Well folks it has been a hell of a few weeks in the refrigerant industry. The past few months have been rather quiet and then we get all of this news all at once. It always amazes me how fast this stuff can happen.
Just a few days ago the Environmental Protection Agency announced that they would be removing their rule that went in place back in September of 2016. (The official EPA Fact Sheet on this rule can be found by clicking here.) This rule applied Section 608 CFC/HCFC leak controls and regulations to appliances using HFC refrigerants that contained over fifty pounds of refrigerant. Basically, it passed on the same regulations that we had on CFC/HCFC refrigerants over to HFCs.
The EPA’s reason for overturning these regulations is that the EPA exceeded its own authority by issuing these laws back in 2016. Their reasoning is that these laws and regulations were all meant for CFC and HCFC refrigerants. They centered on the Ozone and the Chlorine in the refrigerants. HFCs do not contain Chlorine and thusly do not damage the Ozone layer. Instead, they are Greenhouse Gases and contribute to Global Warming. Both are bad for the Climate, but both are distinct separate issues. I do tend to agree with this as the law was bent to accommodate HFCs. Along with that the EPA also announced that they plan to save over forty-million dollars in regulation expenses enforcing these laws.
Before the law goes into effect it will be published in the Federal Register and then there will be a forty-five day comment period. The EPA will also be hosting a public forum fifteen days before the rule goes into effect. This will be held at Washington, DC and you can register by visiting the EPA’s site. Now, instead of rehashing what the EPA wrote I am going to take an excerpt from their site that way there is no confusion.
“If finalized as proposed, this action would rescind the leak repair and maintenance requirements at 40 CFR 82.157 for substitute refrigerants. Therefore, appliances with 50 or more pounds of substitute refrigerants would not be subject to the following requirements:
conduct leak rate calculations when refrigerant is added to an appliance,
repair an appliance that leaks above a threshold leak rate,
conduct verification tests on repairs,
conduct periodic leak inspections on appliances that exceed the threshold leak rate,
report to EPA on chronically leaking appliances,
retrofit or retire appliances that are not repaired, and
But wait, there’s more! The EPA’s above proposal to remove the requirements on HFC appliances also comes with the option for public comment on removing additional leak requirements on different applications. Again, this is from the EPA website:
“EPA is also requesting comment on rescinding other provisions that were extended to substitute refrigerants, including the following:
anyone purchasing refrigerant for use in an appliance or handling refrigerants (e.g., air-conditioning and refrigeration service contractors and technicians) must be a Section 608-certified technician,
anyone removing refrigerant from a refrigeration or air-conditioning appliance must evacuate refrigerant to certain level using certified refrigerant recovery equipment before servicing or disposing of the appliance,
the final disposer (e.g., scrap recycler, landfill) of small appliances, like refrigerators and window air conditioners, must ensure and document that refrigerant is recovered before final disposal, and
all used refrigerant must be reclaimed to industry purity standards before it can be sold to another appliance owner.”
Did you get all that? There were some big ones in there. One in particular that I noticed was the removing of 608 certification in order to purchase HFC refrigerants. This law has only been effect since January of this year. That would be a BIG deal if that was removed as we then open the flood gates for all of the laymen and novices to purchase refrigerant again. This could also create a rise in pricing if enough people who are unregistered purchase.
Along with that we get that appliances don’t have to have their refrigerant evacuated before being brought to the dump. That’s not the scariest one though, what scares me is that last point. If it gets rescinded we are then removing the purity standards from reclaimed refrigerants. There are already so many people who are against purchasing or using reclaimed refrigerants and removing this provision is going to seriously hurt the reclamation industry’s reputation.
These are very confusing times. We have the various States in the Climate Alliances proposing and enacting their own HFC refrigerant laws and regulations and then we have the Federal Government and the Environmental Protection Agency removing previous laws.
As time goes on we’re going to have additional States join the phasedown and I have a feeling this new announcement from the EPA is only going to fuel the desire for the States to take matters into their own hands.
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?
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.
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!)
The phase down and phase out of HFC refrigerants across the European Union was done to help the environment. These commonly used HFC refrigerants have an extremely high Global Warming Potential (GWP) and are now being replaced with lower GWP alternatives such as HFO’s like 1234yf and by natural refrigerants such as R-744. In order to ensure countries and companies complied with the phase down strict regulations and rules were set in place. Production was capped. Imports were capped. Companies and contractors were incentivized to use more climate friendly refrigerants.
While all of this had the positive effects of reducing Global Warming it came with unintended consequences. All of these new regulations and production limits caused the supply of HFC refrigerant to dwindle across the European Union. And just like anything else in the world, when the supply shrinks and the demand is still there then the price rises. That is exactly what happened in Europe. Last year certain refrigerants saw multiple hundred percent increases in price. The most prominent example is R-404A. Imagine paying five-hundred percent more for R-404A. What would you do? How would your customers react?
Some people saw these high prices and shortages of HFCs as just a growing pain. After all, this was only temporary. The new refrigerants would began to take over and dominate the market in a few years time. They just had to get through this transition and then they would be fine. Others however, saw a different approach. They saw profit. They saw dollar signs dancing in front of them as the prices of these HFC refrigerants kept rising and rising.
Over the past few years there has been an explosion of refrigerant crime across the European Countries. From what I have read there are three main types of crime being perpetrated on refrigerants.
It was reported this week that thieves targeted a German refrigerant manufacturer of R-134a. This wasn’t a small operation stealing a few cylinders here and there. No, these guys stole one-thousand cylinders of R-134a worth an estimated value of nearly seven-hundred thousand dollars. This was a well organized operation that had the time and effort to arrange the stealing, loading, and shipping of one-thousand cylinders of refrigerant. Let’s think about that for a moment. Most refrigerant cylinders come forty to a pallet. So, that is twenty-five pallets of refrigerant stolen. Typically, you can fit twenty pallets on to a truck. These guys were so greedy that they somehow crammed an additional five pallets in there.
This isn’t the only report of R-134a being stolen either folks. In July other refrigerant manufacturers were hit across Germany. In one example over eight-hundred cylinders were stolen. In other cases there have been multiple cylinders stolen. Five cylinders here, sixteen here, ten there. A lot of the refrigerant manufacturers in Germany are hit over and over again. Refrigerant is now seen as a commodity in Europe. The reason for all this is what we mentioned above, price. The price on R-134a has increased over eight times what it was in Europe last year. Again, let’s do some math. Let’s call R-134a price today at ninety dollars a cylinder. Now, times that number by eight. Seven-hundred and twenty dollars a cylinder. That is just unbelievable.
These huge price increases are directly due to the MAC Directive that organized the phase down of R-134a and replaced it with 1234yf or R-744. The bad news is that there are still so many cars on the road today that take R-134a and they aren’t going away anytime soon. The need for R-134a will be with us for at least another ten years. If the price continues to remain high then we are going to continue seeing these robberies occur. The good news is that here in America we haven’t had such a significant shortage and at this time R-134a does not have a set phase out date. While there are cars today taking 1234yf it is not a mandatory switch at this point. We still have time, and to be honest, I don’t see it getting to this level over here.
Now, most of the time, when people commit crimes they don’t think it through all the way. It’s the same way with these refrigerant thieves. While many of them try to unload their cheap product onto an unwitting buyer, others take a different route. They opt for putting their stolen merchandise online for all of the world to see. Yes, that’s right. A lot of these guys put their products on sites like E-Bay and Craigslist.
There was an example the other day in Italy where an auto parts retailer was raided by the Italian Police due to them selling R-134a without the proper documentation and certification. He was just selling the cylinders on E-bay for a quick buck. Who knows if the product was stolen or not. Regardless, he broke the law by not obtaining the proper documentation when selling to his customers. Europe is not kidding around with these kind of sales.
This isn’t just isolated to out friends across the sea. The same problem exists here in America. You can go to Ebay.com today and search for R-22 cylinders. You’ll find tons of matches and I’m willing to bet that not all of them are going to ask you for your 608 certification number. Again, highly illegal. I will say that after looking into a few of the top sellers of R-22 on Ebay there is a mention of providing a your 608 EPA cert number, or also giving you the option to fill out an intent to resale form. Doing it this way is perfectly legal, but as I said I KNOW there are some out there selling R-22, or even R-134a/R-410A without asking for a EPA license. You might have to dig a bit more, but they will be there. Heck, they may even have the cheapest price.
While E-bay is a big problem it is not the worst offender. No, that prize goes to Craigslist. Craigslist may not have the volume that Ebay has but it comes with a whole host of other problems. With Ebay you provide the money to the seller through the Ebay platform. There is a paper trail. You can trace back who you bought from and they can trace back who they sold to. If someone gets audited there is at least that trail that can be relied upon. Craigslist has none of that. Most of the Craigslist sales are done in person and in cash. There is very little to trace back, if anything. Most of the time it’s just a simple swap in a parking lot and then it’s over. I’m willing to bet that sellers aren’t stopping the sale if the buyer doesn’t have the proper certification.
While we haven’t had much of a problem of illegal online sales here in America I fear that it has increased this year. This is mainly in part due to the new EPA refrigerant purchase restrictions on popular HFC refrigerants such as R-134a, R-404A, and R-410A. People who were able to purchase cylinders of HFC refrigerants less then twelve months ago now find that they have to be certified. I can still find numerous sellers on Amazon.com selling HFCs without licensing required. In one example of 410A I see no mention anywhere of providing a 608 license certification number. This is now illegal. While many people may not know this, ignorance will not save you.
The smuggling of refrigerant is perhaps the most lucrative and the most dangerous of refrigerant crimes to partake in. The concept of smuggling refrigerant has been around at least a decade now. It may have been around earlier but I first heard about it when the world began to phase out R-22. Each country had it’s different phase out dates but across all of them one common thread was the implementation of import and production quotas. Once a quota was met no new R-22 could be imported/manufactured in that country. These quotas kept the price high and opened the market for smugglers. I can go through numerous examples of this happening around the globe and even right here in the United States. Let’s look at just a couple of them:
In 2015 Russia found twenty tons of R-22 refrigerant being illegally imported. It was disguised as R-134a cylinders. They had originated from China. – Source
In 2013 A California resident was caught importing R-22 cylinders illegally by having them disguised as R-134a cylinders. He was travelling back and forth between America and China arranging shipments. He is now facing up to ten years in prison for his smuggling operation. – Source
In 2013 Tonga caught thirty cylinders R-22 being illegal imported into their country. Again, they were disguised as R-134a. Now, five years later, the cylinders still sit at the customs office of this island nation. – Source
These are not even close to all of the cases. It happens all over the world: Europe, Middle East, Russia, America, everywhere. In most of these smuggling cases we find that the disguised refrigerant is originating from one country, China. Most of the time they used R-134a as their go to disguise. It has gotten to the point now that customs agents are now using refrigerant identifiers and testing random shipments to ensure no excess R-22 is being imported under their noses. (This is how they caught the Tonga shipment.)
As the world begins to move away from HFC refrigerants we are now beginning to see the smugglers moving away from R-22 and towards R-134a. I had mentioned earlier that R-134a’s price had gone up nearly eight times in Europe. This led to thefts of various manufacturers. Well, it has also led to increased smuggling from China. In some cases the product is marketed as R-134a but it is being shipped in disposable cylinders instead of the required reusable ones that we are all familiar with. Anything to save a bit of money and increase that margin.
The European Union is on the lookout for these smugglers and we here in America should be as well. In 2018 I would say that the prospects of smuggling into the Untied States have gone way down mainly due to the overturning of the EPA’s proposed HFC phase down and also due to the falling price of R-22. Since R-22 is hovering in the three-hundred dollar range a cylinder this year it may just not make sense to go through the risk of smuggling today. If prices begin to creep back up though, be on the look out. If you do see a price on refrigerants that seems to good to be true then be wary as you may be purchasing stolen or illegally imported product.
This was an interesting article to write as I never thought I would see organized crime on refrigerants. But, if there is a high enough profit opportunity then there are always going to be those bad apples that take the chance and break the law. While we are not having the extent of problems that Europe is having with illegal refrigerants it very well may come our way in the future as we move closer towards phasing out HFC refrigerants.
The future is looking very bright for those pursuing a career in the HVAC/R field as technicians, installers and electromagnetic engineers. TheBureau of Labor Statistics, estimates industry growth of 15 percent through 2026. By all accounts, it appears jobs will be there for well-trained graduates of HVAC/R training programs.
However, the numbers are not all so rosy when it comes to gender diversity in the mechanical trades workforce. In fact, women only make up an estimated1.2 percent of the industry workforce and only around seven percent of HVAC installation and repair companies are owned by women.
By comparison, women are spending around the same amount or more on schooling for careers with a lower starting salary. For example, 93 percent of dental assistants are women and earn at least $10,000 less per year than HVAC technicians.
Attracting Women to a Fulfilling Career in HVAC/R
There’s simply no excuse for the industry to be around 98 percent dominated by men. That’s why more trade schools and industry professionals are working to bring more women into the field. Increasing gender diversity in the field is a key goal for schools likeRSI, The Refrigeration School in Phoenix, Arizona.
The Refrigeration School, and others like it throughout the country, are offering scholarships for women interested in the skilled trades and launching promotions campaigns to make more women aware of opportunities in the skilled trades.
Making the Case for Women in HVAC
Career stability and higher earning potential than women-dominated industries are only the beginning. Women pursuing a career in HVAC can expect a faster-track to the job market and more affordable schooling.
Hands-on and career focused: Educational programs provide hands-on, career focused training unlike traditional four-year institutions. Earning a diploma or certificate to become an HVAC/R technician typically takes between six months to one year to complete.
Growing job market: The need for technicians is growing across the country. The rate of growth is classified by the BLS as “much faster than average.” This means HVAC technicians can expect plenty of job openings, especially in the Southwest and warmer climates.
Affordable education: As noted in the resource below, four years at a public university costs about $112,000. A comparable education at a private college can run as much as $236,000! Trade school, on the other hand can be completed for around $16,600.
The Next generation of Leadership in HVAC/R
Entering a male-dominate field can have its challenges, but many women are finding success and enjoyment in the field. It’s time for more women to break into this rewarding field. From entry-level HVAC technicians to the corporate level, there is a huge need for female leadership.
There’s lots of potential and opportunity for women looking to enter the heating, ventilating, air conditioning and refrigeration field. They will play a crucial role in building the industry, bringing new ideas and increasing gender diversity in an overwhelmingly male-dominate profession. Check out the infographic below as well provided to us by the RSI, The Refrigeration School.
There is a very common misconception out there when it comes it air conditioners. I don’t care if it is an air conditioner at your home, your car, or even your office. A lot of people think that air conditioners need to be routinely recharged with refrigerant. I believe they see it almost like oil on a vehicle or tractor. Sure, on my tractor I have to check the oil a few times a month to make sure I’m not running low. Refrigerant in an air conditioning system is different.
Before your purchase any refrigerant either for yourself or from a contractor you need to realize that the refrigerant in your air conditioning unit is in a closed system. What that means is that the refrigerant is an endless cycle from gas to liquid from liquid to gas. This cycle repeats forever as shown in the below picture. It is a cycle. That means that there should be no leaks or draining of refrigerant.
If you find that your unit is low on refrigerant or is completely out do NOT just refill your machine with a new refrigerant. I repeat do NOT do this. Your system does not need a top off. It does not need just a little bit more refrigerant to get by. No. If you are running out of refrigerant that means that somewhere in the refrigerant cycle there is a leak. Your unit is leaking refrigerant and will continue to leak refrigerant until a repair is made. If you dump more refrigerant into it without fixing the leak you are literally throwing money down the drain. Potentially a lot of money too if yours is an R-22 unit.
I like to think of it as a above ground pool. If you get a puncture in the pool lining water will leak out. Sure you can always add more water but it’s not fixing the problem. Adding more refrigerant doesn’t fix the problem either. It’s just prolonging the inevitable and wasting money.
Ok, folks so now that we got that part out of the way let’s take a moment and look at the two main applications where you will run into an air conditioner needing to be recharged. The first, and most common, is an automotive application. Right now, as I write this article, it is May and the temperatures here in Kansas City have been hovering around ninety degrees. If you car air conditioner is on the fritz then you’re not going to be having a good time. There are two solutions here to fix your car’s system. You can take it into the shop or dealership and have a repair done, but this may end up being very costly. The other option is to purchase an automotive air conditioner recharge kit.
Now, I know that I mentioned above that just putting in more refrigerant isn’t the best solution but when you are dealing with a car and a hot season a lot of people opt for these recharge kits. The reason that is is because they are cheap, especially when compared to a mechanic’s bill. The hope here is that the leak in your ac system is small enough that a simple recharge will get your vehicle through the hottest months without having to do a costly repair. However, if the leak is large and you are losing refrigerant like crazy then these recharge kits won’t do you much good. I will say that they are a great ‘test’ to see how bad your system is and if you should go to the shop or not. If you are not sure which recharge kit to buy I would highly recommend you visit our ‘Best AC Recharge Kits,’ article from earlier this year by clicking here.
The other side of the coin is dealing with a home air conditioner that is low on refrigerant. This is where things get quite a bit more tricky and where I would recommend consulting with a professional HVAC technician. Home air conditioning systems are much more involved and much more expensive if you were to make a mistake on recharging the unit yourself. (Not to mention the refrigerant is restricted for resale to laymen.) The good news here is if you pay for professional service from an HVAC professional that they will identify and find the leak of refrigerant, patch it, and then recharge your system. That means that the problem is solved and you won’t have to call them back in a few months to recharge it again.
Well folks, I hope this article was helpful and if you have any questions please let me know.
Just a few days ago, on April 13th, the Environmental Protection Agency announced that they will be delaying the SNAP Rule 20 HFC phase downs that were announced back in the summer of 2015. This announcement may not come to a surprise to a lot of you, that is if you have been following the drama over the past year on HFC refrigerants and the EPA’s SNAP Rule 20.
When the initial rule was announced in 2015 by the EPA the industry was somewhat surprised but like with most phase downs/phase outs there was plenty of time on the clock before the real changes had to take place. Contractors, distributors, and manufacturers all slowly got ready for the move away from HFCs. Everything was going as expected, but then in the summer of 2017 a Federal Court overturned the EPA’s SNAP Rule 20. (My article on this from last year can be found by clicking here.) This ruling turned everything on it’s head and put the industry in a wave of uncertainty. While there was a wave of appeals filed by Honeywell, Chemours, and other groups they were all overturned or ruled against. It was towards the beginning of 2018 that the reality began to set in. The EPA’s SNAP Rule 20 was dead, and now this week the EPA has all but confirmed it. See the below excerpt from the EPA’s published note:
This notice provides guidance to stakeholders that, based on the court’s partial vacatur, in the near-term EPA will not apply the HFC listings in the 2015 Rule, pending a rule making. – Source
This motion suspends all of the rules that were laid out in SNAP Rule 20. Some of these were just around the corner too such as the vending machine move away from R-404A that was to start in January 1st, 2019. Another one was the upcoming unacceptable use of R-134a in new 2021 automotive model years. I won’t get into every detail on the rule but if you want to read more about it click here to be taken to the EPA’s official fact sheet.
Along with the court ruling and loss of appeals there were also many industry advocate groups such as National Automatic Merchandising Association (NAMA) pushing for a delay to these rules. NAMA was founded all the way back in 1936 and now represents the twenty-five billion dollar United States’ convenience industry. They aim to provide education, research, and advocacy for the industry. In fact, NAMA lobbied so well that they had an in person meeting with the Environmental Protection Agency even before the court ruling came down in August of last year. It was these groups along with pressure from the courts that finally led to this announcement from the EPA.
For a lot of people there just wasn’t enough time for manufacturers and companies to come up with solid alternatives that was cost effective, safe, and that still met the EPA’s guidelines. The good news here is that by having the Environmental Protection Agency publicly come out and comment on the court ruling and their rules they are able to remove the sense of uncertainty that has clouded the industry since last summer. The planned SNAP Rule 20 is no longer valid. Today, we are waiting in limbo to see what the EPA proposes next but at least we know that the EPA has recognized the ruling.
No one is for sure what the Environmental Protection Agency will decide in the future. Will there be a new rule to phase out these high Global Warming Potential refrigerants? Does the EPA even have that authority anymore due to the court ruling in August? Or, is all of this movement just a reaction to the court’s ruling? Another part of good news here is that the EPA will be holding a stake holder’s meeting scheduled on May 4th of this year. This meeting will be designed to get input from the various industries so that the EPA can come up with a new set of HFC refrigerant rules in the near future.
Besides going through the EPA there are a couple of other options out there to phase down or phase out HFC refrigerants. We could have the State Department push the ratification of the Kigali Amendment to the Senate and we could fall back to the tried and true Montreal Protocol. Or, the other option is to replicate what California has done and have HFC regulations and rules by each state.
Either way folks don’t be fooled into thinking that HFCs are going to stay around for a while. Their time has come and passed. We are slowly entering into the world of HFOs and Hydrocarbons. All of these bumps in the road are just that, bumps. We will still get to our destination.
Spring is beautiful. Trees are blooming, birds are chirping, and we rarely have to wear winter coats. It’s nice outside! Finally, there are days when you don’t have to run your HVAC system. If you have another type of space heater you’re probably not using that either. Soon, however, you’ll need to consider your cooling situation. And the perfect time is now.
This is because those 100 degree temperature days can come out of nowhere. Instead of being caught off guard, let’s take a look at some cooling options. Your HVAC system might be your go-to. However, there are portable and window air conditioners are great solutions as well. Before considering which might be best for you, you first need to understand the differences between the two. You’ll then learn functionality and features of each to decide which is best for you. There are a few points to consider here. They are:
• Defining each of the systems.
• Comparing the features of each system.
• Choosing the right air conditioner.
• Knowing where to buy it.
What is a Portable Air Conditioner?
A portable air conditioner is named as such for a reason: it’s portable! Think of a unit which can be moved from room to room or home to home. Portable air conditioners sit close to a window. This allows it to remove warm air from the room through a hose connected to the unit.
Portable air conditioners typically have a removable tray which collects moisture. Over time, this tray needs to be removed and the liquid should be flushed down a drain. Some high-end models, however, evaporate moisture out of the exhaust hose, along with the warm air. The Whynter ARC-122DS Elite is a great example of a higher end portable air conditioner which automatically evaporates moisture. You can learn more about portable air conditioners by clicking here.
What is a Window Air Conditioner?
A window air conditioner can also be viewed as a type of portable unit. However, it’s a stationary one. They are literally installed in an open window. The trick to window air conditioners is finding the right size. Having a proper setup means that the unit should fit perfectly. This will allow the cool air to stay in the room, thereby saving energy and money. The hOme 5000 BTU Window-Mounted Air Conditioner is a popular choice due to its ideal fit in bedroom windows. Make sure you measure your window before purchasing.
Installing a window air conditioner is not difficult, provided you follow the instruction manual. Once ready to run, you’ll find that the unit seems like a permanent fixture. They are great, in part, because they don’t take up much space due to being in the window. You can learn more about window air conditioners by clicking here.
Comparing the Two
There are multiple benefits to each unit. Some of the benefits overlap. For example, each type of air conditioner is relatively inexpensive. The average price is a few hundred dollars. In contrast, central air conditioners cost thousands of dollars. Portable air conditioners are slightly more expensive than window air conditioners. However, the price difference is minimal and may not be a major deciding factor with which unit to choose from.
The noise level varies with portable air conditioners. You can generally expect them to be quieter the price goes higher. Window air conditioners, on the other hand, are usually louder. This is due, in part, to the rumbling of the unit up against the window sill. Securing the unit in place will help to minimize the noise it produces.
Window air conditioners commonly come with an Energy Star rating. But that doesn’t mean portable air conditioners can’t be energy efficient. Portable units are commonly assigned an Energy Efficient Ratio (EER) rating. The higher the EER is, the more efficient the portable air conditioner will be. That being said, window air conditioners are generally known to be more energy efficient.
Which You Should Choose
Efficiency, price, versatility—these are the factors you’ll consider before choosing a unit. If you think you’ll be moving the unit from room to room you might want a portable air conditioner. If you are looking to save space in a room you might want a window air conditioner. If you want the easier unit to install you might choose the portable air conditioner. If you are looking for an efficient model you might choose a window air conditioner.
These factors might seem clear-cut to you. Or, you may want a mix of the features. At the end of the day, you’ll need to pick which one is best for your situation.
Where to Buy Them
My favorite place to shop is Amazon. I’m able to easily compare models and types without leaving my home. And you can too. For portable air conditioners, a great starting point for you would be here. If you are interested in window air conditioners, you will want to shop here.
Make sure you read customer reviews. It’s one of my favorite ways to research a new product I’m considering buying. You can also look at the star rating for a quick idea of how good the product is. If you are energy conscious, make sure you look at the BTU number of the unit. As the number goes higher it will be able to produce more energy.
Reading this has made you better prepared to face to face a hot summer. It’s important to note that, even if you have central air, you’ll want to get it checked before a hot an humid day. You may not have used your air conditioner since last year and you’ll want to make sure it’s working properly.
Consider also that both portable and window air conditioners use less energy than a central air conditioner. If you only need to cool one or two rooms in your home, either unit might be a great money-saving solution. If you have any further questions about portable or window air conditioners don’t hesitate to contact me.
Anyone who has ever dealt with an air conditioning system, even in the smallest of manners, has most likely heard of the TXV. It’s one of those things like Superheat and Subcool that are essential to understand when working on a unit. But what is the TXV? How does it affect the system? When did it come about? We’re going to dive in folks to all of this, answer those questions, and maybe more. Let’s take a look.
What is the TXV?
TXVs, or Thermostatic Expansion Valves, is a metering device found in most air conditioning systems around the world. The goal of this valve is to control the amount of liquid refrigerant being fed into the system’s evaporator and to also control the amount of Superheat in a system. Depending on who you are or who you are working with you may hear TXVs be called the generic name of ‘metering devices.’
Refrigerant TXVThe TXV is located on the liquid line between the condenser and the evaporator. In most cases it sits right outside the evaporator ensuring that no extra liquid gets in and potentially floods the evaporator. When working perfectly the TXV is a precise instrument that increases the overall efficiency of your system.
As I stated above TXVs were designed to improve energy efficiency on air conditioners. This is done by metering the amount of refrigerant. TXVs were NOT designed to control humidity, capacity, head pressure, air temperature, suction pressure, or anything else. Again, it is just controlling the amount of refrigerant allowed into the evaporator.
The TXV achieves this by doing a couple of things. First, it looks at how fast the refrigerant is moving through the evaporator and how fast it is boiling off back into a gas form. It does this by looking at the temperatures of the refrigerant gas as it leaves the evaporator and the pressure inside of the evaporator. These recordings are kept in a temperatures sensing bulb built into the TXV. If metering needs to occur then a pin is moved in our out automatically in the valve to control the flow of refrigerant based off of the data that the TXV received.
When this pin is applied inside the TXV a few things begin to happen to the liquid refrigerant that is now stagnat. The pressure on the refrigerant slowly begins to drop. As this drop occurs an amount of the refrigerant converts to gas. (This is the standard response during pressure drops.) This now low pressure liquid and gas mixture moves into the evaporator and then completely boils off into it’s gaseous state.
TXV Failure Causes
Like with anything on an air conditioning system Thermostatic Expansion Valves can break. The question now is when they are broken or when they are failing how can we tell and why did they break? What should we look for? Below are a few examples of failures that can occur on your TXV:
Build up of wax on the inside of the TXV. This can happen due to the wrong oil being used in the system.
Containment or particulates getting stuck in the TXV. This can happen due to a few reasons, one of them is your compressor failing and burning out.
Orifice inside the TXV freezing and filling with ice due to excessive moisture within the system.
If at one point your compressor was flooded with refrigerant than your system’s excess oil may bog down the TXV. This can also happen if you just have too much oil in your system.
The Thermostatic Expansion Valve may be adjusted too far closed or open for it to work effectively.
Lastly, but still very important, is that there may just be a manufacturer’s defect on the TXV.
Remember that a system with a faulty TXV is going to display the same symptoms as a faulty liquid line. This is because the TXV is in fact part of the liquid line. So, when checking for failures it is best to check every component in the liquid line including the TXV, the drier, any solenoids, and valves.
TXV Failure Symptoms
Ok folks, so we now know what a TXV is and how it can fail but the question now is what are some of the signs that a TXV is failing? What are the things to look for? First, let’s remember that a failure on a TXV is one of two things. First it is either too restricted and it is not letting refrigerant into the evaporator. Second, it is not restricting enough and you are having excess refrigerant being fed into your evaporator.
Let’s look at the first example first where not enough refrigerant is being fed into the evaporator. Symptoms of this can be the following:
Low pressure on your evaporator.
High evaporator and compressor Superheat temperatures.
Low amperage from your compressor.
Short cycling on the low pressure control.
A higher than normal discharge temperature.
Low condenser pressure. (Head)
Higher than normal condenser Subcool temperatures.
Ok, now let’s look at the second example when too much refrigerant is being fed into your evaporator. When this happens the evaporator can no longer keep up and some of the liquid refrigerant may in fact work it’s way towards your compressor. If liquid refrigerant moves into your compressor the liquid will settle at the bottom of the compressor along with the oil. All of this can cause premature failure in your compressor. Trust me folks, compressors aren’t cheap. The thing to keep in mind here is that if you do have a compressor failure then there was a reason for that. It may have not been a faulty compressor but instead something further on down the line, in this case the TXV.
Remember folks, nowadays the Thermostatic Expansion Valve is one of the most important things for technicians to check, monitor, and review. Couple this with checking Superheat and Subcool then you will have a pretty darn good idea what is going on with your system.
Being able to measure refrigerant Subcool and Superheat are essential for diagnosing and correcting an air conditioning or refrigeration unit. Unfortunately, there is a lot of misunderstanding as to what exactly Superheat and Subcool actually are and even less understanding on how to measure it. There are so many novice technicians that get ‘stumped’ on a system without even checking Subcool or Superheat temperatures…. or if they did check them they checked in the wrong section. These same people then end up calling for help from experienced technicians, but as they soon find out one of the first questions anybody will ask when diagnosing a unit is what are the Subcool and Superheat temperatures? These two temperatures can tell you so much about a system.
While this article isn’t going into all of the technical details behind each temperature I will do my best to do a high level explanation of Subcool. Click here for an explanation of Superheat.
What is Subcool?
To understand Subcool we first have to understand the refrigerant cycle and how it flows through a system. I won’t get into every technical detail here of a air conditioning system. If you want a full rundown click here to be taken to our ‘Understanding Refrigerants,’ guide. In the case of Subcool we need to follow the cycle at the point where refrigerant enters through the condenser.
When refrigerant enters the systems condenser it is in it’s gaseous, or vapor, state. While in the condenser heat is removed from the gas until that refrigerant reaches it’s saturation condensing temperature. When this point is reached the refrigerant gas turns back into a liquid. Once your refrigerant has turned to liquid while going through the condenser your Subcool can be found. The term Subcool refers to any temperature that is below the saturation condensing point of the refrigerant. Let’s say I have a saturation temperature of eighty degrees and the line temperature is at seventy-seven degrees. We now know that we have a three degree Subcool.
The efficiency of your system depends on how much liquid refrigerant is fed into your evaporator. If your refrigerant is being fed into the evaporator and it is NOT Subcooled then you are feeding refrigerant gas into your evaporator. If you are feeding gas into your evaporator then the system will act as if it is restricted and your cooling capacity and efficiency will plummet dramatically. In most systems the condenser acts like a metering device as to how much liquid refrigerant can be fed into your evaporator. If your system is suffering from poor Subcool then you can determine nearly right away that something is wrong with your condenser.
How to Check Subcool
Determining Subcool is similar to how we found Superheat. Just like with Superheat Subcool is a calculated value by taking the difference between two temperatures. First you must find the actual temperature of the refrigerant vapor and then you need the saturation or boiling point of that same refrigerant. The saturation point can be found by using the high side manifold on your gauge set. This will allow you to measure the pressure of the condenser. Once you have this pressure you can then convert it to a temperature either using your gauge or a PT conversion table.
Secondly, you need to take your thermostat or thermometer and measure the liquid line temperature for your next reading. The liquid line is located between the condenser and the evaporator. In order to get the most accurate reading you should take the temperature as close to the evaporator as possible and before the metering device. (If your system has a metering device.)
Here is where one of the key differences between Superheat and Subcool come into play. With Subcool the gauge/saturation temperature is going to be higher then your line temperature. (Remember, with Superheat your line temp should always be higher then gauge.) Once you have these two readings you then do the math. For example. Let’s say we have a saturation temperature of eighty-seven degrees and our line temperature is at seventy-nine degrees. We now have a Subcool reading of eight degrees.
As I mentioned in the introduction of this article I did not plan to dive deep into every little thing about Superheat or Subcool. I would prefer to save the really technical stuff for the guys who have already done their homework and have it mapped out quite well already. If you have more questions on these topics please refer to the links below. They provide a wealth of information on the topics and will give you more information then you would ever need.
Summer is quickly approaching. And Kansas can get hot! Temperatures in the three digits are not uncommon. Therefore, we have to be ready before those days arrive. You need to make sure your cooling systems work well before it’s too late. Otherwise, hot days will be uncomfortable for you and your family. One way to keep the home cool in the summer is to use a portable air conditioner.
If you aren’t familiar with these systems you’re in the right place. There are more cooling options out there than a central cooling system. Or a fan. Learning about portable cooling systems might be the perfect solution for your home. There are a few points to consider when learning about portable air conditioners. Four of them are:
The difference between portable versus central air.
Portable cooling can lower your monthly bills.
These systems only require low maintenance.
When you should buy a portable unit.
Portable Versus Central Air
Central air systems are one of the more common cooling solutions in a home. Because portable cooling units are lesser known, we have to learn what differentiates the two.
Central air units are larger and found outside of the home. They are connected as part of the heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) system. These units are controlled by a central thermostat. Central air units are more complicated than portable air conditioners when it comes to maintenance. This is because they normally require a trained service technician. It’s recommended these systems be tuned up once a year. The service bills add up over time. However, a central air unit might be the better option if you want to cool the entire home at the same time.
Portable air conditioners are smaller and installed inside of the home. Their goal is to provide cooling to one room, instead of cooling to the entire home. Because they play a smaller role than a central system, portable air conditioners are less expensive. They are also versatile. Moving them to a different room is a possibility. You can even bring them to another home if you move! This normally isn’t possible to do with a central cooling system.
Lower Your Energy Bills
The ability to cool one room instead of the entire home has its benefits. Chief among them is the money you can save on your monthly energy bill. Constantly running a central air system can become quite costly. However, there might be rooms in the home that are mostly unoccupied. Do those rooms need to be cooled in the summer? The answer might be no. You can instead run a portable air conditioner in only the room or rooms you want cooled.
Portable air conditioners are so efficient you might find yourself using central cooling less and less. Older central cooling systems tend to not work that great. You might find yourself maxing out the thermostat to get your home cooled. This will result in maxing out your energy bill! If your current central air system isn’t pushing out the proper amount of cool air you might want to consider owning a portable air conditioner. It would be much more cost effective to purchase a portable cooling unit than to replace your outside cooling unit. It’s also more convenient. You won’t have to schedule major work to your home. You can even have a portable cooling unit shipped to your house!
Earlier, I talked about how central cooling units require routine and sometimes expensive maintenance. You need to schedule an expert to inspect your system. You might even have to take off work to be home! Your vacation days can be better spent somewhere else. A portable air conditioner requires neither of those when it comes to maintenance. Keep your vacation days! A portable cooling unit is easy to install and maintain. All you do it push a couple buttons and it works! Low maintenance is required with these systems. Let’s talk about what that entails.
Portable air conditioners are famously hassle-free. The only maintenance you’ll have to do is drain any moisture that is collected over time. Different units might have different ways in which you’ll do it. But it will likely involve removing a tray that contains the moisture. After that, you’ll simply pour it down a drain. Once you’ve done that, simply put the tray back and continue using the portable cooling unit. It’s that easy! Some premium units, such as the DeLonghi America PACAN120EW, do not even require you to drain the moisture. This is because it has a built-in moisture evaporator. You can find this model on Amazon.
When to Buy a Portable Air Conditioner
Now you know that portable air conditioners are inexpensive, save money on energy bills, and can be transferred from room to room. They also require little or no maintenance versus a central cooling unit. So, when would you buy one? The answer is if these facts make sense for you and your situation.
Everyone wants to save money. This is arguably the biggest deciding factor when thinking about buying a portable cooling unit. Another factor is the versatility option. You can move these units from one room to another. You can even bring them with you to another house. Still, another factor is not being ready to replace an old HVAC system yet. Newer HVAC systems might be expensive. but portable air conditioners are not. If your current HVAC system isn’t working well you should consider opting for a portable cooling unit.
Where to Buy One
You can find portable air conditioners in many places. My favorite place would be Amazon. You can shop without leaving the comfort of your own home. You can also easily compare models and read reviews of each of them. Before you choose a unit you should know the square footage of the room you want to cool. Follow my guide by clicking here. The article pertains to window units. However, the information about BTU strength is interchangeable with portable air conditioners. Feel free to reach out to me here if you need help choosing a portable air conditioner.
There are few modern technologies used so widely in today’s world that have had such an impact then refrigerants and refrigeration. I say this but most people do not even think about refrigeration. It was just something that was always there. You go to the grocery store and buy some ice cream without a second thought. You go to the butcher and buy a steak. You go to a movie theater on a hot summer day and enjoy the air conditioning while you watch your movie. All of this and more would not be available if it wasn’t for refrigerants.
I consider refrigerants, refrigeration, and air conditioning to be a ‘hidden’ industry. I started my career in the trucking industry and just like the refrigerant industry trucking is something people just don’t think about. Going back to the same grocery store analogy when people walk into a grocery store they expect food to be there. They do not question how, why, or where it came from. They just expect it. The same can be said with refrigeration. People expect their ice cream to be cold. People expect their frozen dinners and their frozen vegetables. People expect their home to be cold in the summer.
But what are refrigerants? How long have they been around? What would the world look like today without refrigerants? I am going to answer this and more over the next few sections of this page. I hope to have you read on.
Refrigeration is all about absorbing and displacing heat from a room rather it be in a refrigerator, a freezer, or your home. The principal concept remains the same. In this example today we will be looking at your standard home air-conditioner. While this may not cover a refrigerator or your car’s air-conditioner you should note that the overall concept is the same.
First and foremost let me tell you that your home air conditioner does not produce ‘cold air,’ in the same way that your furnace would produce heat. With a gas furnace you have the heat from the flame blowing into your home. Instead of that air-conditioners are all about transferring heat and changing states of the refrigerant. The refrigerant is used to absorb the heat from inside your home, carry that heat to your air-conditioner, and then release it to the outdoors. Once the heat has been removed the colder air blows back into your home. The refrigerant circulates continuously to remove additional heat from your home until your desired temperature is reached.
In order for a refrigerant to absorb heat a change of state has to happen. When I say change of state I am talking about going from liquid to gas and from gas to liquid. It is important to remember that the refrigerant cycle is just that, a cycle. That means that it goes over and over again. There is never any break to this cycle and should never be any leak in this cycle. It is a completely sealed process. Within this cycle there are different components that allow for the refrigerant to change pressure, temperature, and state. We will go over these as well as the process of the refrigeration system.
The Process & Components
The picture above is a great illustration showing you how everything is laid out for a home air-conditioner. That being said, I will say that it does not label the components in order of process. But, that’s ok I will do that below for you. If you are unsure of what component I am referring to please consult the picture above to get an idea.
Evaporator – The evaporator’s cooling coils remove the heat and humidity from the air inside your home using the designated refrigerant. Ever notice when your air conditioner kicks on and doors that were slightly ajar get ‘sucked’ close? That is your system pulling out hot air from your home.
Suction Line – This is where the refrigerant is ‘sucked’ into the compressor. This is also known as the low pressure side.
Compressor – The compressor is a pump that moves the refrigerant between the evaporator and the condenser to chill the indoor air. The compressor is often seen as the heart of the system. Instead of pumping and metering the blood flow to the rest of your body it pumps and meters the amount of refrigerant to the rest of the system. Upon entering the compressor the refrigerant is in a vapor state and as it’s name suggests the compressor’s job is to compress the vapor. When a vapor is compressed both the pressure and temperature of that vapor increases. The vapor leaving the compressor is VERY hot as a high temperature and high pressure vapor.
Discharge Line – The high temperature vapor refrigerant then moves it’s way through the discharge line and into the condenser.
Condenser – Upon entering the condenser the high temperature refrigerant air from a fan passes over the coil to cool the vapor refrigerant. As the vapor cools it undergoes a state change and changes into a liquid. At this point is where the hot air from inside your home is removed as the fan blows the air over the coils and outside of your home. If you ever stuck your hand over the top of your air-conditioner you would feel the hot air being blown out. That is your condenser at work.
While in the condenser the refrigerant will begin to turn into a saturated state. A saturated state is where vapor and liquid both exist at the same time. The saturated state is where the majority of the energy is transferred. This is where the heat that the refrigerant is carrying is dissipated. At this point the refrigerant begins to absorb the heat and as it does it moves to liquid.
Liquid Line – The high pressure liquid refrigerant moves it’s way through the liquid line and into the metering device. This point of the cycle is known as the ‘Subcool.’ If there is a problem with your system this is where most technicians start looking.
Metering Device – The metering device’s purpose is to control the amount of liquid refrigerant that will be fed into the evaporator. Inside the metering device is a dividing point between high pressure and low pressure sides of the system. As the refrigerant is passed through the metering device the pressure drops.
Evaporator Again – After leaving the metering device the low pressure liquid refrigerant immediately moves into the coils of your evaporator. Just like with the condenser the evaporator has a fan blowing against it’s coils. But this time instead of blowing hot air out of your home it is now blowing the cold air back into your home. Here is where big state change happens.
As the refrigerant enters the coil at a lower pressure it begins to bubble and boil and as it does it begins to change state back into a vapor. (Same concept as boiling a pot of water and watching it all evaporate.) During this process of changing state from liquid to vapor the refrigerant is removing energy, or heat, from the air passing over the coils. The heat that was in the air is transferred into the refrigerant. Remember, it’s not about creating cold air but about removing the heat. Since the heat has been removed from the air when the fan blows over the evaporator’s coils cold air will blow into your home.
Repeat – After this the whole process is started over again and again until your home has reached the desired temperature set on your thermostat.
Ok, now that we know the basics of refrigerants and how they work in a system let’s take a look at some of the various refrigerant classifications that are out there. It is very important to keep in mind that there are more than just one or two types of refrigerants out there. In fact there are hundreds of different types, blends, and mixtures of refrigerants. This short walk through below will give you an idea of some of the most common classifications as well as some of the most popular refrigerants within these classifications. Yes, I know that there are more out there but what I am attempting here is to give a basic overview of the most popular classes on the market today and a brief synopsis of them.
These refrigerants are just that, unaffiliated. They don’t belong to a specific class of refrigerants like the others. The most popular of these refrigerants is R-744, or Carbon Dioxide. Another one you may recognize is R-717, or Ammonia. I list these refrigerants first as CO2/R-744 was one of the very first refrigerants used in air conditioning going all the way back to the early twentieth century.
CFC refrigerants were some of the first as well. Sure, R-744 beat everyone to the punch but if we look at the overall success and popularity then the CFC R-12 refrigerant takes the cake. R-12 was invented in 1935 by a partnership with the General Motors corporation and the DuPont company and immediately after that date they exploded with popularity. CFC refrigerants were phased out in the 1990’s due to the Chlorine that they contained and the harmful effects that the Chlorine had on the Ozone layer.
HCFC refrigerants are CFC refrigerant’s friendly cousin. These refrigerants are very similar and rose in popularity right about the same time as well. The most common HCFC refrigerant which I’m sure all of you have heard of is R-22. Just like it’s CFC cousin HCFC refrigerants were also phased out due to the Chlorine that they contained. The most recent phase out of R-22 is still going into effect and it will be completely phased out by 2030.
HFC refrigerants came around as an alternative to the Ozone damaging CFC and HCFC refrigerants. HFC refrigerants are widely used today. Some of the most popular ones are R-134a, R-404A, and R-410A. HFCs are actually in process of being phased out across the world as well but this time it’s not due to their Ozone depletion. Instead, they are being phased out due to their Global Warming Potential, or GWP.
HFO refrigerants are the newest and greatest thing. Again, in an effort to replace the currently used refrigerant HFOs are designed to take the lead while the HFC refrigerants fade into the past. At this point in time, April 2018, the most popular HFO refrigerant is the 1234YF. Honeywell and the Chemours company are pushing the industry forward with their development of the new HFO line of refrigerants and we can expect many new refrigerants to be displayed over the coming years.
Hydrocarbons are a type of refrigerant that has been around for decades. They are also known as ‘Natural Refrigerants.’ This is because they are naturally occurring elements rather than manufactured in a lab. Some Hydrocarbons include R-290 (Propane), R-600a (Isobutane), or R-1270 (Propylene). These refrigerants are used sparingly depending on the application needed. They are highly flammable and must be handled with care.
Refrigerants, History, & Our Environment
CFCs & HCFCs
The first real commonly used refrigerants were our CFCs and HCFCs. Out of these two classifications the big refrigerants were R-12 and R-22. This is in fact where the name ‘Freon,’ comes from. (Freon is a trademarked name for these refrigerants from the DuPont company.) By the 1960’s and 70’s CFCs and HCFCs were everywhere in the United States and across the globe. They were in your grocery stores, your homes, your factories, everywhere. It was in the 1980’s that a problem was discovered. Two American scientists, Mario Molina and Shepwood Rowland, from a California university were the first to notice Chlorine’s effect on the atmosphere. (Remember now folks, all of these CFCs and HCFCs contain Chlorine.)
These two scientists found that when a CFC refrigerant was exposed to ultra-violet irradiation that the Chlorine atom would detach itself from the CFC molecules. The remaining residue is oxidized resulting in the creation of a Chlorine oxidized molecule and a new residue. The Chlorine atom and Chlorine oxidized molecule move their way up to the stratosphere. Within the stratosphere there is a layer called the Ozone layer. This Ozone layer protects the Earth from ultra-violet rays and irradiation. What these scientists found out is that all of this Chlorine from CFC and HCFC refrigerants was working it’s way to the stratosphere. When it reached the stratosphere the Chlorine began to attack and weaken the Ozone layer.
Over decades of using CFCs and HCFC refrierants Chlorine began to accumulate in the stratosphere and overtime a hole began to form in the Ozone layer. Now, I say hole but this wasn’t a hole per-say. Instead, there was a weakening of strength in the layer. So, while there was not a hole the thickness of the Ozone was decreasing and decreasing rapidly thanks to the CFC and HCFC refrigerants.
The Ozone prevents harmful UVB wavelengths of ultra-violet light from passing through the Earth’s atmosphere. Without it, or with a weakened version of it, a variety of bad things could happen. Some of these include a much higher increased chance of Skin Cancer, more severe sunburns, more chances of cataracts, and a whole host of other problems.
After discovering the weakening of the Ozone layer nations banded together in what is seen as one of the greatest and most effective treaty’s every made. In 1986-1987 the Montreal Protocol was created and signed by over one-hundred nations across the world. This Protocol was an international treaty designed to protect the Ozone layer and to completely phase out the chemicals responsible for the weakening of the Ozone. The treaty went into effect in 1989.
Soon after that date marked the beginning of the end for CFC and HCFC refrigerants across the globe. The industrialized countries, like America, began to phase out the refrigerants first. R-12 was phased out in the early 1990’s and that was just the start.
Out with the old and in with the new, so they say. The refrigerants that were proposed to replace CFCs and HCFCs were known as HFCs, or Hydroflurocarbons. These refrigerants contained no Chlorine so there was no chance of them hurting the Ozone layer. Some of these refrigerants include popular refrigerants today known as R-134a, R-404A, and R-410A. But, now these refrigerants are under fire for their increase to Global Warming.
This my friends is where our friends the HFC refrigerants come into play. It was in the same 1980’s decade that the development and distribution of HFC refrigerants began. Like with any new product there was a lot of trial and error over the years until the right product was found. HFCs really made their debut here in the States in the year 1992. This was the first year that the majority of automobile manufacturers stopped using R-12 refrigerant and made the switch over to the new HFC R-134a alternative.
As far as I know this is the first major switch away from CFC/HCFC refrigerants and over to HFCs. There isn’t a lot of data here that I could find so if I am incorrect here please let me know by contacting me. The point here is that this was the beginning and shortly after the rest of the applications began to switch to HFCs. The next big move was going after R-502. R-502 was found in a lot of your commercial and industrial refrigeration, ice machines, chillers, and a variety of other applications. The switch here was over to the HFC refrigerant known as R-404A.
Now, I’m not going to go through every phase out there was here. Instead I will just mention one more, the biggest one in fact. In 2010 the phase out of HCFC R-22 was put into place. R-22 was HUGE. Nearly every home air conditioner, commercial air conditioner, as well as even some refrigerated transport used R-22. The suggested replacement refrigerant was the HFC R-410A. Now, as I write this we are still in the phase out period of R-22. Yes, the date started in 2010 but the final date of one-hundred percent completion is the year 2030. Every five years or so the restrictions on imports and production of R-22 grow tighter and tighter. Eventually the cost on R-22 will be so expensive that no one will want to touch it.
Alright folks so it’s been twenty-five years since we started using HFC refrigerants. Just like before HFCs are embedded and used all across the country and the world. There is no chance of any more harm coming to the Ozone layer as these HFC refrigerants contain no Chlorine. So, we’re all good right? Wrong. We now have a new problem when it comes to HFC refrigerants. Well, a somewhat, new problem.
The problem we have now is not Chlorine but instead Global Warming Potential, or GWP. GWP is a measurement of how much heat a greenhouse gas can trap in the atmosphere. To set the scale at zero we compare the GWP of Carbon Dioxide, or CO2. The GWP of CO2 is one. That gives us our baseline.
Now, if we look at one of the most commonly used HFC refrigerants, R-134a, we can see that it has a GWP of 1,430 times that of Carbon Dioxide. Think that’s bad? Let’s look at R-404A. R-404A has a GWP of 3,922.
Every time an HFC refrigerant is accidentally vented or is leaked into the atmosphere it contributes to Global Warming. Refrigerants are seen as Greenhouse Gases and when they are released they float to the top of the atmosphere and act as an insulator to the earth and warms everything up, hence we have Global Warming.
So, now there is a big push across the world to begin phasing out HFC refrigerants just like we did twenty-five years earlier with CFCs and HCFCs. Here is where things get a bit messy though folks. In the 1980’s the United States’ Government signed the Montreal Protocol. This treaty pledged to phase out all Ozone depleting substances from use. On top of this the United States also added their own amendment to the Clean Air Act allowing them to ban Ozone depleting substances.
The problem we have here is that these same countries who banned CFC and HCFCs all that time ago are now trying to use this same treaty and this same Clean Air Act to ban non-Ozone depleting substances. Remember, HFCs don’t have Chlorine. That was their whole point. So, how may I ask can we ban something under the Ozone depletion law/treaty when this product doesn’t deplete the Ozone?
In September of 2016 the nations got together again and added an amendment to the original Montreal Protocol treaty. This amendment called the ‘Kigali Amendment,’ pledged to the world that these nations would begin phase outs of HFC refrigerants across their country.
About a year before this amendment was signed the United States’ Environmental Protection Agency announced a new rule to their SNAP program. (Significant New Alternatives Policy.) This new rule, called SNAP RULE 20, stated that the phase out of HFCs refrigerants would begin as early as 2018 in the United States. Again, the EPA created this phase out plan based off the backs of the Chlorine and Ozone depleting chemicals.
In August of 2017 a Federal Court ruled against the EPA stating that they had overstepped their bounds and that they could not arbitrarily phase out refrigerants that had nothing to do with the Clean Air Act. Honeywell and Chemours both filed for an appeal in September of 2017. This appeal was rejected and as of today in April 0f 2018, the court’s initial ruling in August of 2017 stands.
Whatever happens over the new few months and years is uncertain but I can comfortably tell you today that the end of HFC refrigerants is near. I do not see this going away any time soon. If Honeywell and Chemours lose their court battle here there will be another series of battles and pushes to get HFCs gone.
You may ask what will be taking their place. Well, at this point there are two options that the world has. We have the same Hydrocarbons that were used nearly one-hundred years ago. The upside here is that our technology has improved substantially from then. The problems we had with Hydrocarbons back then would not be happening today. In fact a lot of companies an countries are already using Hydrocarbons and other unassigned refrigerants such as R-744 and R-290 in everyday applications.
The other alternative we have is Honeywell and Chemours’ new HFO refrigerant line. HFO stands for Hydrofluroolefins. These are a new class of refrigerants that was built in the labs of Honeywell and Chemours. These refrigerants are designed to have zero Ozone depletion potential along with a minimal Global Warming Potential.
Regardless of what happens over the new few years HFCs will still be around for a while but they are sure to be eclipsed by the new technology and the push away from harmful GWP refrigerants.
The Future of Refrigerants
The future of refrigerant is anything but certain. As I write this article it is towards the middle of April of 2018. The era of CFC and HCFC refrigerants have all but ended. Sure there are still a few holdouts out there that still have their old R-22 air conditioner running but for the most part everyone has switched over to their new and improved R-410A HFC refrigerant. Give it a few more years and the only R-22 cylinders you’ll be able to find are the old rusted out ones that some guy kept in his garage for twenty years because he was going to use it down the road. Don’t believe me? Just check out some R-12 cylinders on E Bay and you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about.
The question now is when exactly all of the HFC refrigerants will be phased out and replaced with either HFO’s, CO2, or Hydrocarbon refrigerants. Depending on where you look in the world some nations have already begun mass phasing out HFC refrigerants. As an example R-134a, the refrigerant used in most automotive applications, has effectively been banned across the European Union. In it’s place is the HFO 1234YF. If you move away from automotive and look more towards chillers or even vending machines you will notice that most of these have begun being switched to CO2 or R-744. On top of that if you look at other applications you’ll find R-290 or other Hydrocarbons being used. It’s a mish-mash of all different types of refrigerants spanning out across all of the applications.
There is a battle being raged right now between these refrigerants. I like to think of it as a battle of the old world versus the new. The old world are the tried and tested Hydrocarbon or unclassified refrigerants such as R-744. These refrigerants have been around for over a century. Sure, there were problems with them in the past but we now have improved technology and we can now make these refrigerants just as efficient, or as close as we can be, to the HFC refrigerants on the market today. The new world are the HFO refrigerants that are being developed in laboratories by the companies Honeywell and Chemours. These refrigerants are all new to the world. The HFO refrigerants are designed to be the best they can be and to give your unit the most efficiency as well as being environmentally friendly. The downside to this is that they are very expensive, at least starting out. The price may fall as time moves on.
So, folks, in conclusion refrigerants are a absolute necessity to our modern day lives. They power and cool nearly everything you can think of. Think about how much there is in the world today that is affected by these miracle chemicals known as refrigerants. You walk into your home on a hot summer’s day. You go to the grocery store and purchase a pound of beef from a refrigerated case. How did that beef get to the grocery store? Through a refrigerated truck. How did that beef get slaughtered and preserved before being shipped out? Through a refrigerated warehouse and processing center. As I said before the refrigeration industry is a somewhat hidden gem in the world but if you take the time you’ll find that there is a whole lot to learn and a lot of knowledge to be gained.
Being able to measure refrigerant Subcool and Superheat are essential for diagnosing and correcting an air conditioning or refrigeration unit. Unfortunately, there is a lot of misunderstanding as to what exactly Superheat and Subcool actually are and even less understanding on how to measure it. There are so many novice technicians that get ‘stumped’ on a system without even checking Subcool or Superheat temperatures…. or if they did check them they checked in the wrong section. These same people then end up calling for help from experienced technicians, but as these guys soon find out one of the first questions anybody will ask when diagnosing a unit is what are the Subcool and Superheat temperatures? These two temperatures can tell you so much about a system.
While this article isn’t going into all of the technical details behind each temperature I will do my best to do a high level explanation of Superheat.
What is SuperHeat?
Superheat lets you know if the correct amount of refrigerant is being fed into the evaporator. If your Superheat temperature is too high then not enough refrigerant is being fed in. This can result in poor system performance and loss of energy efficiency. However, if you find that the Superheat temperature is too low then you know that you have a surplus of refrigerant being fed into your evaporator. This result can be a sign that you are getting liquid refrigerant into your compressor. This isn’t a good thing! The liquid refrigerant inside a compressor can mix in with the oil at the bottom of the shell. This can result in poor lubrication to your compressor and may result in premature failure. Compressor failures are not cheap to fix.
To understand Superheat we first have to understand the refrigerant cycle and how it flows through a system. I won’t get into every technical detail here of a air conditioning system. If you want a full rundown click here to be taken to our ‘Understanding Refrigerants,’ guide. In the case of Superheat we need to follow the cycle at the point where refrigerant enters through the evaporator. At the point of entry into the evaporator the refrigerant is a liquid. While it is in the evaporator and heat is added the liquid slowly begins to turn into a vapor once it reaches it’s boiling point. (Also known as saturation temperature.)
Once the refrigerant has boiled to a vapor then any temperature above and beyond the boiling point is known as the Superheat. In other words, Superheat is any temperature of a gas that is above the boiling point for that liquid. The reason that Superheat is so important to measure is that it can give you a direct indicator as to what is wrong with the system.
Checking & Calculating Superheat
Checking and finding Superheat is relatively simple. Superheat is a calculated value by taking the difference between two temperatures. First you must find the actual temperature of the refrigerant vapor and then you need the saturation or boiling point of that same refrigerant. The temperature that you measure on the refrigerant SHOULD be higher then what your boiling point/saturation point is on the refrigerant. If it is not, then you have no Superheat. Superheat can be determined by subtracting the boiling point/saturation point of the refrigerant from the actual temperature of the refrigerant vapor. As an example, if we had forty-five degrees boiling point and your actual refrigerant temperature is at sixty-seven degrees then you have a Superheat of twenty-three degrees.
To get your saturation or boiling point temperature you will need to use the low side on your gauge set to measure the pressure of the evaporator. Once you have this pressure you can then convert it to a temperature either using your gauge or a PT conversion table.
In order to get the most accurate reading on your refrigerant vapor it is best to take the temperature on the suction line as close to the Condenser as possible. Once you have your temperatures you do the math and presto you now have your Superheat.
As I mentioned in the introduction of this article I did not plan to dive deep into every little thing about Superheat or Subcool. I would prefer to save the really technical stuff for the guys who have already done their homework and have it mapped out quite well already. If you have more questions on these topics please refer to the links below. They provide a wealth of information on the topics and will give you more information then you would ever need.
I can imagine that if you are reading this then it is in the dead of summer and it is ninety degrees outside or maybe even hotter. I can also imagine that you turned on your car the other day, cranked on the air conditioning, and then groaned in frustration when you realized that it was only blowing hot air into the cabin. When this happens, especially in the summer heat, many people begin to look for a quick, easy, and cheap fix. Most of the time they end up at either an auto-parts store or online looking at AC Recharge kits.
But the question here is are they worth it? Should you really spend thirty dollars on trying to repair your own air conditioning system, or should you break down and take your car into the shop to be repaired?
Are They Worth It?
If you ask me, yes, they are worth it. But here’s the thing, you have to realize that an AC recharge kit is not a fix for your broken system. No, it doesn’t fix it at all. What it does is that it recharge your system, just like the product states. Remember, that your air conditioner is a completely sealed system. What that means is that you should never run out of refrigerant. If you do then there is a leak or a faulty piece of equipment somewhere in your system. In a perfect world you should never need to recharge your system.
So, while an AC recharge kit will put more refrigerant into your system you have to realize that if you have a bad leak then all of that new refrigerant is just going to leak out again after only a few days or a week. The good news though is that if you have a very small leak then that new recharge of refrigerant may in fact last your car the entire summer season. You never really know with these things.
The good thing here is that they aren’t that expensive, so even if you do charge your system and then find that you car is blowing hot again after only a few weeks you are only about thirty dollars and then you KNOW that you need to take your car to the shop to have it repaired. This basically boils down to, are you willing to spend thirty dollars and push your problem further on down the road, or do you want to spend some money at the shop and get it fixed right now?
If you are interested in purchasing one of these check out our ‘Best AC Recharge Kits,’ article by clicking here.
Earlier today I was reading a very interesting article on a new App that was created for the refrigerant industry. This App that was developed and designed for the Australia market is built to collect, store, and send data. This is how most Apps work, but here’s the difference. This App focuses on refrigerants.
The goal of the App is for technicians to measure and record how much charge, or refrigerant, is left in an end of life system. Today, no one really knows what the average amount of refrigerant is left in these soon to be discarded systems. The speculation is that at least half of a charge, if not more, remains in the unit. But, now instead of guessing Refrigerant Reclaim Australia (RRA) has come up with this App for the techs to use when doing a removal or install.
With the data logged by techs all over the country the RRA will be able to aggregate it and come up with a scientific number to charges left in end of life air conditioners, chillers, and everything else. This information is key. Some of you may not know this but my day job is in Information Technology and Software Development so the moment I saw this story I felt like I HAD to write it.
Speaking from someone who deals with large sets of data regularly I cannot emphasize enough how valuable this information will be once collected. Data is the new gold folks. There is a reason companies like Amazon, Facebook, and Google collect anything and everything they can. Imagine in a few years or so of having accurate refrigerant data like this. A government or entity could accurately give phase down goals and numbers instead of guessing at it. Just ask the European Union how that guessing game is working out for them!
One thing that you may be asking yourself is how they can ensure that the information is actually logged into the App? Well, what’s the best way to get someone to do something no matter what industry you are in? Incentives! The RRA will be putting users of the App into weekly drawings of a two-hundred dollar vouchers to various outlet stores. On top of that there are also two grand prizes of five-thousand dollars to be claimed.
I was really impressed when I read this story. It’s a smart, innovative, and easy way for technicians to record the data on each and every machine that they work on. While I haven’t personally used the App I am hoping that the GUI is easy enough to interpret and use. There is nothing more frustrating then when trying to use a program only to find out that it is not user friendly and is burdensome to use.
As an IT guy and a refrigerant guy I have to say that I am excited about what is to come over the next few years. What other Apps will be created and invented? There are so many possibilities out there. The option of having any and all information within arms reach on your phone in this industry will be huge. There are so many misconceptions or just things that are flat out wrong. Combating these will push this industry further into the future and I believe Apps are the way to do it!
Everyone in the industry knows of Chemours and their former parent company DuPont. Chemours was known as the ‘billion dollar startup,’ back in 2015 when they split from DuPont and formed an entirely new company. Ever since then they have grown and have become an aggressive competitor. Along with Honeywell, Chemours is one of the largest refrigerant manufacturers, producers, and researchers in the world. In fact, they and Honeywell are responsible for the new line of HFO refrigerants. (Chemour’s brand is known as Opteon Refrigerants.)
Today I was notified via Twitter that Chemours had made a new acquisition. I have to say that my mind wandered a bit trying to think of who it could be. A distribution network? A reclaimation company? Instead of guessing I looked across Google for any updates. It wasn’t hard to find the news.
Chemours purchased a much smaller company out of Indiana known as ICOR International. ICOR is an innovator in the refrigerant world. Instead of making due with the status quo during all of these phase downs and phase outs they took it upon themselves to come up with alternative refrigerants that could be used in existing machines and that would also be environmentally friendly. As I write this article there is not yet any information on the details of the purchase, how much was paid, what the terms are, or anything like that yet. I am not sure if this information will be released to the public or not.
ICOR International was originally known as Indianapolis Refrigeration and in 1995 they incorporated and changed their name to ICOR International. They got their start at around the time the R-12 phase out had begun. When the R-12 phase down began in the early 1990’s all of this was new. It was the first major phase down of a refrigerant and there just weren’t a lot of solutions or alternative options out there. Around this same time ICOR developed their own R-12 refrigerant known as ‘Hot Shot.’ This new refrigerant nearly duplicated the characteristics of R-12. This gave consumers and business owners another option which was needed, especially when being faced with the ever increasing cost of R-12. This ‘Hot Shot’ brand of ICORs can also be used to replace other common refrigerants such as R-134a, 401A, 401B, along with many more.
History repeated itself when the R-22 phase down began. A lot of you may have already heard of ICOR’s R-22 alternative known as NU-22, or a newer version known as NU-22B. Again, ICOR’s goal here was to establish a solid alternative refrigerant to the HCFC R-22. Like with most R-22 alternatives out there their product offers a near drop-in replacement, larger capacity, and improved efficiency. I would have to say that this brand was a solid success within the marketplace. Why else would Chemours be so interested in purchasing?
Along with these innovative refrigerants ICOR provides your everyday common refrigerants like 404A, 410A, 125, and others. They are also a provider of Hydrocarbon refrigerants such as R-290 (Propane) and R-600a (Isobutane.) As HFCs are phased down across the world the demand for Hydrocarbons will be growing.
Like with a lot of acquisitions Chemours is purchasing ICOR and their brand name more than anything. They get their alternative refrigerants as well as any new projects that they had been working on. Yes, they also get their distribution network, customers, and overall business but I have to believe that Chemours already had this part of their business established. It is the brand that sells folks.
What I am wondering here is that is this the beginning of a trend? There are a lot of ‘mom and pop,’ small refrigerant innovators and manufacturers out there in the United States. Is this purchase of ICOR the first in a set of dominoes to be gobbled up by Chemours and Honeywell? The jury is still out on how this purchase and any future purchases will affect the industry but with most things as of late we are seeing a trend of consolidation.
When I first started writing articles about R-717 Ammonia being used in ice rinks and in industrial refrigeration I tried to keep an open mind. However, over the past year or so I have become less and less confident with R-717 systems. I try to make my articles unbiased and to show the Pros and Cons to both sides but this is proving more difficult with R-717. Maybe I need some of you to re-convince me to the benefits of this refrigerant but as of today I am very skeptical of it’s practical applications.
Ammonia has been used as a refrigerant for nearly ninety years. While the applications have varied over the years it has always been around. It is highly regarded as the most efficient refrigerant available due to it’s low boiling point. To give an example R-717’s boiling point is -28 degrees Fahrenheit. While R-22’s boiling point is -41.62 degrees Fahrenheit and R-410A’s boiling point is -55.3 degrees Fahrenheit. Compare R-717 and R-22 and that’s a forty-eight percent difference in boiling point. Along with that low boiling point you also get no Ozone depletion and a very low Global Warming Potential. I can see why this refrigerant is used but we have to be aware of the downsides. R-717 is toxic and is also slightly flammable. It is rated as a B2L from the ASHRAE group.
Greenwood, South Carolina
Today, March 25th, the Department of Health and Human Services is on the scene of an Ammonia leak in Greenwood, South Carolina. Upon finding the leak and determining how large it was a half-mile radius was evacuated for precaution. Local citizens were awoken by police alerts on their phone and at their door to evacuate the area at two this morning. Later that morning police and firefighters walked through the affected areas taking samples to ensure that the air quality had returned to normal. The all clear was given this morning as well. Luckily, this leak was handled correctly.
While the exact cause of the leak has not been released I did find that it came from a food processing plant known as Carolina Pride Foods. (Their website can be found by clicking here.) This plant is a meat processing and manufacturing center. In the past I have toured a few meat processing plants and just as anyone would assume, they need to be refrigerated as well as have a freezer section. Heck, it’s so cold there you have to wear jackets, mittens, and hoods just to walk around for any matter of time. Using R-717 as their main refrigerant logically makes sense due to the energy efficiency. (In fact you’ll see these used in most industrial applications like this.)
Luckily, with this leak in South Carolina there were no fatalities. However, this latest incident was very familiar to a leak at an ice rink that occurred in Canada towards the end of 2017. A leak occurred and a large radius was evacuated just like in today’s story. The difference though was that proper precautions were not taken in Canada and it resulted in three fatalities. This tragic event has caused a lot of business owners and contractors to reconsider using Ammonia in future applications. I wrote a story about this event that can be found by clicking here.
While today’s event ended well and with no injuries I still am quite skeptical on the reasonable application of R-717. If this stuff leaks, which all systems will at some point, then disaster can occur. Today Ammonia seems to have a monopoly on industrial refrigeration and a fair slice of the market on ice rinks especially over in the European Union. Here’s the thing though, even with it’s danger and risk to public safety the R-717 market isn’t expected to shrink over the next few years. In fact, just the opposite. With all of the pressure around the world to phase out or phase down Ozone depleting or high Global Warming Potential refrigerants the industry has only two options to turn two: HFO refrigerants from Chemours and Honeywell or Hydrocarbons such as Ammonia.
The question on my mind folks is when does saving the environment become more important then safety? Should we keep switching units over to Ammonia in an effort to reduce Global Warming, or should we begin switching to HFC alternatives until a more suitable refrigerant that provides low GWP and is non-toxic arrives into the market place?
I looked through Honeywell and Chemour’s website going over their Solstice and Opteon HFO lines but I did not see anything specifically referencing industrial applications. I’m wondering if the rush to find an alternative to R-717 is on the back burner because it doesn’t actually affect the climate whereas all of the other HFC refrigerants are affecting Global Warming. So, again, I feel like safety is taking a backseat to Global Warming.
First and foremost let me state right now that the word ‘Freon’ is not a generic name for all refrigerants on the market today. In fact Freon refers to a specific type of refrigerant and is a specific brand of refrigerant. Confused? Well let me explain it this way. Using the name Freon to refer to all refrigerants is like using the term ‘Accord’ to refer to all cars. Obviously, there is a large difference between a Camry, Accord, and a Fusion. They are all different cars and all have different capabilities. It is important to realize that the same applies when it comes to refrigerants.
The term Freon is a registered brand name by the DuPont company and the Chemours company. The name was trademarked all the way back in the 1930’s when the first mainstream CFC refrigerant was invented. This refrigerant known as R-12 was the first ‘Freon’ refrigerant. That is also why the name stuck. It was the first major refrigerant used widely across the world. Because of this everyone referred to it as it’s brand name of Freon. Not much later another refrigerant was developed by DuPont known as R-22. The R-12 and R-22 refrigerants in tandem are responsible for the revolution of the refrigerant industry and were used in nearly every automobile and home air-conditioner for decades and decades.
Sometime in the 1980’s a problem was found with these CFC and HCFC refrigerants that had the Freon brand name. These refrigerants contained Chlorine and Chlorine was found to be damaging the Ozone layer in the Stratosphere. This Ozone layer is what protected us from the ultraviolet rays from the sun. Without it the world would heat up, we would be exposed to more radiation, along with a host of other problems. Because of the world’s demand for refrigeration a hole began to form in the Ozone layer. Scientists found this hole and sounded the alarm. Soon after a treaty was signed across the world announcing the ban of CFC and HCFC refrigerants. This included the Freon branded refrigerants known as R-12 and R-22.
The EPA’s Refrigerant Sales Restriction
In past years end users or do-it-yourselfers were not able to purchase R-22 or R-12 refrigerant due to the Environmental Protection Agency’s refrigerant sales restriction. This restriction stated that in order for you to legally purchase these types of refrigerants you would need to be either 608 or 609 certified with the EPA. The section 608 and section 609 clauses come from the Clean Air Act of 1990. The point of this regulation was to prevent people who did not know what they were doing from accessing and handling refrigerant that contained Chlorine. Remember now that Chlorine was a main contributor to the hole that formed in the Ozone layer.
This restriction was a nuisance to a lot of do-it-yourselfers but it wasn’t an all out deterrent. After all, most of the refrigerants used in today’s world are known as HFC refrigerants. These include your ever popular R-134a, R-404A, and R-410A. Users could buy these refrigerants without requiring a license. However, after January 1st, 2018 the EPA passed a new regulation stating that HFC refrigerants would now need a proof of section 608 or 609 certification in order to purchase. As I write this article in March of 2018 the country is still seeing the effects of this change. People who used to buy thirty pound cylinders of 134 at their local NAPA dealer are now being turned away due to them not being certified.
Please note that there is one exception here. If the user wants to purchase two pounds or less cans of refrigerant they still can without needing a certification number. So, instead of buying your thirty pound tank of 134a you now have to buy fifteen cans at a higher price. The good news though is that you can still buy it. Some of the other refrigerants out there don’t have the option to purchase in one our two pound cans.
All of this criteria above is dictated by the EPA. For more information on the refrigerant restriction rules please click here to be taken to the official EPA page. If you are seriously considering purchasing refrigerant then please do you research, obtain the proper certification, and then continue on reading this article for a list of distributors and contacts. Click here to be taken to our official refrigerant licensing guide.
So, What Kind of Refrigerant Do You Need?
Alright, so you are looking to purchase Freon/Refrigerant. The question now is what kind of refrigerant do you need? Just like in the example I used above with the Honda Accord there are hundreds of different types of refrigerants on the market today. Now, I can give you some basic knowledge and form a hypothesis as to what refrigerant your unit is using but I can not know for sure. It is always best to be absolutely certain as to what kind of refrigerant you need. Most of the time you can find this information when looking over your air conditioning unit. If it’s a car then you can most likely find the information under the hood or in the instruction manual. If it is an outside traditional split system then there should be a sticker on your outside unit that displays a whole host of information about the product. Somewhere on this sticker you will see the refrigerant that is used.
Below is a short listing of what the most likely refrigerant that your unit is using:
Automotive Application – Nowadays nearly every vehicle is using R-134a refrigerant for their vehicles. In recent years a new refrigerant known as HFO-1234yf is being used on newer models. If you car is a few years old you will need to check if it takes 1234yf or not. Otherwise you are fairly safe to assume that your car is taking R-134a.
Home or Commercial Air Conditioner – These ones can be a little tricky. Depending on when you got your unit you most likely either have an R-22 unit or a R-410A unit. As I said before R-22 was phased out in 2010 for new units. R-410A has been around since 2010 but it’s popularity didn’t really take off until the 2010 deadline hit for R-22.
Window Air Conditioners – Over the past few weeks I have done numerous articles and reserach on window air conditioners and throughout this research the most common refrigerant that I found used was R-410A.
Refrigerators and Freezers (Home and Commercial) – The go to refrigerant for these applications has been R-404A. There are some other alternatives out there such as CO2 (R-744), R-502, and some other new HFO refrigerants coming out soon.
How Much Are You Buying?
This is the question and it is a big one. Just like with anything in this world the more you buy the cheaper you can get it. It is no different with refrigerant. Another point to mention here is that refrigerant is by all measures a commodity. The price changes wildly back and forth over the seasons. What that means is that there is room for negotiation on price, especially if you are purchasing larger quantities. Let’s take a look at the refrigerant buying levels and what can be done witch each:
Little – If you are a do-it-yourselfer looking to get your hands on five or ten pounds of refrigerant then you are going to have a hard time. Today, as I write this you can purchase cylinders of refrigerant on Amazon.com or E-Bay.com. I fear that once the new refrigerant restriction rules go into effect in 2018 that these cylinders will vanish from online retailers. This is the sales restriction’s purpose though. They want to avoid novices or do-it-yourselfers working with AC machines. The chance of them accidentally venting or causing a leak of refrigerant in their system is very high since they are not experienced. There is an exception in the EPA’s restriction that allows small cans of refrigerants that are less then two pounds to be sold without a certification. The problem here is that these cans usually only come for automotive applications. If you are looking to purchase refrigerant for your home unit you may be out of luck unless you are 608/609 certified.
If you are certified and just need a few pounds of refrigerant the best way would to contact either your local HVAC company or a HVAC parts distributor like Johnstone Supply. If they are willing they would be able to sell to you after you provide your certification. Now there may still be refrigerant cylinders available for online purchase but if they are then the seller will be asking for your certification number before the product has shipped. If they do not ask for this in 2018 then they are breaking the law.
Medium – In my mind I picture the medium guys as business owners who either run a small HVAC repair company or they have a small automotive shop. These guys may need a few cylinders at a time but definitely cannot handle a forty cylinder pallet. These customers are 608/609 certified but just don’t have enough demand to require buying in larger quantities. Most of the time they are buying from HVAC wholesalers such as Johnstone Supply. While most distributors only sell in pallet quantities there are a few out there that will work with you and sell five cylinders at a time. There isn’t much room for negotiation here on pricing but it never hurts to try. Another point on this buying group is that you as the purchaser may be required to pay freight to ship the refrigerant. When you get to be purchasing a pallet at a time freight is usually pre-paid.
Large – Alright so now we’re getting onto the bigger guys. These are larger HVAC companies or shops/automotive dealerships. These guys can comfortably buy a pallet or two pallets at a time. (Remember a pallet is forty cylinders of refrigerant.) Like before these guys are EPA certified. The difference here is that they may have a corporate buyer buying for them rather than the actual technician or business owner who is certified. This buyer will need to provide the 608/609 number of one of the technicians that work for the company. There are a few things to note when buying a pallet or even multiple pallets of refrigerant:
It is typically standard practice to have the vendor pre-pay the freight when purchasing a pallet of refrigerant. If your distributor wants you to pay freight then I would fight it and push it back to them to pay. However, if they insist that you pay freight it honestly won’t be so bad as you are paying for an LTL shipment of one pallet. The only catch here is that it is a hazardous material so there will be an up-charge for the delivery. If I was to guess I’d rate it at about one-hundred and fifty dollars to two-hundred and fifty dollars for an LTL shipment.
The second point when buying in pallets is that the door is opened for negotiations on price. When I would have a two to three pallet order that I needed to place I would call around to three to four, sometimes five to six, refrigerant distributors. This would give me an average price point and then I would begin negotiating pricing down by pitting the distributors against each other. When I was satisfied with my price I would issue my purchase order and call it good. Now, you don’t want to do this back and forth all the time and you don’t want your supplier to hit bottom either. Remember, that the distributors need to make a profit as well and that you are not just buying from them but you are also establishing a relationship. If you have a habit of driving the price down to the bottom then it may come to the point where they don’t even want to deal with you.
Trailerloads – Now we’re on to the big boys. These are your chains of automotive dealerships or very large HVAC repair business in a larger city or in a network of cities. A trailer load of refrigerant is set at twenty pallets times forty cylinders a pallet or eight-hundred cylinders of refrigerant. Like before these buyers are certified with the EPA either through 608 and 609 and a corporate buyer is most likely co-coordinating the purchase and distribution of the trailer-load. This buyer will need to provide the 608/609 number of one of the technicians that work for the company. There are a few things to note when buying a trailerload of refrigerant:
Freight should be pre-paid by the vendor. There should be no question in this. If you are spending that much money with them they should be more then willing to pay for the freight.
Freight leads me right into my next point. When buying a trailerload you should be able to negotiate multiple drops of your trailer with your vendor. What that means is if you have a dealership in Kansas City and one in Saint Louis that the trailerload will drop ten pallets in Saint Louis, go across I-70, and then drop the remaining ten pallets in Kansas City. This should come at no extra charge to you as again you are paying for a full trailerload of refrigerant. Depending on the carrier and the vendor you are working with you should be able to squeeze our two drops maybe even three drops as long as the cities are close to each other.
The door is wide open to negotiate on price when dealing with twenty pallets. Distributors love a trailerload shipment because it’s easy. If done right they can purchase it directly from their manufacturer and have the manufacturer dropship the product without the distributor even touching the goods. The only thing they’d have to do is co-ordinate the shipment and the delivery. Because this is easy for them and they are getting a large sale you have plenty of room to negotiate that price down.
The last point I’ll make on trailerload purchasing is that there is the possibility to contact the refrigerant manufacturers directly instead of going through a distributor. Remember how I said that the distributor wouldn’t have to touch the trailerload? Well, the manufacturer is the one doing the work now. Wouldn’t it make sense to cut out the middle man and go right for the manufacturers? This will save you quite a bit of money and will allow you to build a relationship with the manufacturer for your next large purchase.
When To Buy
I mentioned this earlier but refrigerants are a commodity. What I mean by that is that their prices can change at the drop of a hat. I like to use the analogy of the price of oil. We always hear about the price of oil going up and down per barrel. One day it’s this and the next day it’s that. It’s just a fact of life. Refrigerant is very similar to this except we just don’t hear about it in the news.
Predictably, refrigerant’s highest price for the year is in the dead of summer. That goes for the homeowners and the business owners. If you are an HVAC company in July and you find yourself out of refrigerant you are going to be paying a pretty penny to get some more. At that point the price almost doesn’t matter. Without it you can’t do your jobs and your techs sit. On the reverse side the bottom price for refrigerant is winter. It’s that whole supply and demand thing again. No one is buying much in winter so the price tends to drop and drop until the Spring comes.
Typically the price will peak towards the end of July or in August. There have been a few times where I have seen September carry a high price but it usually comes down when October comes around. Instead of experiencing a typical crash the price will slowly creep down with each week that passes by until we hit December and January where the price is the lowest it’s going to get.
This December and January time is the absolute best time to buy if you are worried about price. There has been enough time for the previous summer’s inflated price to die off and the new demand for the next year hasn’t begun to hit yet. If you wait until February you are going to begin to see prices start to rise. The reason that is a lot of these bigger companies who can handle trailerloads begin buying multiple trailers in preparation for the upcoming Spring and Summer season. It’s usually about mid-February when these big orders start coming in. The trailers usually hit the buyer’s docks a couple weeks from there and then they are ready and rearing to go for March all the way until the end of the year.
The last thing I’ll mention in this section is that if you are one those early buyers is that you need to watch the market when summer comes. I remember one year where I had bought at sixty dollars a cylinder for R-134a in the winter. Then, that summer the price kept climbing and climbing until it broke two-hundred dollars a cylinder. Here’s the problem though. Our guys were still selling cylinders at eighty or ninety dollars a cylinder. We sold out in no time and only found out later that we were priced WAYbelow market. We left a whole bunch of money on the table. Don’t let that happen to you. If you see the market climbing don’t be afraid to raise your prices as well to keep in line with the competition.
Where To Buy From?
First things first before we get onto the different distributors I want to point out that all these companies are just that, distributors. They are not manufacturing this product. Refrigerant primarily comes from one of four places: Honeywell, Chemours, Mexichem, and Arkema. The only thing you have to look out for when dealing with distributors is making sure that you are not getting imported Chinese product. A lot of the times the Chinese product is bad quality, not mixed correctly, or is not even the right refrigerant that you ordered. A safe practice when dealing with a distributor is asking exactly what manufacturers they carry. That way you know exactly what product you are buying from and I can assure you that if it is from one of those four names that I mentioned above that you are getting quality product.
Without further ado let’s take a look at our listing of refrigerant distributors:
Airgas Refrigerants is a large refrigerant distributor. I bought from these guys when I was a buyer and again back in 2013 when I had my online business, they were very helpful and I had no issues with product quality. They were recently acquired by our next distributor Hudson Technologies.
Hudson Technologies is one of the largest distributors in the United States. They hold many patents in the refrigeration industry and claim to be one of the biggest reclamation companies in the country. They offer ON-SITE refrigeration services no matter where you are in the country. On top of that they have been growing like crazy through acquisitions and innovation.
A-Gas Americas is the direct competitor with Hudson Technologies. A-Gas is the other largest refrigerant distributor in the country and have also been acquiring and growing like crazy through the United States, Canada, and Mexico. They are owned by their parent company A-Gas out of the United Kingdom. If you ever used to work with Coolgas or RemTec International then you’ve worked with A-Gas. These companies combined with A-Gas to form A-Gas Americas back in 2012.
Refrigerant Depot, formerly known as Automart Wholesale, was founded in 1995. They are based out of Orlando and provide very competitive pricing on pallets nationwide. All of their products are produced in the United States by major manufacturers. I’ve bought from these guys in the past and have had no issues.
Weitron is a worldwide distributor of refrigerants. They were founded in 1992 in Maryland and have since expanded to supplying locations all over the United States and globally. Weitron is committed to quality product and great customer service. Again, I’ve bought from Weitron in the past and did not have any issues or complaints.
Refrigerants Inc was founded in 1997 and have now expanded to three hub locations across the United States. Their locations in Denver, Omaha, and Chicago provide same or next day shipping to most areas of the United States. Customer sanctification is their goal and they work to earn their customers.
Altair was founded in 1991 as an importer of industrial chemicals and have expanded to other chemicals, refrigeration ,and oils. Altair is committed to providing the best quality products as well as the most competitive price. Altair prides itself on it’s numerous international connections and breadth.
I am sure everyone had heard of JohnStone Supply. They are one of the leaders in HVAC distribution, not just in refrigerants but in all manners of tools, parts, and accessories. JohnStone was founded way back in 1953 and is now a recognized name throughout the HVAC industry. They average over $1.5 billion in sales and growing. They are the go to for a large portion of HVAC contractors.
Yes, of course Chinese product is available… but it is tough to know exactly what product you are getting if you decide to import product yourself. Manufacturing refrigerant is complex and some imported refrigerants will not have the exact same chemical formula as locally made product. Now, this could be due to ignorance or the exporting company trying to get their cost as low as possible. Some of these concoctions are harmless but others can result in increased flammability which could lead to injury to you or technicians. Best advice I can give is to do your research and to know exactly what you are getting.
Alright folks well I hope that after reading this article that I have accomplished two things for you. The first is that you now have a better understanding of what Freon is and how it differentiates from other refrigerants. The second point is that I hope that you feel more comfortable about purchasing refrigerant, how to purchase it, and where to go to receive quotes and other information.
I hope that this guide was helpful to you and thanks for reading!
Good morning folks and welcome to RefrigerantHQ! As I write this article it’s a nice cold March Sunday morning. Things haven’t begun to warm up yet for the upcoming refrigerant season but everyone knows that it is just around the corner. In fact April is really the beginning. It is the point where we begin to see maintenance calls start to come up and then slowly but surely as the days and weeks pass we inch closer and closer to summer and to those long, but profitable, days.
Something new this year that a lot of people may have overlooked is that HFC refrigerants such as R-134a, R-404A, R-410A are now subjected to the Environmental Protection Agency’s refrigerant sales restriction regulation. What that means folks is that you are no longer able to purchase these types of refrigerants unless you are section 608 or section 609 certified with the Environmental Protection Agency. For more on the refrigerant sales restriction please click here to be taken to the EPA’s official site.
While these restrictions are new to HFC refrigerants those of you who have been in the industry for a while know exactly what I am talking about. In the past CFC and HCFC refrigerants were subjected to the EPA’s refrigerant sales restriction as well. So, if you wanted to purchase one of these refrigerants you had to go through the training and the certification.
This change on HFC refrigerants caught a lot of the do-it-yourselfers off guard. A lot of the larger companies knew this was coming and had prepared for it by getting their techs and purchasers already 609 certified back in 2017. These garage mechanics and other do-it-yourselfers are now finding that they do not have a way to purchase thirty pound cylinders of 134a any longer.
It should be noted that there is an exception to these rules for the weekend warriors out there. People who are not certified to handle refrigerants can still purchase two pounds or less canisters at their local stores. So, if I needed to recharge my Camry then all I would need to do is go to my local parts store or Amazon.com and purchase a few cans of R-134a. This can be done without a license. So, there is hope!
However, if you are confident that you need a license or certification then keep on reading folks and I will do my best to guide you along the process.
Section 609 Certification
Section 609 is in fact the easier license to get on refrigerants. 609 deals strictly with the automotive side and covers refrigerants such as R-12 and R-134a. So, if you are a mechanic or an at home repair guy then 609 is what you will need. Today there are more than one million people certified under this section 609. There are a few ways for you or your employees to become certified with the Environmental Protection Agency. Some of these options are listed below:
A licensed 609 certification trainer comes to your place of employment, puts on a class, and then hands out testing to each attendant. After the tests are completed they will then be mailed to MACS Worldwide to be graded. If passed you will then receive your license through the mail. In my experience these work great as a ‘lunch and learn.’ Cater in a lunch, bring in a trainer, and get your staff qualified in just an hour.
A 609 trainer can either be from an outside party like a vendor/salesmen or it could be a designated person at your company. I have seen both. A good trainer will go over all of the details and help attendees with questions that they are unsure of. Ideally, most everyone should pass this test.
The other option is to go directly through MACS Worldwide. MACS is the primary provider and manager of 609 tests and license granting. They started their program only a few years after the 609 rules were introduced back in 1990. Ever since 1992 MACS has been the leader in granting 609 tests and certifications. Review the links below to read up a bit more about them, order a study book, and even order a test.
Please note that for each of these scenarios it will take twenty dollars per person in order to take a test.
Section 608 Certification
608 is where things get a little bit more complicated and where the ‘meat and potatoes,’ of air conditioning is. If you’re going to be working on anything other than vehicles than you need your 608. 608 comes in four different types of EPA level certification and each one contains it’s own specialized section.
Core Test – The core test is necessary for all technicians to take rather you are going for sections 1, 2, or 3.
Type 1 608 Certification – This covers small appliances that are manufactured, charged, and hermetically sealed with five pounds or less of refrigerants.
Type 2 608 Certification – This covers high pressure and very high pressure appliances. Some example high pressure refrigerants are as follows: R-12, R-22, R-114, R-500, and R-502. Also note that this type 2 certification will allow you to legally purchase and handle R-410A refrigerant.
Type 3 608 Certification – This covers low pressure appliances with some example refrigerants being R-11, R-113, and R-123.
Universal Certification – Just as it sounds a universal certification can be obtained by passing certification for all types 1, 2, and 3. If you are going to be working in the industry then I would suggest going for the universal and just to cover your bases. The worst thing that can happen is having to turn down a job because you are not certified to handle that type of refrigerant.
Unlike 609 the 608 certification is much harder to achieve. Unfortunately, most 608 certifications have to be taken in person at a certified training facility. These training facilities can be a third party company, your trade school or college, or your employer. Depending on how large your employer is they may put on their own 608 training courses. It should be noted that you are able to take the type 1 section 608 certification online. Click this link to learn more.
If you are looking to achieve a higher level 608 certification and am not quite sure where to go then I would suggest a few things. Contact your employer first to see if you can get free training and certification. If they do not offer that then check with your local trade schools. Lastly, if you are still not finding a provider then check out this link to the EPA’s website for featured training areas.
Lastly, check out this resource for a free 608 practice test. This should definitely help you out and get you prepared for the real thing!
Intent to Resale
There is one more option for users to purchase refrigerants without having a certification license. While this won’t help the at home mechanics it will help those of you who are purchasers or resalers. If you are purchasing refrigerant from a wholesaler you can provide them with a formal letter stating that you are intending to resale the product and that you or your company will not be using the refrigerant. According to the EPA’s website, “(The) EPA recommends that wholesalers obtain a signed statement from the purchaser indicating that he or she is purchasing the refrigerant only for eventual resale to certified technicians.” This covers you as a purchaser and also covers the seller. Once this is bought please be aware though that it will be up to you or your company to track all of the refrigerant sales.
Well folks, that about covers it for refrigerant licensing. I hope that this guide was able to answer your questions on what license to get, how to get it, and where to get it. I have a feeling most of you will be looking at that 609 certification over the 608. Either way though, when you are dealing with refrigerant remember to be safe and to be certified!
The F-Gas regulation is a set of rules and guidelines that is now in place throughout the European Union. It can be traced all the way back to a 2006 legislation called the ‘F-Gas Regulation.’ The initial goal of this legislation was to stabilize levels of the European Union’s F-Gas emissions to that of 2010 levels. (In other words, they did not want future years’ emissions to go above the 2010 baseline level.) The EU had no reason to be squeamish about these types of phase outs as they had finished years ahead of other countries when it came to CFC and HCFC phase outs. They knew what they were doing.
This initial 2006 regulation was met with success just like before with the others. Then in 2014 a new F-Gas regulation was adopted that posed much stricter rules and restrictions. This part two of the F-Gas regulation went into effect on January 1st, 2015. This law accomplished three main things:
It limited the total amount of F-Gases that could be sold in the EU from 2015 and onwards. The goal here was to slowly phase out the quantity and imports of HFCs into the EU. Death by attrition.
Banning the use of F-gases in many new types of equipment. The same way how R-22 is banned from use in new machines today here in the States. Again, death by attrition. If they wait out the old machines they will eventually fail and be replaced.
Preventing emissions of current and existing machines by requiring routine checks, proper servicing, and recovery of refrigerants using the proper methods and techniques.
One way to look at this law from our perspective is that it is similar to the Clean Air Act here but instead of applying towards CFCs and HCFCs it is towards HFC refrigerants that we use everyday. I hate to say it but for whatever reason the EU always seems to be ahead of the US when it comes to things like this. Just look at R-134a. No new vehicles can use it over there. Here we’re still chugging along. But don’t get too comfortable folks because something similar will be coming here to the States as well. Some would argue that it already has with the SNAP Rule 20 from the EPA.
If you look at the table below you can see the schedule of the planned HFC refrigerant reductions in the European Union. While these numbers can mean a lot at first glance to fully understand them you need to understand the baseline. (It’s a percentage, but a percentage of what?) In this case the EU used the average quantity of CO2 placed on the market in the EU between the years of 2009 through 2012. This baseline number ended up being 183 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent. (Remember folks that the Global Warming Potential uses CO2 as their baseline as well.) Now with an established baseline we can begin to see the impact of these reduction schedules showing in the table below.
While the F-Gas regulation went into effect in 2015 the European countries really haven’t begun to feel the pinch until just this year. Most of you will remember the prices going like crazy on certain refrigerants in early 2017. Imagine what the EU went through. I’ve seen stories of over one-thousand percent increases from last summer. Here’s the scary part. That was at the 2017 reduction levels. Can you imagine another thirty percent reduction at the drop of a hat come January 1st, 2018? This next jump in 2018 is one hell of a reduction. The question is will our European friends be ready for it or will they be in for a world of hurt?
Thanks for reading and I hope that I was able to answer your question,
This will be a short post but I had it bouncing around in my head for a few days and I wanted to share it with my audience. One of the most common questions I get asked over and over again is about refrigerant pricing. This could be posed from a home-owner who doesn’t know what the fair price of refrigerant is per pound or from the contractor who wants to know why he’s paying double the cost for 410A then he paid last month. How do refrigerants get their price, what all goes into it, and why does it change so often?
Well folks, there isn’t an easy answer to this and it’s probably why so many people ask about it. I like to think of refrigerant as a commodity. When I explain this to people I equate it to a barrel of oil. You always hear on the news about the cost of a fifty-five gallon barrel of oil. It’s XX amount today then ten dollars higher the next day. Next week it may have gone down thirty dollars from that price. Refrigerant can be treated the same way. Sure, it’s not as volatile as oil but if you are in the dead heat of an intense summer than the price on a 410A or 134a cylinder can go through the roof. Or, if the summer across the country only comes up with a few hot days then you could see the price plummet.
The following are some of the things that I have seen affect refrigerant pricing through my years in the industry:
Shortage of raw materials – This happened in 2017 when we ran into a shortage of the mineral flurospar in China. Flurospar is a key ingredient to hydrofluroic acid, Hydrofluroic acid is a key component to the R-125 refrigerant, and R-125 refrigerant is a key component to R-410A. See this snowball rolling? The price nearly doubled this year all because of the shortage of this mineral that no one even saw coming. The cause of this shortage related back to China tightening it’s environmental and mining polices and of course China controls nearly all of this resource for the entire world.
Anti-Dumping and Tariffs Lawsuits – These have been all over the place over the years. The worst part about them is that I’ve seen a refrigerant rise twenty to thirty percent just at the filing of such a lawsuit with the Trade Commission. So, nothing has happened yet but just the whisperings of a potential new tariff caused the price to sky rocket. That’s not to mention the effects that can happen if a tariff is activated on a refrigerant.
An Unusual Summer – This could be taken either way. A very hot or a very mild summer. Obviously, with a hot summer you have more machines working hard and more machines breaking which means more refrigerant needed. If you get a brutal summer with day after day of one-hundred degree days you can see the price rise and rise. I remember one summer where I saw the price start at sixty-five dollars a cylinder and end at two-hundred and forty a cylinder. No joke. The price leveled out again as we went toward winter but that just goes to show you how fast the price can change.
Phase Outs – We’ve all seen this over the years. Phase outs cause the refrigerant market to go hay-wire and sometimes it’s not just the pricing on the phased out refrigerant that goes up. Just look at the price of R-22 over the past five to ten years. It just keeps going up. I bet you here in a few years it will be around eight to nine-hundred dollars a cylinder.
Threat of Phase Out – This one is a little different but I have seen the price go up substantially just at the threat of a phase out or at the announcement of a planned phase out that won’t start until five or ten years down the road.
Distributor Competition – This is somewhat related to the tariff or anti-dumping point I made above. This is when you have a refrigerant distributor buying trailerloads or containers of refrigerant from China and unloading it at dirt cheap prices in your marketplace. Sometimes these guys can buy thirty to forty percent less than what an American made product will go for. They then give it away to their customers which causes the competing distributors to lower their price causing a chain reaction of lower cost. This doesn’t happen as much anymore due to the tariffs on refrigerant blends as well as R-134a.
Contractor/Mechanic Competition – I saw this more on the automotive side but some dealerships would buy ten to twenty pallets of R-134a in the dead of winter and sit on it until spring and summer came around. Then when the prices started to rise they would keep their prices level all the while still making a hefty profit. This would cause their competitors to lower their cost causing the market to go down as well.
Now the above notes are just some of the things that can happen to each refrigerant on the market during the summer season. To complicate this more imagine when you have each one of these points mixing and matching with each other all during the same summer season. Sure, you can be educated as to what’s coming down the path but a lot of it is a guessing game.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. The safest time to buy refrigerant is December, January, and February. The cost has had time to cool off from the summer and has started to level out to it’s lowest point. If you wait any longer then February you are going to start seeing it creep up again as March hits and the south starts to warm up. Most guys who have the capital will buy what they need for the entire season during these months. This allows them to be competitive and also takes away any worry about what will happen to the price in the summer.
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