Hydrocarbons

Hello everyone. Hope all of you have a great Thanksgiving today! I’m sitting at my desk writing this article while my wife is in the kitchen finishing up a pie and my girls are watching the Macy’s Parade. We’ve got the big meal planned for four this afternoon. Before I enjoy all of that pie and turkey I wanted to do a short article.

It was announced yesterday from the EPA that a series of settlements had been reached with seven different companies on R-717 Ammonia non-compliance. These settlements were split between seven companies in New England and totaled nearly six-hundred thousand dollars in fines and over seven-hundred and fifty-thousand dollars in compliance. Two of these settlements were issued after an ammonia leak had already occurred and the other five were taken as preventative measures. These inspections and fines from the EPA come as part of the EPA’s National Compliance Initiative on reducing chemical accidents.The actual EPA announcement can be found by clicking here, but it looks like these companies either did not have a proper risk management plan laid out or they missed submitting an annual notification to local authorities that their company was using Ammonia as a refrigerant.

Over the years of running RefrigerantHQ I’ve had mixed feelings on using Ammonia refrigerant. Yes, it is one of the most efficient refrigerants available today, it has zero Ozone depletion potential, and it has a Global Warming Potential of zero. It seems like the perfect choice for refrigerant applications. The catch is that it is rated as B2L by ASHRAE. So, R-717 is mildly flammable but the primary concern is the toxicity. If Ammonia is not handled correctly, or maintained correctly, tragedy can occur. Last year there were three fatalities that occurred due to an Ammonia leak at an ice rink up in Canada. Along with the deaths that occurred a large area around the ice rink had to be evacuated. It can be very dangerous.

All that being said, if handled correctly and maintained properly Ammonia refrigerant can save your business money by it’s efficiency and also ensure the longevity of your refrigerant systems as there are not any future plans to phase down R-717 due to it being so environmentally friendly. The responsibilities of maintenance and proper care of Ammonia systems should be left to the business owners but there are many who are negligent or who are just not aware of the dangers. This is where the EPA’s enforcement, fines, and compliance laws come into play. The problem is the EPA can’t do it all and there will be future leak incidents. The good news is that most of these Ammonia leaks are handled rather smoothly.

Ammonia will be here for quite a while and as the years pass by and the R-22 systems age and age we may find more and more business owners transitioning over to R-717 systems over newer HFC or HFO alternatives. Say what you want about Ammonia, it has definitely stood the test of time and will be around for many more decades to come.

Thanks for reading,

Alec Johnson

RefrigerantHQ

Sources

Hello everyone! I hope your Labor Day is going well. We just got back from our city’s parade and I’ve got a few hours before our barbecue so I thought I’d take some time and get an article out there. I’m going to preface this article with the disclaimer that this is an opinion piece. Take it how you want, but it has been on my mind over the past year or so.

As we all know refrigerants have been phased out or phased down for decades. We started it way back in the early 1990’s with R-12 and other CFCs. Then we focused on HCFCs and now the world is looking at HFCs. With CFCs and HCFCs the goal of the phase out was to stop using Ozone damaging refrigerants. These refrigerants contained Chlorine which did not break down in the atmosphere and ended up harming the Ozone layer.

HFCs were the replacement for these Ozone damaging refrigerants. HFCs did not contain Chlorine and did not harm the Ozone layer. They were also non-flammable and non-toxic. Yes, I am aware there are always exceptions out there, but the most commonly used HFC refrigerants were non-flammable and non-toxic. These HFCs seemed to be the perfect substitute for HFCs and HCFCs.

Fast forward to the present and the world is now looking to phase down or phase out HFC refrigerants across the globe. This time though instead of them damaging the Ozone these refrigerants are contributing to Global Warming. Refrigerants are measured on a scale known as Global Warming Potential, or GWP. The zero scale for GWP is Carbon Dioxide (R-744) with a GWP of one. Popular HFC refrigerants, such as R-134a, have GWP as high as one-thousand four-hundred and thirty. There is an obvious problem here and the continued use of HFC refrigerants will speed up Global Warming. The question now though is what alternatives are out there?

Natural Refrigerants

For a lot of companies and countries the answer has been Hydrocarbons such as R-717 and R-290. These natural refrigerants have a very low Global Warming Potential and they do not deplete the Ozone layer. In fact, R-717 is widely seen as one of the most efficient refrigerants out there. Both of these refrigerants are great for the environment. The downside though is that these refrigerants can be dangerous.

Yes, just like with anything, if the refrigerants and machines are handled correctly and maintained properly then there is little chance of problems, but the chance still persists nonetheless. Let’s look at R-717, or Ammonia, as an example. Ammonia is a great refrigerant but it is toxic if inhaled. In today’s world it is mostly used industrial refrigeration such as meat packing plants and in ice rinks. When a leak does happen it can be deadly. Notice, how I said when? Ammonia leaks occur quite frequently across the Americas. There was a particularly bad one around one year ago in Canada that ended up fatally harming three workers. (Source) When an Ammonia leak occurs an evacuation has to occur. Depending on the size of the leak the evacuation could be a couple of blocks surrounding the facility. It can be that dangerous.

The alternative for Ammonia based systems was R-22. In the 1980’s and 1990’s companies could pick between these two refrigerants for their plants. (Yes, there were more, but I believe these were the main players.) The choice for R-22 is now gone due to the phase outs. Depending on the application, some were using R-134a as an alternative to Ammonia. But now, that too, is being phased out. While R-22 and R-134a were damaging the Climate they were safe. If a leak occurred it wasn’t the end of the world.

Now with the shrinking list of alternative refrigerants more and more companies are leaning towards Ammonia. Yes, there are new HFC and HFO alternatives being developed by Chemours and Honeywell but these have not been perfected yet. You may get one that has a low GWP but has a higher flammability rating. Or, you may get one that still has a somewhat high GWP and it just wouldn’t make sense to base a new machine off of a refrigerant that is only going to be around for a few years.

R-290, or Propane, has a similar story. While yes, it’s not near as deadly as Ammonia, it still has it’s risks. Instead of toxicity being a problem we now have to deal with flammability and flame propagation. If an inexperienced technician attempts to work on an R-290 unit and is not sure what they are doing they could end up igniting the refrigerant. (The worst is the guys who smoke when working on a unit.)

Now picture this, what if we start using R-290 in home based air conditioners? It doesn’t even have to be a split system, it could be a mini-split or even a window or portable unit. Let’s say Mr. Homeowner, who has no idea what he’s doing, decides to tamper with the unit because it’s not blowing cold air. Maybe he thinks it just needs ‘more Freon.’ If the unit was using Puron then the homeowner would recharge, waste his money, and think he did some good. However, if the unit contained R-290 the results could be far worse.

HFOs and Alternative HFCs

In my opinion, HFOs are much safer then Hydrocarbons, but there is still that safety risk out there. Let’s look at everyone’s favorite HFO target, 1234yf. Now, I know this horse has been beaten to death, but I’m going to bring it up one more time. YF is rated as an A2L from ASHRAE. That 2L means that YF is flammable and has a chance to ignite. What kills me here is that there was such a push to get YF rolled out to new vehicles that instead of rating it as a standard A2 refrigerant they instead created a whole new flammability called 2L. (Lower Flammability.) So, they’re admitting to it being flammable, but only slightly.

The whole controversy on YF started years ago when the European Union was looking for a suitable alternative to R-134a. There were hundreds of tests conducted across Europe and the World to view the viability of 1234yf. In one of these tests the Daimler company out of Germany found that after the vehicle suffered an impact and the compressor cracked open the HFO YF refrigerant ignited when it was exposed to the hot engine. (For more on this check out our YF fact sheet by clicking here. The video of the ignition is at the bottom.)

Needless to say, this test result shocked Daimler and they published their findings to the world. The other companies and countries stated that Daimler’s test could not be reproduced and that it was a non-issue. The world moved forward with the somewhat dangerous 1234yf. Daimler, being the innovators they are, decided to instead move forward with a completely different automotive refrigerant, R-744.

While 1234yf is by far one of the most popular HFC alternatives on the marketplace today there are others that have similar problems. One that comes to mind right away is R-32. R-32 is an HFC refrigerant that is beginning to see more popularity for it’s usage in home and commercial air conditioners. R-32 is an alternative to the standard R-410A that is found in most home units. The goal of R-32 was to reduce the GWP number when compared to R-410A. 410A has a GWP of two-thousand and eighty-eight while R-32 has a GWP of six-hundred and seventy-five. This is a significant reduction, but the GWP is still quite high when comparing to Hydrocarbons or HFOs. Another very important point is that R-32 is rated as an A2 refrigerant. There’s that 2 again. 2 means flammable except with this one we don’t even get the L for lightly flammable.

So again, I’m going to illustrate the similar scenario we mentioned above. Picture a homeowner, who doesn’t know what they are doing, trying to either retrofit his existing R-22 over to R-32 or perhaps he just wants to recharge his R-32 machine. Without the proper training and knowledge this can end in disaster.

Conclusion

So, now here we are sacrificing technician and public safety for the betterment of the Climate and environment. I understand that Global Warming is a crisis and that it needs to be dealt with, but is it really worth increasing possible risk and danger of everyday workers and people? It appears that in everyone’s haste to move away from HFC refrigerants and to save the environment the thought of safety has taken a backseat.

I mean, if we wanted to get really aggressive in the fight against climate change why not start using Ammonia in nearly every application? After all, it has a GWP of zero and is extremely energy efficient. (I’m being sarcastic here, if you couldn’t tell!)

Thanks for reading,

Alec Johnson

RefrigerantHQ

Here in the United States most of our ice rinks rather they be hockey stadiums or a kids ice-skating park were and are mostly powered by the common HCFC R-22 refrigerant. As you all know R-22 was phased down back in 2010 and is in the process of being phased out entirely. The question on the owners minds of these complexes is with what refrigerant should they replace their older R-22 systems with? Is there a preferred one out there?

Over in the European Union they have been a big fan of R-717 (Ammonia.) in their ice rinks. Ammonia has been used since the 1930s as a refrigerant. It is actually referred to as one of the most efficient refrigerants out there as it has a low boiling point and it is highly energy efficient. On top of that you have no Ozone depletion risk and zero Global Warming Potential. It all sounds too good to be true, right? Here’s the catch folks, R-717 is classified as a B2L refrigerant on toxicity and flammability. The ‘B’ means that it is toxic if inhaled and the ‘2L’ means that it is slightly flammable.

If an Ammonia leak does occur it has to be taken very seriously. There was an incident towards the end of last year up in British Columbia that resulted in three fatalities due to the toxicity of the Ammonia leaking into the building. During the leak the event center had to be evacuated along with any neighboring businesses or homes. I wrote an article about this tragic event which can be found by clicking here. This example right here is why the US has been skiddish about adopting R-717 and the end all be all replacement for R-22. Originally, R-22 was chosen for ice rinks here in the US due to it’s low toxicity. If a person breathed in R-22 there would be no ill effects. So, what other options are out there besides R-22 and R-717? There are some Ammonia advocates here in the US but since this incident occurred just north of our border the skepticism on R-717 has only increased.

CO2 to the rescue?

Most of you who have been following the industry over the past couple years know exactly where I am going. It seems that everything is either moving towards the new HFO refrigerant line from Chemours/Honeywell or they are moving to R-744 (Carbon Dioxide.) I don’t care if you look at vending machines, refrigerated units in supermarkets, or even in ice rinks. CO2/R-744 is showing up everywhere. CO2, like Ammonia, has no Ozone depletion and has a GWP of one. Here’s the best part though it’s rated as a A1 in toxicity and flammability. That means it is NOT toxic or flammable. The downside of CO2 is that it operates at a MUCH higher pressure then other refrigerants on the market. This higher pressure can cause components to fail prematurely.

When I was going through my research tonight I found an article from a local news station out of Alaska. The article took place in Wasilla, a small town north of Anchorage. The town only has a population of about eight-thousand people. (My kind of town!) Their ice rink is one of their larger attractions, but it is over thirty years old and is dealing with an antiquated R-22 system. We all know how much the price of R-22 has gone up these days. Can you imagine recharging a one-thousand pound system? The cost would be astronomical. Imagine having to try and absorb that expense into your P&L for the year.

Luckily for the town of Wasilla there was a twenty-two million bond that was passed by the voters back in October of 2016. Three million dollars of that twenty-two will be going towards removing the old R-22 system on this ice rink and replacing it with a new R-744 CO2 system. On top of that massive expense the complex will also be closed for Spring and Summer while the construction is completed. The goal of completion is set for Labor Day.

This is such a laborious and expensive process as there is just no easy way to retrofit or replace an aging R-22 ice rink system. These installations are massive and when working with a completely different refrigerant such as R-22 nearly everything will have to be replaced. Remember now that CO2 operates at a MUCH higher pressure than R-22. Most of the components will have to be reinforced in order to accommodate this increase in pressure.

Conclusion

Are our only choices today R-744 and R-717? Is there going to be an HFO alternative out there that we can expect? Through my research tonight I wasn’t able to find an HFO refrigerant that could be used for these ice rink applications. I may have overlooked them but I have a feeling that the ice rink market is very niche within the refrigerant industry and Honeywell and Chemours are more focused on the R-404A or R-410A replacements. If any of you know of any please let me know.

I fear that these pricey conversions and retrofits over to these new systems could put a lot of ice rinks out of business. I already know of one in my area that has closed within the past couple years. Just think about that three million dollar number we spoke of earlier. That’s just one complex. That is one hell of an expense. What can these owners do? Do they keep holding out on their dying R-22 systems hoping and praying that they don’t have a leak or a failure? Or, do they bite the bullet and hope they can afford the cost of the new system? That’s not even mentioning the downtime the business would face while the new system is installed. Every day their doors are closed is money being lost.

I’m all for switching to newer refrigerants but like with anything there are going to be winners and losers here.

Thanks for reading,

Alec Johnson

RefrigerantHQ

Sources

The grocery store chain Aldi has announced their intention to switch all of their stores in the United Kingdom to CO2 refrigerant. (Also known as R-744.) Their goal is by the end of the year 2018, just over twelve months from now, that one-hundred of their stores will be fully converted over to R-744. This is a twenty million Euro investment for the German based company. That’s equal to about twenty-three and a half million dollars. This is just the start for their conversion as Aldi has over seven-hundred stores in the United Kingdom and plans to open up another three-hundred over the next couple years. All of these stores will be using CO2 as their main refrigerant source.

There are two main reasons Aldi has made this decision. The first is to become compliant with the European Union F-Gas regulations that come into effect in 2030. (For more information on the EU’s F-Gas Regulation please click here.) Like most other countries around the world the European Union has agreed to phase-out HFC refrigerants entirely. These refrigerants include R-404A, R-410A, and R-134a. (There are others, but these are the most popular.) The plan is to cut the availability of HFC refrigerants by seventy-nine percent between the years 2015 and 2030. Only companies with approved EU quotas will be able to supply, manufacture, or import HFC refrigerants. A full schedule of the phase-out can be seen in the picture below:
F-Gas HFC Phaseout

The second reason Aldi made this decision was for it’s impact on the environment. Sure, you can say that the environment was their primary reason but they are a business and they weighed the pros/cons and the cost involved in switching now or switching later when they got closer to the 2030 deadline. Switching now made more financial sense. By switching over to CO2, or R-744, Aldi will be reducing their gas carbon emissions down by ninety-nine percent and will see an annual decrease of over fifteen-million in Global Warming Potential. CO2 refrigerant has a GWP of 1. That is a HUGE difference when comparing it to the commonly used R-404A refrigerant which has a GWP of 3,922! You can begin to see why governments have been pushing to phase these HFC refrigerants out.

CO2 R-744 Refrigerant

R-744 refrigerant is becoming increasingly popular across the world. It’s ironic really as CO2 was one of the first widely used refrigerants in the world. Let’s go back one-hundred years. Chances are if you went to a movie theater on a hot summer day in the 1920s that the movie theater would have been cooled by CO2. You’d step in from the heat and feel the cool and relaxing air and then watch yourself a Charlie Chaplin film.

The problem with CO2 back then, and today, is that it requires an extremely high pressure to operate in a refrigeration cycle. This high pressure caused units and parts to break repeatedly. It was during the depression when a new cheaper alternative refrigerant was discovered. The CFC R-12. The moment R-12 was discovered it took off and was soon found in every application across the globe. Next came R-22, and so on and so on.

So, we went from CO2 > CFCs > HCFCs > HFCs > and now back to CO2. We’ve come full circle folks. The difference here is that with today’s technology, new parts, and equipment the extremely high pressure of CO2 is no longer a problem. We have stronger, tougher, and better tools and parts to compensate for this pressure. Now the big concern is danger to the earth and the climate. R-744 is one of the most logical answers here.

Conclusion

Like it or not folks natural refrigerants, like CO2, are going to be part of our future. HFCs are going away and the HCFCs are pretty much gone already. We have two choices. We are either going all in on the new HFO refrigerants or we are going back in time to the days of Natural Refrigerants such as CO2 or Ammonia. Which do you prefer?

If and when you do come across a CO2 unit just think of yourself as honoring the past. You’re honoring the memories of your grandparents and maybe even their parents. The people who pioneered this technology we are now using today.

Thanks for reading,

Alec Johnson

RefrigerantHQ

Sources

Alternatives to R-410A?

Rather you like it or not folks R-410A will be going away and it’s going to be happening a lot sooner than everyone thinks. In 2015 the Environmental Protection Agency announced that they will beginning the initial steps of phasing out R-404A in July of 2016, January 2017, and 2018. Along with that they also announced that the tried and tested R-134a will begin being phased out in the year 2020. (2021 model years.) HFCs are quickly coming to an end.

On top of the EPA’s actions on phasing out HFC refrigerants there was an amendment added to the Montreal Protocol only a few months ago in November of 2016. More than one-hundred countries met in Kigali, Rwanda. The United States, the European Union, and many other countries have been working tirelessly on getting an HFC phase out amendment added to the Montreal Protocol for years. Well the last holds out finally gave in and everyone’s dreams finally came true in late 2016. The goal of the agreement was to ban all HFC refrigerants across the world by the year 2100. The United States along with all of the other countries happily signed the agreement.

Under the signed amendment developed countries, including the United States, must reduce their use of HFC refrigerants by ten percent by 2019 from 2011-2013 levels, and then by eighty-five percent by 2036. Along with this developed countries will also have to comply with a freeze of HFC consumption levels in the year 2024. By the late 2040’s all developed countries are expected to consume no more than fifteen to twenty percent of their baselines. In order to meet these guidelines developed countries have already begun phasing out the other HFCs as we discussed above. 410A is not on the chopping block yet but it will be soon.

Everything, and I mean everything, is pointing in the direction that 410A will be no more. The only thing that I could see stopping the phase out of 410A in the near future is the presidency of Donald Trump. Now, keep in mind that this is all speculation, but Trump has said before that he doesn’t believe in Climate Change. So, if you don’t believe in something than why would your country pledge and sign a treaty saying that you would phase something out because of Climate Change? It doesn’t make sense. No one knows what Trump will do though. He may leave things the way they are or he may go back and try to renege on the treaty.

The Four Rules

The race to find an alternative refrigerant for R-410A is on. After all, 410A has to be one of the greatest used, if not the greatest, refrigerant in the world. Everyone needs a cool house and most of the time they’re either using R-22 or R-410A. Finding an alternative has proven difficult though as there has been no perfect match so far. There are four considerations companies have to consider before they can sign off on a golden ticket replacement product. These four ‘rules’ or considerations are Environment, Energy Efficiency, Safety, and Economy.

  1. If we look at the first criteria of environment we have to consider two things. One being that the new product can’t contain Chlorine like the old CFCs and HCFCs of the past. We don’t want a repeat of the O-Zone damage that we went through the eighties and nineties. The second being that the replacement cannot have a large Global Warming Potential like the HFC refrigerants used today. The whole point is to have a refrigerant that does NOT damage the environment, or at least, does not damage the environment as much as the current HFCs do.
  2. Energy Efficiency pretty much explains itself. Obviously we do not want have a gas that would be used across the world that is terribly inefficient. What good would it do to if we’re just wasting energy and impacting the environment in another way? The whole robbing Peter to pay Paul mentality. It doesn’t make sense.
  3.  Safety is another consideration that has to be factored in when finding the ‘perfect’ refrigerant. One of the major risks here is flammability. Each refrigerant has a flammability rating and some are much higher than others. If you have proper training on dealing with flammable refrigerants than there is nothing to worry about. The danger comes in if the R-410A replacement is highly flammable. Commercial units are usually left alone. Only professionals ever attempt to maintenance them. With a home unit you run the risk of having novices or ‘Bubbas,’ trying to maintenance or even install their own machine. Imagine the risk they could be taking if the refrigerant they were dealing with was extremely flammable? (Like R-290.) The other aspect of safety is the toxicity levels of the refrigerant. If you have a leak and it is in a confined area what effect will that have on the people in that area? Will there be permanent damage to them after breathing it, or even death?
  4. Economy is the last and final aspect when looking for an alternative. What good is an alternative if no one can afford it? If a ten pound cylinder is north of $1,000 how is anyone going to be able to afford it? Cost is a large factor when considering an alternative. Truth be told I believe we’re seeing the cost problem now with the 134a replacement. The HFO 1234YF is nearly $700 for a ten pound cylinder. Imagine the cost involved if you had to refill your car after a repair? It’s quite the difference between the $100 cost of a thirty pound cylinder of 134a.

Ok, so with those four considerations in mind let’s review the possibilities of the future for replacing R-410A.

Hydroflurocarbons (HFC’s)

Yes, yes I know. R-410A is an HFC so why would we replace it with another HFC? Well, there is a push to change from 410A over to R-32 refrigerant. The thinking is that this wouldn’t be a permanent solution but more of a temporary until something better comes along. R-410A’s Global Warming Potential (GWP) is 1,725 times that of Carbon Dioxide. This large number is why 410A is being pressured to be phased out. While R-32 is an HFC it’s GWP is only 675. That is about a sixty percent decrease. It’s not a perfect bullet but it would help with the battle against Global Warming.

There are a few benefits to R-32 one of which I mentioned above. The first being the lower Global Warming Potential. The second benefit is that consumers will see a ten percent reduction in their energy usage when switching to R-32. Another pro for R-32 is the cost. It is overall much cheaper than R-410A and is readily available to purchase now. R-32 has seen wide usage across Australia and in July of 2015 was approved for limited usage by the United State’s Environmental Protection Agency. (Visit link to their website here.)

Ok, so we have see the pros of HFC-32 now let’s take a look at some of the downsides.  R-410A is classified as ‘Non-Flammable,’ according to the Safety Data Sheets. The flammability rating on 410A is ruled as class 1. When looking at the same data for R-32 we find that it is ‘Extremely Flammable,’ and is classified under a level 4 for flammability. Both of these come from each products Safety Data Sheets which can be found by clicking here for R-410A and here for R-32. And to think people were freaking out about the flammability of 410A a few years ago!

Another downside to R-32 that companies have complained about is the toxicity of breathing in the product. Proponents have rebutted saying that R-32 is no more toxic than any other refrigerant when breathed in. Which I believe is a perfectly valid point. The last downside and one that is extremely difficult to prove is that R-32 causes cancer. There has been no conclusive tests on this theory and so far it is speculation. The belief is that this rumor started in California due to their strict environmental laws.

So, in review on R-32 we have a cheaper alternative refrigerant to R-410A and one that has nearly sixty percent reduction in Global Warming Potential. But, this replacement product is extremely flammable and may put people at risk. In my opinion I do not believe this refrigerant meets the four conditions to be accepted as an acceptable substitute. (Safety comes to mind.) If we do start using HFC -32 here in the United States than I could see it being only temporary until a better HFO refrigerant comes along. I wouldn’t put money on seeing this at your next service call.

Sources on R-32:

Hydrocarbons?

Hydrocarbons are a different story. They have been around a lot longer than the HFOs and even HFCs. Everyone is at least somewhat familiar with them and even a laymen has heard of most of them. (Propane, Isobutane, Carbon Dioxide.) Some of these refrigerants go all the way back to the nineteenth century if you can believe it. Before the rise of CFCs such as R-12 Hydrocarbons were widely used in various establishments. One of the first air conditioned movie theaters in the early twentieth century was cooled by Carbon Dioxide.

Alright, that’s enough of a history lesson. Let’s dive in and take a look at the possible scenario on each one:

R-290 (Propane)

Alright so let’s get the selling point of R-290 out of the way now. Propane has zero O-Zone depletion potential and only a GWP of only 3. Yes, that’s right. 3. Humongous difference when comparing to 410A’s GWP of 1,725.  Right out of the gate R-290 meets the environmental criteria for an alternative. Overall it is rather energy efficient and the cost is relatively cheap coming in at right about the same cost as a thirty pound cylinder of R-410A. (A little over one hundred dollars a cylinder.) We’re three for four on propane passing the feasibility test. There is just that last one. That one that we overlooked, safety.

The disadvantages are the flammability risk, safety standards/codes, and ensuring each technician is properly trained before handling. If propane is handled in the right way and by a properly trained technician than everything will be fine. However, if ‘Bubba,’ tries to install his own unit or retrofit his own machine with propane that is where things get dangerous. A common occurrence over the years since R-22 has grown more expensive is for companies to market their R-290 product as a drop in replacement for their R-22 units. This is a dangerous practice since the R-22 machines were not meant to use propane. The end result can result in injury or an explosion.

R-290 is already seeing widespread use in India and China and now the middle eastern countries such as Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and others are expressing interest for R-290 due to it’s better performance in higher ambient temperature environments. The Environmental Protection Agency has approved R-290 for use in stand alone small charge units including retail food refrigerators and freezers. All that being said though I do not foresee seeing R-290 being widely used as a replacement for R-410A.

R-290 Sources

R-744 (Carbon Dioxide)

R-744 has no harmful environmental effects. I mean, there is nothing more natural than Carbon Dioxide. There is no O-Zone depletion potential and the Global Warming Potential is minimal. In fact as I mentioned earlier R-744 was one of the very first refrigerants used in the world only losing popularity once the easier to use R-12 was introduced.

R-744 requires very low energy to run, is non-toxic, and non flammable. The problem that comes with R-744 is not the dangers of flammability like that of R-290 but instead with economy. R-744 runs at an extremely high pressure during operation. The pressure is so high that the efficiency of the compressor suffers greatly and the durability and thickness of the pipes needs to be increased to compensate. The thickened pipes and the custom high pressure equipment increases the overall cost of R-744 for most uses.  Some could also make the argument that Carbon Dioxide refrigerant due to it’s increased pressure of 2,000 pounds per square inch also makes it dangerous to work on. That’s a tally of two out of four.

While R-744 is seeing usage in other smaller applications like that of refrigerated cases I do not foresee it being used as an alternative to R-410A due to the additional cost of the higher pressure equipment and the potential safety risk of the high pressure.

R-744 Sources

R-717 (Ammonia)

Ammonia or R-717 is often regarded as the most efficient refrigerant gas on the market today. Along with it’s energy efficiency aspect it also has no O-Zone depletion potential and has a Global Warming Potential of zero. The cost for R-717 is much lower than other HFC refrigerants on the market today creating a cost savings if someone was to switch over to R-717.

If we refer to the four rules again that I stated above we are three for four so far. The fourth rule, and honestly one of the most important, is safety. R-717 is not the safest refrigerant… by any means and it is one of the reasons why it is not commonly used in today’s residential market.

Like R-290 R-717 is highly flammable. Don’t let me say it though, let’s take a look at the exact wording on the safety data sheet on R-717: “Flammable. Toxic by inhalation. Causes burns. Risk of serious damage to eyes. Very toxic to aquatic organisms.” – Source. So we have a highly flammable product that has high toxicity and can cause damage to your skin and eyes. I can see why this hasn’t taken off.

While R-717 does have the safety detriments it is still widely used today in many types of manufacturing plants such as dairies, ice cream plants, frozen food production, cold storage warehouses, and meat processing plants.  I’ve said this before but I’ll say it again. This potentially hazardous material works because it is being used in a large commercial setting. The Jo Schmo do-it-yourselfer is never going to tamper or try to fix one of these commercial machines. If something goes wrong at one of these businesses they call in a professional. If R-717 becomes a mainstream refrigerant found in every home in the country than the risk of do-it-yourselfers accidentally burning themselves or worse causing an explosion goes up exponentially. For that reason alone I do not foresee R-717 being used as a suitable R-410A replacement.

R-717 Sources

Hydrofluoroolefin (HFO’s)

HFO’s are already seeing large usage in the European Union and now beginning in the United States. Most of the applications have been under the HFO 1234YF used in automobile applications. As of January 1st, 2017 cars can no longer be manufactured with R-134a systems in the EU. The United States isn’t too far off either with our final date being 2020. (2021 model year.) 1234YF is quickly replacing the R-134a market that we know today. To some it’s 1994 all over again where we phased out the R-12 in place of R-134a.

The selling point on the new  HFO’s are the environmental impact. The goal here was to create something as similar as they could to the current HFCs on the market but without the high Global Warming Potential that comes with them. For example, the 1234YF refrigerant has a global warming potential of four. For comparison, the Global Warming Potential of R-134a is over 3,000. There is a significant difference and the climate will be greatly affected if the whole world switches over to these new HFO refrigerants. (Or Hydrocarbons.)

The problem with HFOs is that they are all in developmental stage. The two conglomerate companies DuPont/Chemours and Honeywell have been putting endless hours and money into developing new HFO refrigerants that could take the place of the beloved R-410A. The other complication with HFO’s is that since they are being invented by only a few companies these same companies hold the patents on the new product. This creates an almost monopoly type setting where Honeywell and Chemours can set whatever price they want on their new Opteon and Solstice brands. Now, I’m not attacking these companies for having a high priced product. There is cost involved and I am sure it is quite high to create these new refrigerants. The reason I bring it up is for you the consumer or the business owner to realize just how expensive these refrigerants are. For example, a ten pound cylinder of the HFO 1234YF goes for about $700. For comparison a thirty pound cylinder of R-134a goes for about $120.

While there are MANY HFO refrigerants under development and available today I am only going to be looking at the possible 410A alternatives. With the introduction out of the way let’s dive into the various HFO refrigerants available today:

Opteon DR-55 (R-452B)

R-452B passed the flammability and toxicology review required by the ANSI/ASHRAE in March of 2016. Upon it’s approval it was given a preliminary ASHRAE number of R-452B. While this new alternative refrigerant from Chemours still has a somewhat high Global Warming Potential of 676 it is still sixty-five percent lower than it’s R-410A counterpart. It also comes with a lower flammability rating than other proposed R-410A solutions. (R-290 for example.)

Along with it being friendlier to the environment  and safe to use R-452B matches the capacity of R-410A allowing it to be compatible with currently used R-410A equipment. This allows for a quick and easy change of refrigerants on existing 410A units in the field.

While this refrigerant is still in the preliminary stages I could definitely see this becoming mainstream once it goes to market. It has right around the same GWP of R-32 but comes with a lower flammability rating. My only concern on this new refrigerant from Chemours is the cost. How much is this going to cost per cylinder when it rolls out this year or next? HFO’s are notoriously known for their high cost. Let’s hope that this new refrigerant doesn’t fall into that same category.

R-452B Sources

Opteon XL41 (R-454B)

R-454B is another new HFO refrigerant that was developed by the Chemour’s company. This refrigerant has the lowest GWP of all of the drop in R-410A replacements out there today. It comes in at a GWP of 466, that is seventy-eight percent lower than 410A. The formula on the refrigerant itself is a very close match to 410A and has been proved to be higher performing than 410A in some instances.

The downside of this new refrigerant is it’s mildly flammable status. While flammable refrigerants are perfectly safe when used in the right hands they can be extremely dangerous in the hands of a novice. Even though this refrigerant is in fact the lowest GWP alternative out there today I do not foresee it becoming a mainstream alternative to 410A simply because of it’s flammability rating. The chances of a homeowner hurting themselves is just too great.

R-454B Sources

SOLSTICE REFRIGERANTS?

I spent some time digging through Google and Honeywell’s website looking for mentions of a feasible R-410A alternative. The best that I found was a press release from 2013, four years ago, saying that they were working on a new 410A alternative. I haven’t been able to find much more news on these refrigerants. When I reviewed their website, which can be found by clicking here, I found four new Solstice HFO alternatives… but they were not for R-410A. Instead they were for R-134a, R-404A, and R-22.

I may be mistaken here and missed the boat on finding their alternatives to R-410A. If I have please let me know by sending me an e-mail and I’ll update this article. (Follow this link and scroll to the bottom to send me an e-mail.)

What’s Winning?

At this point it is hard to say but if I was to put my money down I would be betting on two refrigerants. Over the next few years we are either going to see a push for the Hydrocarbon R-32 or the new Opteon DR-55 (R-452B). As I said before I have a feeling that the cost of the new R-452B will be quite a bit higher than what we are used to today. The consideration that has to be made is the lower cost of R-32 when compared to R-452B worth the risk of extra flammability? Is it worth saving money but having that risk of flammability?

Conclusion

Even though the R-32 and the R-452B refrigerants may be the new normal when it comes to home air-conditioning it is important to realize that they will not last. They are good viable alternatives to the R-410A used today but they are not perfect. They still have a somewhat higher Global Warming Potential. R-32 is too flammable for some people’s taste. R-452B will most likely be to expensive for others. Who knows what the next alternative will be?

There’s no telling what the final answer will be at this point in time. The only certainty is that everything is fluid and the refrigerants that we are using today could change this year or next and that I’ll do my best to keep everyone informed! If you see anything that is incorrect or not factual please take the time to e-mail me by clicking here and I will correct as soon as I can.

Thanks for reading and if you enjoyed the article please take the time to subscribe to our mailing list by navigating to the top right of the page and registering your e-mail. Thanks again!

Alec Johnson

Owner.

Target R-290 Refrigeration

In 2015 the Obama Administration held a summit at the White House where various large companies in the United States were invited. The purpose of this summit was for Obama to gain pledges from each of these companies on beginning to phase out their HFC refrigerant usage. (R-134a, R-404A, and R-410A) Each of these companies agreed to a specific pledge. One of these companies was the retail chain Target. An excerpt from Target’s corporate website can be found by clicking here or reading below:

Part of our American Business Act on Climate Pledge is to drive implementation of refrigerants free of hydrofluorocarbons (HFC)—which contribute to climate change—in our food distribution centers and stand-alone refrigerated display cases. Recently, we opened two new food distribution centers that employ an HFC-free refrigerant, eliminating 900 metric tons CO2e—the equivalent of CO2 emissions from consuming 101,272 gallons of gas. We also require all new and replacement stand-alone coolers use a natural, HFC-free refrigerant (R290) to meet this commitment. We’re joined by more than 50 food retailers in the EPA’s GreenChill program to reduce refrigerant emissions and their impact to climate change.

As you can see above Target publically pledged that they would begin transitioning their refrigerated cases to R-290 beginning in January of 2016. Well, here we are now in January of 2017 and Target has shown tremendous results. Target now has propane units in five-hundred and eighty stores out of their eighteen-hundred stores. That’s thirty percent of their stores that now use propane refrigeration. Regardless of how you feel about the change it is rather remarkable for them to change that much in only a year.

In 2017 Target plans to operate some of their stores on nothing but R-290 refrigeration. Target is leading the way on Hydrocarbons in the United States.

Why R-290?

While R-290 is rare here in the United States it is actually quite popular in Asia and some European Countries. Let’s take a look at some of the reasons Target decided to make the switch over to propane:

  1. Target had a choice when they pledged to do away with their R-404A/R-134a usage. They could wait for Honeywell and Chemours to develop a new HFO refrigerant or they could use a refrigerant that is already in the market and that has already been proven to be effective. They chose R-290. There were no extra research and development costs involved. It was the easier choice.
  2. Propane is the environmentally friendly choice. In the past we had the CFCs and HCFCs such as R-22 and R-502. When leaked or vented these refrigerants actively damaged the O-Zone layer. The world made the switch to HFCs in the 90s and 2000’s. All was well with these until we figured out that HFCs are a ‘super gas’ when it comes to greenhouse gases.  This affect on the environment is measured by Global Warming Potential, or GWP. The GWP of R-404A is 3,922 times that of Carbon Dioxide. In contrast the GWP of R-290 is 3. Yes, that’s right 3. Quite the difference, huh? It’s easy to see why this is the environmentally friendly choice.
  3. R-290 is around fifty percent more efficient than the current HFCs being used today. What that translates to is lower power and energy bills for all of the Target stores that are using the new refrigerant. Referencing the article from Hydrocarbons21.com they say that if Target replaces ten cases with propane over one-hundred stores they will save an annual amount of $42,920. Now, maybe it’s the cynic in me, but $42,000 in savings over a year across one-hundred stores is VERY minimal. The thing that you have to think about is what is the cost Target is having to put forward to buy all of these new units? What is the labor to have them all installed? My guess would be hundreds of thousands of dollars across all of their stores. $42,000 doesn’t sound like much now does it? It makes me wonder how long it will take for Target to fully recover their investment on this more efficient refrigerant.

Flammability

Flammable Refrigerants
Flammable Refrigerants

I would be amiss if I didn’t mention this. I’m sure it is on everyone’s minds. R-290 is propane. As everyone knows Propane tends to explode. Just the other day I wrote an article about two technicians who were killed by a propane refrigerant explosion. (It can be read by clicking here.)  Do you know why this accident happened? It was because of recklessness. These two techs did not know what they were doing. Propane had been put into a unit that was not meant for propane. On top of that it was mixed instead of being flushed and to top it all off they were smoking while they were working on the unit. It was the perfect storm for an explosion.

I’m not trying to be insensitive here. Two men lost their lives and that is never a good thing. The point that I am trying to make here is propane is not dangerous if you know what you are doing. How many of you get nervous when you light your gas grill up and throw some burgers on? I know that I don’t. I don’t because I know what I am doing. I’m not going to pull the gas line out and light a cigarette with it. The same goes with propane refrigeration units. As long as you know what you are doing and you have done your research you’ll be fine. There’s a reason these are used all over the world.

Conclusion

Donald Trump's Affect on the Refrigerant Industry
Donald Trump’s Affect on the Refrigerant Industry

As I said before Target is leading the way on hydrocarbons here in the United States. In my eyes I don’t see this as Target being an innovator but instead Target being bullied by the Obama Administration. You make these changes, or else. (I’ve said in previous articles how I feel about these changes, but I won’t get into it here.) Target realized the risk to profits and to their business so they bit the bullet and began investing the money into the newer machines. It only made sense. If I was a business owner faced with that decision I would be on the side that made the government happy.

The irony of this is that Target started switching everything over in 2016. IF they had waited one more year all of this may have been null and void. Trump comes to power in only a few weeks and he has said multiple times that he thinks Climate Change is a Chinese hoax. Rather you believe him or not you have to look at it from a future perspective. I’m sure that when Trump gets into office the pressure for companies to switch away from HFCs and over to HFOs or Hydrocarbons will be gone.

Regardless of the politics of the issue, I still feel that Hydrocarbons will start to become more and more popular here in the United States. If you haven’t already trained on them I would suggest you take the time and do some research. It is only a matter of time before you come across a propane unit and if you’re servicing a Target location it may end up being tomorrow!

Thank you and if you enjoyed reading the article please take the time to subscribe to our mailing list which can be found on the very top right of the page. I will also be writing a future article on the pros and cons of R-290. Stay tuned.

Thanks again,

Alec Johnson

Owner.

Sources

 

Flammable Refrigerants

An explosion in a hotel in Victoria, Australia left two men dead in June of 2014. This week the cause of the explosion was agreed upon by expert investigators including an expert in chemical arson. The air conditioning unit was located in the basement of the hotel with no proper ventilation, warning signs, or anything else. The two men working on the unit, Barry Purtell, 34, and Dave Lobb, 52, were not trained on how to handle refrigerants or air conditioning units. One of them was a diesel mechanic by trade and they most likely assumed that they knew what they were doing.

Their objective was to remove the unit from the basement either to be replaced or repaired. Here is where things get a little fishy. The two men attempted to remove the compressor’s wiring. Through this process they cut into the copper tubing of the unit causing the flammable refrigerant to be released into the basement. There were no gas sensors and no ventilation. There was no indication that the two men recovered the refrigerant from the unit before trying to remove the compressor. To top it all off both men were smokers and at the scene of the explosion investigators found a cigarette lighter along with many cigarette butts. Couldn’t get much worse than that. One man died immediately in the explosion and the other died two weeks later in intensive care.

While the cause of the explosion could have been prevented it is worth noting that it wasn’t all from just that one day of them clumsily removing the compressor. In the past they refilled the unit with HyChill automotive refrigerant gas. The articles that I have read doesn’t say exactly what refrigerant they used but when I looked up the name HyChill refrigerants I found their website. After reviewing their products I clicked on the automotive application and got this page. Surprise. Surprise. The refrigerant that they used is a mixture of R-600a and R-290. So, we have a mixture of Propane and Isobutane. Sounds just a little flammable, huh? See below excerpt on the two refrigerants that I found here:


R600a and R290 are hydrocarbons. These refrigerants are flammable and are only allowed for use in appliances which fulfil the requirements laid down in the latest revision of EN/IEC 60335-2-24. (To cover potential risk originated from the use of flammable refrigerants). Consequently, R600a and R290 are only allowed to be used in household appliances designed for this refrigerant and fulfil the above-mentioned standard. R600a and R290 are heavier than air and the concentration will always be highest at the floor. R600a must only be stored and transported in approved containers and must be handled according to existing guidelines.
Do not use open fire near the refrigerants R600a and R290. The refrigeration systems must be opened with a tube cutter.


So, not only did they use a flammable mixture of R-290 and R-600a they also used a specifically designed automotive refrigerant in a stationary commercial building application. A year or so later after they had filled the unit with the HyChill mixture another technician topped the unit off with SP34E refrigerant. From what I have read on the SP34E it is not flammable and has no flash point. (Source from ACHR News.) There was now a mixture of the HyChill R-600a/R-290 mixed with SP34E in this one unit before these guys even went down there to work on the machine. I do not blame the SP34E for the explosion but instead the HyChill Hydrocarbon mixture and two men who did not know what they were dealing with.

While the loss of two lives at any time is sad it is even sadder to know that it was preventable. If they had taken the proper precautions. If they had a properly trained technician. If they hadn’t been smoking. If they hadn’t used the propane/isobutene mixture. If there were gas sensors or alarms in the room. Any one of these could have stopped the explosion and saved lives.

Conclusion

As the years go on and the world moves to more and more alternative refrigerants it is up to the technicians to know what they are dealing with and what to anticipate. The days of laymen repairing, working on, or installing their own air conditioning unit are quickly coming to an end. I have said this before and I’ll say it again in a decade or more air conditioning technicians will be an extremely specialized trade with more and more schooling required to learn how to engage and interact with all of the various machines and refrigerants out there.

While this took place in Australia with a hydrocarbon refrigerant it is worth noting that as the HFCs begin to be phased out we will begin seeing more and more hydrocarbon refrigerants enter the United State’s market. There may come a time in the near future where you come across an R-290 unit. If you do, word of advice… don’t smoke while you’re working on it.

I’ll close this article with saying that if you do not know the details of the refrigerant you will be working on then stop! Stop until you are familiar with it. The days of guessing your way through it and potentially venting refrigerant into the air around you are over. Hire a technician who knows what they’re doing. Yes, it will cost more money but what is more important? Money, or safety?

Thanks for reading,

Alec Johnson
Owner.

Sources

Singapore company fined $150,000 for Hydrocarbon

A company out of Singapore was fined $150,000 as a direct result of a hydrocarbon refrigerant explosion that killed one worker and injured two others. The event happened back in 2012 at a factory where three workers were tasked with converting a unit away from the Hydrocarbon refrigerant and over to a safer, less flammable, refrigerant.

Typically when evacuating refrigerant a recovery cylinder is used to prevent the refrigerant from escaping into the air as well as allowing reuse or recycling of the old refrigerant. I’m not sure why, but the workers in this case did not use a recovery cylinder but instead vented the entire refrigerant into the confined utility room that they were in. The only place for the refrigerant to escape too was a small open window. They even had the door to the utility room closed.

Hydrocarbon refrigerant gas is denser than air and thusly will settle on the ground floor of a room. In this case the only way for the refrigerant to escape was the open window that sat higher than ground floor. At one point during the job one of the workers, Abadul Jaynal Sikder, switched on a shop vacuum to do a clean up of the site before they wrapped things up.

The switching on of the vacuum cleaner caused a spark, like it always does. The spark ignited the refrigerant that was pooled on the ground and caused a flash of fire to fill the room. His two colleagues escaped through the open window while Abadul Sikder left through the main door. All three technicians suffered severe burns and four days after the incident Mr. Sikder passed away.

Their company was fined for inadequate training of their technicians as well as not providing their techs with the safety data sheet of the particular hydrocarbon refrigerant that they were working with. Hydrocarbons are in the process of being phased out across Singapore and by the end of 2016 it is predicted that most units will be using alternative refrigerants such ash HFCs or HFOs.

Their seems to be a constant battle waging between the usage of HFCs, HFOs, and natural refrigerants. At this point it is anyone’s guess as to who will come out on top.

Thanks for reading,

Alec Johnson

Owner.

Sources:

Earlier this month Northcutt, a company specializing in refrigerated trailers, was fined $100,000 by the Environmental Protection Agency. It was found that Northcutt was promoting and actively selling alternative refrigerants to the standard R-404A used in refrigerated cargo. While there is nothing wrong with alternative refrigerants it should be noted that by law the Environmental Protection Agency has to approve any and all alternative refrigerants for us before they can be distributed and sold in the country.

Northcutt was selling unapproved hydrocarbon refrigerants to it’s customers. Hydrocarbon refrigerants are notoriously more flammable than their HydroFluroCarbons counterparts. (Hydrocarbons can contain propane or isobutene.) According to the EPA these hydrocarbon refrigerants have the risk of creating a potential fire or explosion and as such provide a serious risk to human health and the environment.

Under the agreement with the EPA Northcutt will pay the $100,00 fine but will not admit that they broke the law by selling the alternative hydrocarbon refrigerants. Northcutt’s owner, Bill Johnston, stated that, “Northcutt believes that its domestic refrigerant products are not subject to the EPA’s SNAP regulations.” The EPA states that Northcutt’s alternative refrigerants ARE subject to SNAP regulations.

Customers who bought a unit with the alternative refrigerant will be receiving a letter from Northcutt stating the EPA’s decision and Northcutt’s decision on the alternative refrigerants. If you are interested in reading the legal document it can be found on the Justice Department’s website or by clicking here.

I’ve seen a few fines over the past year or so and each time the company involved has to pay at or over $100,000 to the Federal Government all because they used an unapproved refrigerant. Do yourself and your company a favor and check with the EPA beforehand if you are considering using an alternative refrigerant in your industry. It is not worth the risk to just wing it and see what happens.

The best part of this whole article? As of today, January 21st, 2016, Northcutt is still actively selling their alternative refrigerants on their website. The list includes alternatives to R-12, R-22, and -502A. Their alternatives are HC-12a, HC-22a, and HC-502a. You can visit their alternative webpage by clicking here. I’m genuinely curious to see what happens here in the next few months. Will these refrigerants still be up for sale, or will the EPA win and they will be taken down?

Thanks for reading,

Alec Johnson

Sources:

Montreal Protocol 2015 Meeting in Dubai

In just a month from now one-hundred and ninety-seven countries will meet in Dubai for the twenty-seventh meeting of the Montreal Protocol Treaty. The meeting is to start on November 1st and is expected to last most of the week.

Unlike in the past where these meetings were held to discuss the damaging of the O-Zone layer and the coordinated phase outs of ChloroFluroCarbons and HydroChloroFluroCarbons this meeting will be focused not on the O-Zone but instead on the Greenhouse gases and Global Warming caused by HydroFluroCarbons. Over the course of 2015 there have been four different amendments submitted to the Montreal Protocol to globally phase-out HFC refrigerants such as R-134a, R-404A, and R-410A. These amendments are as follows:

  • Mexico, Canada, and the United States submitted one earlier this year.
  • The European Union formally submitted one this year as well. It’s important to remember that this is most of Europe.
  • ‘Micronesia,’ nations submitted an amendment as well. These countries include Kiribati, Palau, Philippines, Maldives, Marshall Islands, Mauritius, Samoa and Solomon Islands
  • The big change this year is that of India, one of the biggest protestors of the HFC phase-out, submitted an amendment at the beginning of this summer. On top of India, China has also declared support for the HFC phase out. I wrote an article on the Indian amendment earlier this year and it can be found by clicking here.

Will the Phase Out Amendment Pass?

Western nations have been pushing for this phase out for the past few years and with each month that passes the resistance dissolves little by little. There were two big steps towards progress that happened earlier this year. The first being that India is now on board and had even submitted an amendment. The second being that China has agreed to phase out their HFCs as well. With these two behemoths out of the way it only leaves a few smaller countries resisting to the phase out.

These countries are as follows:

  • Saudi Arabia
  • Kuwait
  • Pakistan
  • Miscellaneous smaller middle eastern countries.

There were informal talks earlier this year in Paris. The hope was to hammer out the details and get any opposition out of the way then so when the time came for the November meeting there would not be any resistance. The middle eastern countries, including Saudi Arabia, I believe will bow to pressure at next month’s meeting. Saudi Arabia was already receiving significant pressure from the ‘United African Group,’ about their opposition. It is only a matter of time before they join everyone else. Once Saudi falls the other smaller middle eastern countries will follow suit.

The country to look out for is Pakistan. During the July talks in Paris Pakistan outright blocked any further talks on an HFC amendment to the protocol. The reason they gave was that alternative refrigerants such as HFOs or natural refrigerants would not work as efficiently in their hotter environment. It seemed like a superficial complaint as many other countries with just as hot climates are on board with the phase out. The real question is will Pakistan continue it’s resistance during the November meetings, or will they bow to pressure and let he amendments pass?

Staggered Approach

When the amendment passes, and it most likely will, it is important to keep in mind that the usage and production of HFC refrigerants will not instantly be shut off like a light switch going from on to off. The same staggered approach that was used for phasing out HCFCs will be used here as well. In fact the United State’s Environmental Protection Agency has already begun the phase-out of HFC refrigerants already. Early this summer the EPA announced that they would begin the phase out of R-134a in automotive applications and R-404A in vending machine and transported carrier applications. I wrote an article about this here.

So, when the amendment passes know that it’s not the end of the world. Your government will adopt a staggered approach that will most likely be mapped out in this same November meeting.

Summary

As of today there is nothing to panic or be alarmed about. The end of HFCS is coming and the amendment will most likely pass next month but I do not predict any large price increases coming, at least not for quite a while. If I was a betting man I would bet that the R-404A will be the first price to significantly rise over the next few years. (It is scheduled to be phased out in 2017.) If you fast forward a few more years R-134a will start to climb as we approach the 2021 deadline. All in all, keep an eye out and your ear to the ground and you’ll be fine.

Thanks for reading and if you enjoyed the article please take the time to subscribe to our newsletter or like us on Facebook.

Alec Johnson

Owner.

Sources

 

The reign of 134a is coming to an end.

The End of R-134a

Well ladies and gentlemen the reign of R-134a has finally come to an end here in the United States. Last week RIGHT before the July fourth holiday the Environmental Protection Agency thought it was the perfect time to announce that they will be phasing out R-134a across the country.The official announcement can be found by clicking here. I also wrote an article summarizing the announcement as well, which can be found by clicking here.

The timing of this drives me crazy and just screams big government. I got an e-mail on my phone while I was driving home Thursday night with the news. It caught me off guard, not because I wasn’t expecting 134a to go away but because it was literally right before the holiday weekend and mandatory phase outs of HFC refrigerants was the furthest thing from my mind. I had a barbecue to plan and fireworks to watch, and I can just picture the guys in the EPA office hitting the ‘send’ button and walking out of the office for four days off.

Ok, enough of that little rant, let’s get down to business.

When Will R-134a Be Phased Out?

According to the EPA’s announcement the chosen date for mandatory R-134a phase out is the year 2020. The goal is for all vehicles with the model year of 2021 to use an alternative refrigerant in place of 134a. They did make an exception for vehicles that are specifically manufactured for export out of the country. Vehicle exports have a cut off of 2024 or 2025 model year. So, we are looking at less than five years until 134a is phased out nationally. Five years seems like a long time but it will come in a flash and I can only hope that the vehicle manufacturers are ready for the new systems.

An excerpt from their actual ruling is below:

“EPA is listing HFC-134a as unacceptable for newly manufactured light-duty motor vehicles beginning in Model Year (MY) 2021 except as allowed under a narrowed use limit for use in newly manufactured light-duty vehicles destined for use in countries that do not have infrastructure in place for servicing with other acceptable refrigerants. This narrowed use limit will be in place through MY 2025. Beginning in MY 2026, HFC-134a will be unacceptable for use in all newly manufactured light-duty vehicles.” -Source

The Reign of R-134a

The reign of 134a is coming to an end.
The reign of 134a is coming to an end.

R-134a came about as a replacement refrigerant for the R-12 Refrigerant that was being phased out due to the Chlorine that it contained. R-12 was the standard refrigerant for vehicles for many years but as air conditioning became more and more popular the amount of R-12 Refrigerant that was released into the atmosphere grew and grew. It was found that the Chlorine contained in R-12 was actively damaging the Earth’s O-Zone layer which was leading to increased ultra violet radiation and overall warming of the planet.

R-134a was picked as a replacement due to it not containing Chlorine and thus not affecting the O-Zone layer. R-134a first began to see widespread usage in 1992 and took over the automotive market entirely in 1994. If you have a vehicle from 1994 or newer your air conditioning unit takes R-134a. It has been the standard automotive refrigerant for over twenty years.

While the intention was great R-134a was found to have an extremely high Global Warming Potential, or GWP.  GWP is a measurement of how much heat a greenhouse gas will trap in the atmosphere. The GWP scale uses Carbon Dioxide as a baseline control number. CO2 has a GWP of 1 while R-134a has a GWP of 1,320. 134a was directly contributing to Global Warming and the call to phase out had begun.

The European Union was the first group of nations to begin phase out of R-134a. All new vehicles manufactured in 2011 or newer could no longer be made to use R-134a. Manufacturers had to find an alternative refrigerant that was under the Global Warming Potential requirement of 150. It was all but predicted that the United States would be next to phase out 134a but it was just a matter of when.  We now have that date, 2020.

134a reigned supreme for twenty-one years already and will continue to be used widely through out the country for another five years. Almost a thirty year reign. Not bad if I say so myself.

What is the Replacement?

1234YF

There is one mainstream refrigerant that will be replacing 134a and that is the new 1234YF. 1234YF is a Hydroflurooolefin refrigerant and has a Global Warming Potential of four and it does not damage the O-Zone layer. Oh, and did I mention that 1234YF decomposes into the atmosphere after only eleven days?

1234YF was developed by a joint venture of DuPont and Honeywell in response to the European Union’s phase out plan of 134a back in 2006. At this point in time there are two main brand names, the Honeywell version called Solstice and DuPont’s/Chemour’s version called Opteon YF. In 2014 three million cars were taking 1234YF and at the end of 2015 that number is expected to double. As the phase-out of 134a approaches expect to see more and more manufacturers switching over to 1234YF in the United States and abroad.

Pros of 1234YF:

  • 1234YF  runs at similar pressures and is practically a drop in replacement for 134a. This will help keep costs down when switching over a system.
  • 1234YF does not contribute to Global Warming.
  • 1234YF does not harm the O-Zone layer and actually decomposes into the atmosphere after only eleven days.
  • 1234YF allows for lighter and more compact air conditioning units which benefits your vehicle’s fuel economy.
  • You will not need to be EPA certified to purchase 1234YF.

Cons of 1234YF:

  • Price. I hope you are not used to the one-hundred dollar price for a thirty pound jug of 134a. That’ll be going away fast. Expect to pay around $700-$800 for a ten pound cylinder of 1234YF in 2015. The good news is 1234YF systems do not use as much refrigerant as the older 134a systems.
  • Flammability – Most OE’s will state that yes, 1234YF does have higher flammability… but it is of no risk to the consumer or technicians. However, if you have that same conversation with someone in Germany you may get an entirely different story. Hint, check with Daimler!
  • New Equipment will have to be purchased in order for you shop to handle 1234YF refrigerant. Yes, that means a whole new recovery machine, potentially even new identification equipment as well.

Even though 1234YF is set to be the dominant player in the automotive industry there is still another alternative that is slowly picking up some traction.

CO2

The other alternative refrigerant is the Natural Refrigerant Carbon Dioxide. Most companies have stayed away from using Carbon Dioxide as CO2 systems would require a much larger and heavier air conditioning system than what is used in automobiles today and there is not currently a supply line setup for mass manufacturing of carbon dioxide refrigerant parts.

Despite those two drawbacks of CO2 there are automobile manufacturers who are moving forward with CO2 instead of 1234YF. In the early days of 1234YF the German company Mercedes Benz did numerous tests on the new refrigerant and found that the refrigerant is extremely flammable and can even cause the refrigerant to ignite during a frontal collision. One such test caused the engine to erupt in flames. Mercedes Benz and other Germany manufacturers were alarmed by this discovery and vowed that they would not be using 1234YF as standard replacement refrigerant.  Stefan Geyer, a senior Daimler engineer who ran the tests, stated “We were frozen in shock, I am not going to deny it. We needed a day to comprehend what we had just seen.” This is just one Daimler Engineer’s reaction to their testing of 1234YF.

Germany authorized it’s automobile manufacturers to continue using 134a until a suitable replacement refrigerant is chosen. The European Union was obviously not happy with this as Germany was now in violation of the new law banning 134a.  The EU threatened Germany with law suits and sanctions, but so far nothing has come of it. After years of research German companies decided on the R-744 or Carbon Dioxide refrigerant instead of the 1234YF.

 Pros of Carbon Dioxide:

  • Carbon Dioxide has a Global Warming Potential of 0. It’s rival, 1234YF, has a GWP of 4. Not a huge difference here, but 1234YF is still contributing to Global Warming.
  • Carbon Dioxide does not contribute to Global Warming, O-Zone depletion, or any other environmental concern. It is a natural refrigerant.
  • Carbon Dioxide systems are some of the most energy efficient products on the market today.
  • Many collisions tests have been done with CO2 systems and none have resulted in a fire hazard. (Unlike 1234YF)
  • You are not forced to recover, recycle, or even reclaim R-744/CO2 refrigerant as it has no ill effects on the environment.

Cons of Carbon Dioxide:

  • Carbon Dioxide systems are much bulkier and heavier than their 1234YF and 134a counter parts. This extra weight can create a drag in fuel economy.
  • Carbon Dioxide works at an extremely high pressure. This high pressure means that automotive air conditioning systems will have to be completely redesigned in order for them to use R-744. This is a big detriment as 1234YF is being marketed as a drop in replacement for 134a.
  • Again, due to the high pressure that CO2 operates new components are having to be specifically designed in order for them to work properly with CO2 and to last. When CO2 was used in the early twentieth century it resulted in many part failures due to the constant high operating pressure.

I predict in the next ten to fifteen years that Carbon Dioxide will be the main refrigerant for automobiles. 1234YF seems to be temporary, just as 134a was. We’ll most likely go through this whole change over throughout the next few years only to change everything over again to the ‘new’ Carbon Dioxide refrigerant.

What Will Happen to Pricing on R-134a?

The pricing on R-134a is anything but certain. It is difficult to say what will happen to the price over the next few months and even the next few years. Let’s look at the facts:

  • R-134a will be phased out in five years across the country.
  • On top of the phase out of 134a the ‘American Hydrocarbon Commission,’ just filed an anti-dumping suit with the United States Department of Commerce against Chinese refrigerants.

With these two things in mind I expect the price of R-134a to slowly creep up over the rest of this summer and winter. I do not foresee a sudden jump but more of a slow rise. In the spring of 2016 I predict R-134a will be at around $115.00 for a thirty pound cylinder. (It’s at about $75-$80 a cylinder today.) As more time passes the more this price will rise until we get to 2020 and then we may even see the price get to R-22 levels of around $300-$350 a cylinder.

Sources

Conclusion

R-134a had a good run and most people saw the end coming, we just didn’t think it would be this soon. The only thing we can do now is watch and wait. Vehicle manufacturers will begin the slow process of switching newer models over to 1234YF and as the years pass you will see more and more vehicles coming in with 1234YF systems. It’s  a brave new world… until we decide to phase out 1234YF. Then who knows.

Thanks for reading,

Alec Johnson

Owner.

Beware of the R-22a Alternative Refrigerant

As everyone knows R-22 was phased out in 2010, production was scaled back in 2015, and it will be completely phased out in 2020. With these phase outs occurring over the past five years the price of R-22 Refrigerant has sky rocketed to right at about three hundred dollars for a thirty pound cylinder. With that high of a price point there is bound to be opportunity for profit. Well, a few refrigerant manufacturing/distributing companies started marketing an alternative to R-22 called R-22a.

Now, it’s called R-22a, but what it really is R-290… or propane. You know, the stuff you use on your grill to light the FIRE for your burgers. Now propane as a refrigerant isn’t a new idea, in fact it’s being used in various applications outside of the United States. The Problem being these old units that take R-22 are not being retro-fitted to take R-290. The companies pushing this product are advertizing it as a direct replacement for R-22. No retrofitting needed. So, you can begin to see a problem here. The machine is not meant to take propane but yet we’re just dumping it in and hoping for the best.

The appeal of R-22a is the price. I did a quick Google search and found some R22a being sold on E-bay for $119.00 a jug. Now that’s quite the difference compared to the $295-$330 a jug you would pay for a cylinder of R22. E-Bay shows you how many have been recently sold and I can see by glancing at it that there were fifty five units sold in recent weeks. This is disheartening as the consumer is not only purchasing the wrong refrigerant but they are also putting themselves in harms way. In case you were wondering, propane has a high flammability rate. Especially if it is being used in an improper application. It’s a recipe for disaster, especially for a laymen.

The Environmental Protection Agency

Last year the EPA put out a press release stating this very danger of using R-22a. (The release can be found here.) The press release pretty much says what I said above. The EPA has NOT approved the R22a to be used in R-22 built machines. If the EPA has not approved the alternative refrigerant through their SNAP program then a company who sells that product is in violation of the Federal Clean Air Act. (Trust me, you don’t want to do that!)

The EPA has been going after violators that are selling R-22a over the past couple years. I did a little digging and found a few examples of formal notifications sent to two different companies:

One other thing to complicate matters even more is that earlier this year the EPA’s SNAP program approved new alternative refrigerants for use. One of those alternative refrigerants was none other than R-290. (Propane) So, now it CAN be used legally, but with the below catch:

“This refrigerant may be used only in new equipment specifically designed and clearly identified for the refrigerant–i.e., none of these substitutes may be used as a conversion or “retrofit” refrigerant for existing equipment” (Source)
Confused yet? To put it simply, R-290 or R-22a can be sold and used on NEW units, but if a company is caught actively selling/targeting the old R-22 units they would be in violation of the Clean Air Act and will have the wrath of the federal goverment coming down on them. Just ask Enviro-Safe refrigerants if you don’t believe me!

Conclusion

I’m sure that most trained technicians and companies are not falling for the R-22a trap and jumping at the lower cost and potential savings. This article is mainly targeted towards the do it yourselfers who are looking to purchase refrigerant for a small job. Putting in R-22a in your R-22 unit can be costly. Not only with potential total loss of your unit but it could also cause property damage due to an unintended explosion or it could even cause bodily harm/death. Doesn’t seem like it’ worth saving a couple hundred bucks.

I’m not a fan of big government. Never have been. But, I believe that the EPA is in the right here. I find it ridiculous that I can go on E-Bay right now and buy myself a cylinder of R-22a and have it at my doorstep in a couple days. You think the EPA would be watching for this online and be contacting E-Bay or the seller with a cease and desist.  Maybe they are, and they are just building their case. Who knows.

In the mean time keep your eye out and if you see R-22a being marketed stay far away. It’s not worth the safety risk or the EPA risk.

Thanks for reading,

Alec Johnson

Owner.