As we all know, when January hits in 2020 R-22 production and importing will no longer be allowed within the United States. The only way to receive R-22 will be through purchasing virgin product from those distributors who have stockpiled or by purchasing reclaimed refrigerant. This simple fact is causing a lot of concern for ice rink owners, managers, and local governments. In most cases their ice rinks are decades old and need repairs every other year or so. In the United States R-22 was the primary refrigerant used for ice rink applications.
The problem occurs with the R-22 ice rinks that are aging. These business owners and government leaders are left with two choices. They can continue with their R-22 systems and hope that the cost of the refrigerant doesn’t climb when the phase out hits. Or, they can bite the bullet and invest in a completely new refrigeration system for their arena. Yes, there is a third option of retrofitting but in many cases retrofitting to a new refrigerant simply isn’t possible. A retrofit is very dependent on what refrigerant you are using and what refrigerant you will be moving towards.
A new refrigeration system for ice rinks can cost multiple millions of dollars. It this reason alone why many managers have decided to kick the can down the road and go with the first option we listed. The prospect of stockpiling R-22 is much cheaper than replacing their old R-22 system with Ammonia or an HFO refrigerant.
One arena out of East Grand Forks, Minnesota is doing exactly that. In an article I read this morning they stated that they are purchasing nearly three-thousand pounds of R-22 in anticipation of the January 2020 phase out. While this may sound like a lot of refrigerant a standard ice rink can use several thousands of pounds of R-22. So, this stockpile may only be able to handle one or two full recharges. When their stockpile runs out, they will be in the same boat again only this time facing a higher priced R-22.
The prospect of spending millions on replacing an outdated system is simply just not possible for many of these ice rink owners. In most cases they have to get grants from their local city or county government in order to pay for the replacement. Often times these grants are difficult to get pushed through.
This is why we see many arenas stock piling R-22. There is no better time to buy R-22 then right now as the prices are at rock bottom. I haven’t seen prices this low in years. Depending on where you look a thirty pound cylinder can cost less than three-hundred dollars. That’s less than ten dollars per pound. No one knows for sure what’s going to happen to the price as we get closer to January, so if you are looking to stockpile then now is the time.
This problem is rather unique to the United States. Outside of the US most ice rinks use R-717 ammonia. Ammonia is cheap and is one of the most efficient refrigerants in the world. The downside though is the toxicity risk if a leak occurs. There are specific safety regulations and procedures taken when working with Ammonia systems though that helps to mitigate the risk of exposure.
The US though has always been apprehensive to refrigerants that come with safety concerns such as hydrocarbons or ammonia. However, in recent years though this has begun to change. When these arena owners do finally decide to bite the bullet and pay for a new system ammonia is a viable option.
Along with ammonia there are other options out there as well. Last year, I wrote an article on the future of ice rinks. The article went into all of the possible refrigerants that could be used in ice rinks today.
All of the above being said, this is assuming that these ice rinks can actually get the money to replace their existing system. In many cases the money is just not obtainable and when their existing R-22 system finally breaks down beyond repair these arenas may have to shut their doors for good.