Flammable Refrigerants

After Recount, IEC Rules in Favor of Hydrocarbon Charge Increase

Last month I wrote on the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) and their decision on rather or not to increase the allowed charge limit on hydrocarbon refrigerant applications. Before their decision was made the maximum approved amount was one-hundred and fifty grams under the IEC 60335-2-8 global standard. This proposed increase would have moved the one-hundred and fifty grams limit up to five-hundred grams.

In April the IEC voted against the charge increase amendment. The decision was lost by one no vote. This ruling caused great disappointment across the industry. Many companies and organizations have been pushing to increase charge limits on flammable hydrocarbon refrigerants. The increased charge limit would allow hydrocarbons to be used in larger variety of applications.

Hydrocarbons are one of the top contenders for future refrigerants as the world begins to phase down HFC refrigerants such as R-134a, R-404A, and R-410A due to their high Global Warming Potential. While hydrocarbons can be dangerous due to their flammability they are also one of the most environmentally friendly refrigerants out there as they have no Ozone Depletion Potential and have very little Global Warming Potential.

There is a fine line that has to be walked though as if the charge limit on a propane or isobutane system is too high then the risk of catastrophic failure becomes higher.

This Week’s Recount

It was announced this week by the IEC that a recount was done on last month’s vote. It was found that Malaysia’s no vote was cast illegitimately. The Malaysian vote did not follow the proper voting procedures. In order to vote no you had to provide technical justification for your no vote. If no justification was provided then your vote would be rejected. This is precisely what happened to Malaysia’s vote this month.

While it has not been made one-hundred percent official yet it appears that there are no further roadblocks in the path of IEC adjusting their 60335-2-89 standard. A3 refrigerants will see their charge limit increase to five-hundred grams and A2L refrigerants will see their charge limits increase to one point two kilograms. (One point one pounds on A3 refrigerants and two point four pounds on A2L refrigerants.)

Conclusion

While the IEC is not a governmental organization it serves as a global standard within various industries sand it is who governments look towards for guidance. The IEC ruling to increase charge limits on hydrocarbon applications will be seen as the first steps in seeing further hydrocarbon rollouts across the world.

There is a lot of debate on this decision.  Many folks have expressed concern about increasing charge limits on these highly flammable refrigerants. Obviously, the higher the charge limits the higher the chance of ignition and explosion.  But, if proper precautions are taken by both the manufacturers and the service technicians then all should be fine. All it could take though is one mistake and an incident could occur.

As we move forward from the IEC’s decision we can expect to see other countries and manufacturers beginning to adopt larger hydrocarbon applications. We may first begin to see this in Asia and then in the European Union.

The United States is quite a bit behind the times when it comes to hydrocarbons. It was just a bit ago when the Environmental Protection Agency increased the approved charge limit from fifty grams to one-hundred and fifty grams. So, we just caught up to the global standard and now it has changed again to five-hundred grams.  I predict it will be quite a while before the EPA approves five-hundred gram applications.

No matter how you feel about the IEC’s decision, this topic is another example of the safety versus climate balance. No refrigerants are perfect and while we all know the world wants to get rid of HFCs is it really worth moving away from HFCs if we are risking our own safety to do so? Personally, I think not. I believe we should hold onto HFCs until a more suitable and safer alternative is discovered.

As to what will happen only time will tell.

Thanks for reading,

Alec Johnson

RefrigerantHQ

Sources

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