The normal trajectory of refrigerant innovation was thrown into a relative tailspin when the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) announced SNAP  (Significant New Alternatives Program), which aims to identify and evaluate substitutes in end-uses that use ozone-depleting substances (ODSs) such as HCFCs and seeks to prohibit the use of these substances.

In addition to ODS, the EPA has considered the environmental and human health effects of substitutes. Global warming potential (GWP) — a measure of potential impact on climate — is one SNAP criterion that EPA considers in evaluating alternatives. As such, EPA has regulated hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs such as R-134a, R-410A) for household and commercial refrigeration systems due to their high GWPs.

As the industry was working to interpret and recalibrate to meet these lower GWP adoptions, EPA announced that at least in the short-term, SNAP would not require HVAC manufacturers to use lower GWP refrigerants, creating additional confusion for manufacturers and the HVAC community at large.

Globally, refrigerant trends are changing, and the industry continues to move forward, but it is still somewhat unclear which refrigerants will become mainstays for HVAC.

Three years out from a new efficiency guideline, what we know for certain is that lower GWP options will be adopted regionally, on a state-by-state basis. California, which leads the nation on environmental regulations, is likely to be the first state to adopt many SNAP rules on commercial regulation with restrictions on high-GWP refrigerants. The California Air Resource Board already has proposed to restrict the refrigerants of which GWP is higher than 750 for HVAC, and CARB requires the phaseout of these refrigerants by Jan. 1, 2023.

While natural refrigerants and hydrofluoroolefins — for which ozone-depleting and global warming potentials are zero — provide many benefits to the industry, they also pose some challenges. For instance, many of the various refrigerants available with low GWP are also flammable, which of course, raises safety concerns for building occupants, contractors, and technicians. And these related safety matters conflict with current safety standards and building codes for HVACs.

While environmental sustainability is becoming increasingly important in the HVAC industry, safety is paramount. LG Electronics is doing its part. From compressor design to researching refrigerant options, LG engineers are working with our original equipment manufacturing partners on developing techniques to address flammability concerns and encourage contractors to continue best practices for installation and maintenance.

Regardless of the direction taken, LG’s goal is to be ready for any changes in the marketplace while also being responsible producers of compressors.  

For example, LG engineers are conducting extensive oil compatibility testing evaluations. Compressors are designed with very low oil circulation rates, proper refrigerant/oil interaction ensures any lubricant that leaves the compressor gets returned to the compressor to ensure reliable operation. The type of refrigerants used affects this lubricant system.

There are several indicators that a number of low-GWP refrigerants will be adopted, as it appears not one single lower GWP has the ability to meet all needs. This will undoubtedly mean more complexity, and LG is supporting OEMs through close partnerships with technical and sales teams.

SNAP ensures manufacturers deliver safety, performance and sustainability when producing energy-and cost-efficient systems. Regardless of the refrigerants chosen, LG will continue to feature highly reliable products that offer advanced total solutions so OEM partners can achieve even greater performance.

Content provided by Michael Robertson, of LG Electronics USA Air Solutions.

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