he said. “I think that the states would be better served if they voiced their support for the Kigali Amendment and tried to press it at the federal level. But if every state tries to enact their own phasedown, it’s unmanageable — it would create issues for all of us in the future. This is one area where the industry, the environmental community, and the governments are all on the same side — it’s just a question of timing and designing it properly. We all want the same thing in the end.”
Publication date: 2/18/2019