As you all know, a few days ago I sent out a survey to the industry asking questions on hydrocarbon refrigerants. The goal of this was to help me understand how folks who are working in the industry everyday feel about them. Does it make sense to switch over to hydrocarbons? Should the charge limits be increased? What parts of the world have adopted them, what parts are hesitant to move forward?
This was a new idea for the RefrigerantHQ website and I had high hopes for the results. After letting the surveys come in for the past couple days I am more then happy with the participation that I received. As I write this article eighty surveys have come in. Now, I know that may not sound like a lot but I believe it is enough to at least give us a glimpse on what the industry thinks of hydrocarbons.
What I was most happy with is that we received feedback from across the globe. Yes, the majority of the surveys, about sixty-five percent, came from the United States. But, there were many others from around the world. Fifteen percent of responses came from various countries within the European Union. Seven percent came from Australia. Five percent came from east and central Asia, and another five percent came from Africa. We had some come from the Middle East and even one entry from the island of Fiji.
One of the questions I asked on the survey was about hydrocarbon training. In order to handle hydrocarbons applications you have to have proper training. These are flammable refrigerants and if a laymen is trying to repair them there is risk. That is why I saw this question as so important. How many of us out there have had proper training on handling these refrigerants?
With the results I received I was able to break it down by country and also by type of company. Let me first start with training percentages by country. In this I am only going to include the European Union and the United States as the other datasets from other countries was too small to make an accurate judgment. When participants were asked if they have received hydrocarbon training eighty-two percent of people from the EU stated that they had. I also added up the results from all of the ‘other’ countries which includes Africa, Australia, Asia, etc. Their training percentage was at seventy-five percent. If we compare the same question to the United States we see sixty-two percent.
It is obvious to see that the United States is lagging behind other countries when it comes to hydrocarbon training. I had suspected this already before the survey was taken out. There is a certain fear associated with these types of refrigerants, especially within the United States. As an example, a survey participant stated,
“Use of any flammable, explosive, or toxic refrigerants should be outlawed. Anyone who installs one will eventually find himself being sued when it explodes. The natural refrigerants like Ammonia are toxic, and the natural refrigerants like CO2 are explosive because of their exceedingly high ambient pressures. This makes them very dangerous for anyone to work on.”
There were many results similar to the one I quoted above. They weren’t all from the United States either. There were just as many negative comments on hydrocarbons from the European Union as well. Here are a few:
“The use of hydrocarbon refrigerants such as R290, R600, R600a etc need to controlled very carefully. of course, I understand that they are low global warmers, but they are also explosive & present a very significant safety hazard. No good in reducing global warming if we blow ourselves up in the process, ie witness the disaster at Grenfell Tower in London where many people died to the use of hydrocarbons initially in the refrigeration unit & then in the cladding. In my view, the European are going entirely in the wrong direction by easing the restrictions on HCs in EN378. There are other, and much safer, ways of reducing global warming, both direct & indirect, than enabling HCs to become mainstream refrigerants, which would be a disaster & inevitably lead to many accidents & fatalities. Indeed, we as a company are working on such alternatives which are non flammable & with low GWPs.” – Survey Participant from the EU
“In Europe for chiller/HPs we’re introducing low GWP (but not so low) HFC R32, R454B, R452B classified A2L. It is already hard to introduce these gases to customers used to work with no-flammable A1 (R410A basically). So I think A3 hydrocarbons would be definitely not accepted at all, except for some niches where they have already some market share.” – Survey Participant from the EU
Reading these comments had me look at the training numbers again. This time I looked at who has been trained by company type regardless of country. This way of looking at the data revealed a lot more. Over eighty percent of the entries from distributors and manufacturers have had hydrocarbon training. The same goes with the automotive sector, but that is most likely due to the HFO-1234yf slight flammability. Now if we look at the training percentage on HVAC contractors the number is only fifty percent. Because of this low number it dragged down the entire overall training percentage to sixty-five percent.
What does all of that mean? There are two things at work here. I believe part of this is a fear of the unknown but another part, just as big, is a legitimate fear of flammability risk. The flammability danger will always be there but what we can do is work on better training to alleviate the fear of the unknown. Looking at the percentages we recorded through the survey there is a gap in training offered or required when working with hydrocarbon refrigerants. Like it or not folks it is the way the industry is moving. HFCs are on the way out and many companies are moving towards hydrocarbon refrigerants. Training needs to occur.
From what I can gather there is one country that is doing an outstanding job when it comes to using hydrocarbons everyday and also ensuring that the proper training is not only given but is required. That country is Australia. I received a few surveys from over there and each one of them had great feedback. Here are a couple of their responses:
“Yes, we work with R600a as well and to be honest we have found no issues with either of them except for the actual weight allowance so it is only good for the smaller self contained cabinets. We would like the charge luted to 500grams so them a much wider self contained market can come int play and as this refrigerant is very efficient it also helps with power / ozone.We have good training over here for these refrigerants from our training colleges and also the refrigerant suppliers which means after the training you actually get a certificate so you can purchase it legally. Now over here they are talking about putting it A/C units which is madness as these units can hold weights up to 5kgs or more. So far we have said we will not support this maddness as it is far too dangerous.” – Survey Participant from Australia
Another response from Australia:
“Firstly, because approximately only 40% of original charge is used to obtain equivalent super heat & sub cooling settings, then the flammability is reduced to the lower charge with a hydrocarbon. We have been using hydrocarbons now for approximately 4 -5 years with no issues what so ever. The most important aspect I see is that techs or tradies using hydrocarbon refrigerants are not “cowboys” of the industry. We have attended many installations done by cowboys of the industry and they obviously do not own or do not know how to use the following:
- Nitrogen Regulator & Nitrogen
- Vacuum Pump
- Digital Vacuum Gauge
- Leak Detector
Their installations leak due to badly cut copper and no de-burring, no oil used on the seat or shoulder of the flare and the use of leak lock on a flare – all incorrect and bad installation practices.
Then they fail to pressurize the system to at least 1.5 times operating pressures of the refrigerant. Next they fail to vacuum the system correctly, ie. Evacuate to under 500 microns, isolate the vacuum pump and ensure vacuum does not rise beyond 500 microns.
Until installers can get this right then to me they are a hazard to the community if allowed to work with hydrocarbon refrigerant. Hydrocarbon refrigerant is an excellent refrigerant in the hands of good techs and fridgies. As here in Australia a person does not have to be licensed to buy Hydrocarbon refrigerant, unlike not being able to buy Hydrofluorocarbons because they are not licensed opens up a Pandora’s box to probable fires etc, not acceptable.” – Survey Participant from Australia
I really liked the term ‘cowboys’ that the last participant used. I am sure you have all seen the cowboys of the industry or even the homeowner/business owner who thinks they can do it themselves. When R-404A or R-410A is being used the worst that happens it that it gets vented into the atmosphere by someone who doesn’t know what they are doing. With hydrocarbons though it is a different story. A cowboy can cause significant damage and risk to themselves and others.
So the question now to everyone is how do we as an industry get better at training? We all know hydrocarbons are coming. What is the correct answer here? How can we minimize the risk? Do we introduce new national training legislation for each country? The biggest gap in training right now are the contractors who are actually in the field working on these systems. What can we do to provide the knowledge they need to keep them safe?
This article only covered the training section of the survey questions. I will be doing another article on the charge limit and preferred refrigerant choice of the future in the coming weeks. Hopefully by then I have even more survey results back!
While I hope to achieve more survey results the next time we do one of these in the future I am more then pleased to see this initial pilot go so well. I will see how this results article does on traffic. If this performs well also, then I will begin thinking of an additional survey for a month or two down the road. Perhaps we could turn it into a quarterly industry survey. I believe it could be quite the success. With that in mind, if any of you have ideas on what you would like to see in the next survey please reach out to us.
Also, if you’d like to see more detailing statistics on this survey please reach out to us.