Peter Powell

During the summer there was a flurry of press releases from an organization called BeyondHFCs. I pulled a number of them together into a story that appears in the Refrigeration Zone section of this issue.

As I noted in the beginning of the story, this is a European-based organization that advocates the use of natural refrigerants rather than HFCs.

Over the past 20 years, the phaseout of CFCs and HCFCs started in Europe and eventually reached the United States. So anytime there is talk in Europe that in some way relates to the future of HFCs, I think it is good for us in North America to at least pay attention to the talk.

I pretty much let the organization say what it was doing, but I also had to trim back some of what they were saying as I think the organization got somewhat far afield and a bit too subjective.

But there were two aspects of the documents that I thought deserved a bit of perspective on my part - even though I’m also prone to wander far afield and get a bit too subjective. (But isn’t that the purpose of a column?)

ARE WE READY

At one point BeyondHFCs said, “We voice our message for an immediate ban on F-gases and their replacement with natural refrigerants.” The replacements listed were CO2, ammonia, and natural refrigerants.

I understand the presentation was from a European perspective, and some of those refrigerants are looked at differently in Europe than in North America. But in some cases, issues related to those refrigerants are the same on both sides of the Atlantic. The important thing is to understand where we stand with those refrigerants here in North America and base any future decision on alternatives in that context.

CO2 is being used more and more in the United States. But the learning curve for contractors and service techs familiar with F-gases can be high. CO2 as a refrigerant seems to almost better fit those who work with industrial refrigeration. I am also not sure about regulatory matters in regard to CO2. I know of a training program in England regarding CO2 and those involved in that program say regs are a work in progress.

Ammonia is an outstanding, inexpensive refrigerant that’s been around seemingly forever. But its range of applications is always a topic of conversation. It often revolves around how small of a system can run on ammonia in terms of cost effectiveness and regulatory concerns. Trade associations like the International Institute of Ammonia Refrigeration and the Refrigeration Engineers Technicians Association can be helpful in understanding ammonia refrigerant - and it is important to understand it.

In regard to natural refrigerants, I’m assuming BeyondHFCs is referring to such products as propane, butane, and isobutene. From time to time in North America, we hear of efforts to get those a broader acceptance. But the issue here is flammability and safety. Yes, those refrigerants are used widely in Europe without problems. But in the United States, there will need to be a mindset change - among the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), contractors, and attorneys. It can happen. It just hasn’t happened yet.

Again, my point is, don’t call for an immediate use of HFC alternatives across the board, unless those non-HFCs can be immediately used across the board.

NOT ON THE SAME PAGE

BeyondHFCs also is struggling a bit regarding another alternative beyond ammonia, CO2, and natural refrigerants. And that is the HFO refrigerant, such as is being promoted in auto air-conditioning with HFO-1234yf. And there could be HFOs with stationary applications.

Apparently the organization has some safety issues with HFO refrigerants in automotive while feeling CO2 - with its learning curve and operating pressures - may not be so much of an issue. I’m not sure what to make of that seemingly contradictory position.

I don’t pretend to understand all that goes into such thought processes. But it is interesting to note that when looking beyond HFCs, BeyondHFCs hasn’t sorted everything out.

This leads to the main point of this column. As an industry, we made it through the transition from CFCs and HCFCs, because we had alternatives in place. Let us make really, really sure that if we venture beyond HFCs, there are alternatives in all the applications where HFCs are currently used that everybody is comfortable working with.

And with all due respect to those advocating alternatives, we are really not there yet.

Publication date: 10/04/2010