Once again, the refrigerant landscape in the U.S. is changing, as regulations at the federal and state levels are being passed that will phase down the production and consumption of HFCs in the U.S. Unlike the last transition, where HCFCs were phased out due to their high-ODP, the HFC phasedown is occurring due to the high GWP of these refrigerants.
What is also different this time around is that most of the low-GWP replacements for widely used A1 refrigerants such as R-404A and R-410A are mildly flammable (A2L). This is causing some concern among contractors and technicians about the safety of installing and servicing equipment that uses this type of refrigerant, as well as transporting it from one place to another.
But there will be some time before A2Ls will be commonly found in the marketplace, as a significant amount of work needs to take place with the codes and standards that would allow the use of flammable – and mildly flammable -- refrigerants in commercial refrigeration and air conditioning equipment. For comfort cooling applications, product safety standards UL 60335-2-40 third edition and ASHRAE Standard 15 have already been updated to allow A2L refrigerants. Work has already started on the fourth edition of UL 60335-2-40, and it is expected that improvements will continue to be made.
On the commercial refrigeration side, development is underway to update the safety standard, UL 60335-2-89 for the second edition, which covers mechanical, electrical, and refrigerant safety. This edition also includes a provision in Annex CC for refrigerant safety in which equipment using A2Ls must demonstrate that in a leak event, they are able to comply with the requirement for mitigation in the specified test scenario.
While the codes and standards are being revised, contractors and technicians should take the opportunity to learn how to safely handle and transport A2L refrigerants. Because they will be here before you know it! Fortunately, there are a wide variety of educational options available to prepare for the upcoming transition.
With its industry-leading Safe Refrigerant Task Force, AHRI is a great resource for all things concerning A2Ls. Their website offers a plethora of resources, including the first two chapters of its Guide to the Safe Refrigerant Transition, as well as numerous webinars, articles, and fact sheets. The Task Force was formed to address every step of the supply chain in the safe refrigerant transition to low-GWP refrigerants and consists of AHRI members and stakeholders employed with contractors, government agencies, the fire service, training organizations, and other businesses.
ESCO Group offers its Low GWP Refrigerant Safety: Flammable and Mildly Flammable Refrigerants training and certification program, which covers everything from refrigerant safety to proper installation and service guidelines to flammable refrigerant considerations. The organization also offers a 50-question certification examination for students, as well manuals and PowerPoint slides for training managers and instructors.
ACCA offers on-demand A2L refrigerant training that is designed to help contractors and technicians learn about the safety and technical aspects of A2L, as well as its proper use in a residential setting. By the end of this course, ACCA stated that students will have a full understanding of ignition prevention, as well as safety and best practices for the use of A2L refrigerants. Each student enrolled will receive the full course, as well as a workbook and a certificate upon course completion.
These are just a few of the training opportunities that are currently available. In the near future, it is likely that local distributors, refrigeration and air conditioning equipment manufacturers, and other entities will offer even more classes on A2L best practices. (And, of course, keep reading The NEWS for all the up-to-date information regarding the refrigerant transition.)
But time is of the essence, as equipment that uses A2L refrigerants will likely be available in the next few years. It would be wise to take the time now to learn how to safely handle and transport A2Ls, as customers are already starting to ask about these new refrigerants.