New Refrigerants, Replacement of R22 and New Equipment

Louis Lucas
Honorary President of AFF (Association Française du Froid)
Honorary Director of IIR (International Institute of refrigeration),
President of the CNF (Conseil National du Froid- France)

For new installations as well as for R22 replacement, HFCs are the most common substitutes. NH3 and other “natural refrigerants” as well as alternative technologies are available for some refrigeration uses. There is a strong move in favour of a phase-down of HFCs. Their future depends on how much recovery and containment are implemented. It is in the interests of both consumers and companies to adopt a “responsible behaviour”, based on the current EU regulations and this approach makes it possible to choose inexpensive and energy efficient alternatives. Regulations must be accompanied by inspections and sanctions.

1) HCFC phase-out
The deadlines for the phase-out of HCFCs (R22…) have been earlier in the European Union than those specified in the Montreal Protocol:

Two deadlines have been enforced already:
– 1st Jan. 2004: no sale of equipment with HCFCs, no sale of HCFCs for new equipment;
– 1st Jan. 2010: no use of virgin HCFCs in maintenance; From 1st Jan. 2015, use of recovered HCFC in maintenance is limited to the plant from which it is recovered (no stocks are allowed).

In addition to these regulatory deadlines, a shortage of used HCFCs in Europe has started already. Most R22 installations will have to be modified or changed in the near future.

2) Choice of new installations

Alternatives depend on the kind of systems:
– NH3 is suitable for large plants in places that are not open to the public ;
– CO2 can be adopted in some cases, especially in combination with another fluid, in spite of the high pressure; – absorption and other non-compression technologies may take some market shares but are likely to remain marginal for the next decade;
– HFCs are the most common alternative in places where NH3 is not suitable. But their future raises other issues (see 3 below). Among HFCs, there is an increasing interest in HFOs, whose GWP is much lower than those of current HFCs.

3) Threats on the future of HFCs

There are threats on HFCs:
– some European countries have banned HFCs,
– at the 22nd meeting of the Montreal Protocol in Bangkok, in Nov. 2010, some countries (including the US, Canada and Mexico) have reiterated their request to “regulate and phase-down HFCs” . Such regulations have not been adopted at a worldwide level. However, pressure to implement HFC “phase down” is becoming stronger and stronger. The F-gas regulation is being revised in the EU; at a meeting in June 2011, orientations should be adopted for decisions expected late 2011. (Refer to the presentation by D. Coulomb, Director of the IIR, who is taking part in these meetings).

4) Importance of good practice, containment and recovery

Low rates of recovery and recycling strengthen requests for phase-out or phase-down of refrigerants: if emissions are negligible with very little refrigerant being released into the atmosphere, then:
– energy efficiency becomes dominant when taking into account both the “direct” and the “indirect” effects (including emissions and the energy required to run the system);
– it would be easy to set aside such requests.

Sectors where containment and recovery are implemented efficiently might be subjected to less stringent rules as long as they can show these results. This may provide these sectors and their clients with large savings, very worth the effort. Fortunately enough, from this point of view, automotive air conditioning is going to move away from R134a, thus providing an opportunity for other users to achieve lower emission rates of R134a. Will they achieve good recovery rates? In France, transitory measures for enforcing the decree of May 7, 2007 are coming to an end. Consequently, from July 4, 2011 forward, all companies handling fluorinated refrigerants must have obtained a capacity certificate and all workers an aptitude certificate.

5) What will be the best solution for the economy… and for companies?

Where would a new phase-out/down lead to? Having to change refrigerant and/or equipment quite frequently may appear as a good opportunity for manufacturers and installers.

On the other hand, such a situation is a waste of money, of work and of time and does not encourage optimization of installations in the mid- and long term.

Let’s dream of another system:
– companies and workers would follow the rules of the art and comply with the EU regulation (most countries have taken decisions and set policies to comply with them)
– regular reports on refrigerant flows would show high rates of containment and recovery and low rates of emissions; – the “direct global warming effect” would become negligible in comparison with indirect effect;
– systems and refrigerants would then be chosen on the basis of their energy efficiency;
– young workers would be attracted by companies providing jobs in which long-term solutions are the rule, and promoted thorough choices and creativity.

Let’s make such a dream become reality!