Probably the best way to measure the impact hydrocarbon (HC) refrigerants will have on contractors and technicians in North America is to look at what is being said on this side of the pond (the Atlantic Ocean).

In early 2012, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) gave Significant New Alternatives Policy (SNAP) approval to three HCs in some applications. That could well have laid the groundwork for wider use of a type of refrigerant that is commonly used in Europe and Asia on a much broader scale. HCs are flammable refrigerants so much has to change in the U.S. in terms of equipment design, regulations, and places they can be used.

Will that happen? Among those giving a ‘yes’ is the RSES. Shortly after the EPA announcement, Mark Lowry, executive vice president, RSES, made this statement:

“The approval of these ‘new’ natural refrigerants in a very few specific uses is a harbinger of things to come as the industry seeks to balance its overall environmental impact of the equipment produced with safety and energy efficiencies. While Europe and Asia have been using HCs in domestic appliances for more than 10 years, several countries have gone further into allowing charge sizes up to nine pounds per circuit. That kind of system development definitely means service personnel will need to be trained more than ever on the details and safety aspects of working with these refrigerants.”

It is one thing to make such a statement. It is another thing to act on it. And RSES had done just that. At the society’s annual international conference, held in November at Isle of Palms, S.C., Roger Hensley, chairman of RSES’s education and examining board, made an announcement about RSES HC refrigeration certification training, stating:

“Both the study guide and the examination have been completed. The online program and testing are also completed. This program is available at the conference. Four outside organizations are ready to start using the program to train their service representatives – Ben & Jerry’s, Red Bull, True Manufacturing, and Blue Bunny. There were two HC-related programs presented at the conference, both given by Pat Murphy, RSES director of training and testing. The first session was the actual HC program; the second session was a train-the-trainer program.”

RSES already has the training materials in place as well as the test for certification. There are a number of avenues to access the materials. There are already some high-profile businesses who want to buy into use of the refrigerant as handled by competent individuals.

What was not said is also significant. In the written report, there is no long drawn-out rationale and background as to why the HC-related training is needed. From the very beginning, RSES has assumed that contractors and technicians are going to need to know a lot more about this refrigerant and fairly soon. Yes, building codes and equipment availability may seem to hold things off a bit, but the society is betting that won’t last for long. Otherwise, they would not have invested the time and manpower to make the training and testing available to those in the industry.

Virtually all contractors and technicians are well versed on HCFC and HFC refrigerants, and a large number know how to deal with ammonia. But, in the U.S., there are many new refrigerants on the block, such as HCs, CO2, and HFOs. As each day passes, these options will become more of a need-to-know topic, rather than a novelty. It is probably good to assume that unless you are planning to retire in the near future, you will need to step outside the familiarity of HCFCs and HFCs. And the industry is making those learning opportunities available. Be sure to take advantage of them.

Publication date: 1/14/2013