Lots of Questions About Refrigerants but Not Many Answers
Try to stay informed by reading industry-related materials, attending conferences, and seeking out online training options
A few months ago, I was contacted by a reader who was wondering if I could recommend someone to come and talk to his employees about the current state of refrigerants. Being located on a military base, he was unable to take his people off-site for training, so he wanted someone who could knowledgeably discuss everything from CFCs to HFCs to HFOs to other alternative refrigerants. He said that a lot of his equipment was installed prior to World War II and much of it still used R-22 and R-12.
My first suggestion was that he should contact his local supply houses, but he had already done that, and none were able to help him out. That surprised me, but I offered a few other recommendations for industry experts, associations, manufacturers, and educational groups, and hopefully one of those worked out for our reader. I really hope it did, because with all the changes currently taking place concerning refrigerants, it is more important than ever to keep up on these issues.
This hunger for knowledge about refrigerants is apparent all around the industry. At the recently held AHR Expo, for example, there were several information sessions offered on refrigerants, and all were packed with attendees who wanted to know more. However, many speakers focused on the history of refrigerants; why it is important to ratify the Kigali amendment; and how other countries around the world are handling the phasedown of HFCs. This didn’t seem to satisfy the attendees, many of whom started streaming out after 10 or 15 minutes. Maybe they had other places they needed to be, but I heard one attendee say, “I don’t know what’s going on with HFCs in the U.S., I really don’t care what’s going on in Europe.”
He had a point. There is a lot of confusion over HFCs in the U.S., and the problem is that there are no definitive answers. After the courts ruled it did not have the authority to phasedown HFCs, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) started working on new regulations, but that has left a great deal of uncertainty.
Following the old adage that nature abhors a vacuum, California stepped into the fray, rolling out its own phasedown schedule of HFCs, which is far stricter than the one originally proposed by the EPA. Other states said that they, too, would start implementing their own phasedowns of HFCs, which could lead to a patchwork of refrigerant regulations across the U.S. This will lead to more confusion. And it will likely continue until the EPA figures out what — if anything — it is going to do about phasing down HFCs.
Besides the potential phasedown of HFCs, many also want practical information about alternative refrigerants. In fact, on the show floor at the AHR Expo, I asked several refrigerant manufacturers what types of questions they were getting from attendees, and without fail, they said people wanted to know which refrigerant was going to replace R-410A, when it would be available, and where it could be used. With no consensus in the industry, the guidance most were giving was that there will likely be multiple solutions that will depend on the application. And some of those solutions may be flammable, which will lead to still more questions about safety, service, storage, retrofitting, transportation, recovery, and reclamation of these refrigerants.
Until there is more clarity regarding refrigerants, the best advice for those in the HVACR industry is to try to keep abreast of the issues through reading industry-related materials (like The NEWS, of course), attending conferences and workshops, and seeking out online training options such as webinars, which are offered by numerous manufacturers and industry groups. And hopefully one day soon, there will be more answers than questions when it comes to refrigerants.
Publication date: 3/5/2019