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Refrigerants: is it already a case of too little too late?

Peter Dinnage (right), IDS Refrigeration business development manger, discusses the issues surrounding R22 and the mathematics of the phase out of the refrigerant
Refrigerants: is it already a case of too little too late?
BY now we are all, one hopes, familiar with the facts as far as the phase out of R22 and other HCFCs is concerned. If you are not, you should be, for it is the UK's HVAC contractors and consultants who need to drive and speed up the process of change to non-ozone depleting refrigerants.

The basic facts are simple:

In 35 months' time, from January 1 2010, it will be illegal to use new or virgin R22. Just under three years sounds like plenty of time in which to meet the requirements of this new legislation, but is it?

There are a number of factors compressing this timescale, some legislative and some down to the action, or lack of it, of our industry.

Don't forget there are lots of systems still on HCFCs and they can't all be dealt with at once and will need to be scheduled into the other work a contractor carries out.

The other key date to be aware of is just a year away. On January 1 2008 HCFC production will be cut by 16% across Europe, reducing availability of R22. The impact of this should not be underestimated, assuming the normal rules of supply and demand apply.

While it will still be legal to use recycled/reclaimed R22 to top up existing systems after phase out, industry figures show there is insufficient returned product for reclaim and more critically limited capacity for reclamation, so product availability will be a problem.

In simple terms, if moisture, oil and acid are not removed or the more a product is recycled, the less pure it becomes, with a potentially adverse effect on equipment, increased energy costs for the end-user and possible equipment failures. This is a key fact that contractors and consultants need to convey to their customers.

And it isn't just R22 that this applies to. A further four refrigerants (R123, R124, R141b, R142b) and 16 blends (R401A/B, R402A/B, R403A/B, R405A, R406A, R408A, R409A/B, R411B, R412A, R414A/B, R416A) are affected. The availability of many of these will become increasingly difficult much sooner.

So is the industry doing enough to adapt to this brave new world? The simple answer is no. Based on its own research, IDS Refrigeration has divided HVAC contractors and consultants into four groups:

· Those who are aware that they need to take action but are not.

· Those who are aware that they need to take action, and are.

· Those who are unaware that they need to take any action.

· Those who are aware that they need to take action, but remain unconcerned.

The other worrying message from this research is that relatively few people in the above categories were aware they would not be allowed to stockpile virgin HCFCs for use after December 31 2009.

So, although the message is getting through, more action needs to be taken, and fast. There are two routes only for contractors and consultants to recommend to their customers. Option one is to remove existing installations and replace with new plant. Option two is to convert R22 and other HCFC applications using proven direct replacement refrigerants such as the DuPont ISCEON 9 series.

Equipment replacement is definitely an option, particularly where refrigeration or air conditioning equipment is in poor condition or nearing the end of its useful life. In other cases, the fact that replacement can be up to 10 times the cost of conversion makes option two - direct replacement refrigerants - the favoured one.

The refrigerant replacement option is far less costly and causes less on-site disruption. There are already many users of the ISCEON 9 series who are well on the way to replacing all their HCFC equipment and are also enjoying a further benefit of energy savings at a time of rapidly rising utility prices.

Customers across a wide range of uses have found ISCEON MO59 (R417A) to work well in air conditioning and refrigeration applications.

Meanwhile ISCEON MO29 (R422D) is being used to replace R22 in water chiller applications and is now increasingly used in medium and low temperature refrigeration applications with great success. Users of ISCEON MO29 include large offices, supermarkets, cold stores and large process plant refrigeration. ISCEON MO79 (R422A) has proven extremely successful replacing blends such as R408A, R402A and R403B as well as R22.

Each of these refrigerants operates with lower discharge temperatures which can be extremely beneficial, particularly at lower temperatures. They also have the added advantage of working with the same oils as the refrigerant they replace in the majority of instances.

But while there are two viable routes, the real problem is the timescale. Even for those contractors which are taking action, the issue is acute.

If we assume the average mid-sized contractor looks after 250 HCFC systems and converts or replaces two per month from this month onwards, slightly under 20% will be converted by the beginning of 2009.

Increase this figure to four a month in the final year before the ban on use of virgin HCFCs, and that is still more than 150 systems dependent on ever diminishing and increasingly expensive supplies of reclaimed HCFCs.

The maths is pretty simple. The time to take action is now.
1 January 2007

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