MORRISTOWN, NJ — If you don’t want to get caught behind a huge eight ball, now is the time to prepare your company and your customers for the phaseout of R-22.

Although there currently is a reasonable supply at reasonable prices, prudent contractors, techs, wholesalers, and building owners should take the time now to firm up plans for 22’s replacement, according to Dave Metcalf, marketing manager, Honeywell.

Metcalf was speaking to the people who will be performing the work — refrigerant technicians — at the Garden State-RSES (Refrigeration Service Engineers Society) Service Seminar held here recently at Honeywell’s world headquarters. Service technician recommendations will hold weight with some system owners.

R-22 is used in most of the installed unitary air conditioning and heat pump systems in the United States. This year marks its production cap set by the Montreal Protocol, said Metcalf. He added that U.S. consumption currently is at 92% of its cap, and is at risk of violating the Montreal Protocol.

R-22 is being phased out with all other HCFCs. The Protocol made this a slower staged phaseout than CFCs, which were deemed more harmful to the ozone layer. And the CFC ban seems to be working, he said. At last report, the ozone hole is diminishing.

It is now 2001, the year at which HCFC production is capped. From here on in, the production will be reduced until it stops completely. (See Table 1.)

HCFC Wildcards

The chemical compound hydrochlorofluorocarbon is not only used as a refrigerant. HCFCs are also used in foam blowing agents and plastics production. It is also in some “drop-in” refrigerant products. MP39, MP66, HP80, HP81, and Hotshot all use 22, Metcalf said. So do 123 and 142b.

“We may see R-22’s price increase after 2004, depending on the need,” he said, “which still grows every year.” Like the case with R-12, “22’s price will rise.”

Technicians’ recovery and reclaim practices will also affect the supply of 22, he stated. However, as a refrigerant’s price goes up, the rate of its recovery and reclaim tends to go up too, again as with the CFCs.

Other wildcards that will affect the supply include:

  • Not knowing how much of the available HCFCs will go to other industries;
  • The federal minimum efficiency standards, which will kick in for air conditioning in 2006;
  • The rate of oem conversions to making units that use HCFC alternatives;
  • The willingness of technicians, contractors, wholesalers, and system owners to learn about R-22 replacements; and
  • Consumer demand for higher-efficiency equipment; this is affected by energy costs.

  • Technical Aspects Of Replacement

    Primary replacements for HCFCs in installed systems include R-507, -404A, and -134a, all of which use POE oils. For technicians, that replacement job includes flushing the system to clear it of all mineral oil.

    For new systems, Metcalf went beyond predicting use of 410A; it’s here. There are more than 250,000 systems with R-410A, Metcalf pointed out, so contractors and technicians had better learn how to service them.

    However, he said there is still “misinformation and confusion” among air conditioning contractors concerning this refrigerant and those he mentioned as replacements. Metcalf said that:

  • The high pressures of 410A “scare people.”
  • There are concerns about HFCs and global warming.
  • Some contractors are waiting for the perfect 22 replacement.
  • “R-410A is already used in new unitary equipment,” Metcalf said. “R-407C is being used in Europe, but it’s less efficient than 410A.” This is where the U.S. efficiency standard wildcard comes into play.

    R-410A is 5% more efficient than 22, Metcalf said, and 10% more efficient than 407C and 134a. These higher pressures allow for more compact design, with smaller scrolls and rotors.

    As for safety, “High pressures are not that dangerous,” he said. “It’s good to ask questions at first. [R-410A’s] pressure jump is the same as from 12 to 22,” a 65% to 75% pressure increase.

    Manufacturers with 410A equipment include Amana, Bryant, Carrier, Lennox, Rheem/ Ruud, and Trane. Carrier has had 410A equipment in the field for five years.

    In addition, all Japanese mini-split manufacturers have 410A systems. These include Matsu-shita, Hitachi, Toshiba, Sanyo, Sharp, and Daikin.

    For those contractors waiting for the perfect R-22 replacement, “Don’t hold your breath,” advised Metcalf. “Will there be replacements that don’t require mineral oil removal? Yes. But they will produce lower efficiencies, so they will not be used in newer equipment.”

    The Immediate Future

    For the next five years, Metcalf said, “R-22 will be the best replacement for 22.

    “Don’t panic,” he told the technicians. “The phaseout is going slowly.”

    However, “Do learn how to handle 410A and the POE oils. Start educating customers. Buy the right tools before you need them.” Those tools include hoses, gauges, 410A recovery units, and cylinders.

    Use appropriate refrigerant- handling practices to prevent mixing refrigerants, which can be costly to separate.

    Finally, “Don’t vent that 22. You’ll miss it someday.”

    Publication date: 04/02/2001