Influence and responsibility
Air conditioning as an industry rightfully comes under pressure due to the refrigerant gases we use in our products. The unique properties of these gases mean they can absorb and reject heat easily and therefore be used to provide thermal management solutions, not just for people, but for equipment that help the world function. There are life-saving and game-changing technologies in our day-to-day lives that rely on refrigeration and air conditioning which come together to allow us to live longer and more comfortably than ever before. Air conditioning is an important industry to society but, as ever, with influence comes responsibility.
It is well documented that the air conditioning and refrigeration industry has a part to play in global warming through its use of F-Gases and electricity consumption; yet air conditioning is considered a societal necessity because it does save lives and help grow economies. The conclusion of one recent report stated that whilst cooling is important, it should not come at the expense of the planet. It appears to come back to balance – a conclusion we reached a long time ago.
At Airedale we take our environmental responsibilities seriously. For several years we have focused a large proportion our R&D resource on moving towards suitable replacements for refrigerants gases such as R410A and R134a. This development work started before the current F-gas regulations were introduced and started forcing the wider industry’s hand. This has helped create a level playing field in some respects but also helps us, as a proactive business, stay one step ahead.
In 2014 we were one of the first companies to release a chiller with a R134a replacement (the TurboChill range with R1234ze) and now in 2019 we have launched our R410A replacement products under the Azure name. Products in the Azure range will use R32 refrigerant and we have also launched R32 versions of our Ultima and DeltaChill chillers, with plans for additional R32 products in the pipeline.
R32 has been widely cited as an effective replacement for R410A due to it having similar properties, but the decision to develop a product range using R32 wasn’t a simple one. As a market leader we had to commit our R&D resource to undertake extensive research and vigorous testing of all refrigerant options to be sure we are delivering the best possible solution to our customers. Furthermore, our existing products, having been optimised for use with R410A, wouldn’t work with R32 as a simple drop-in replacement.
Initially, we did start the R&D process by placing R32 in an R410A chiller to gauge what development work would be required. A number of issues were identified (such as compressor oil return) and we quickly learned that, due to differences in density, there was a lot of design work required to iron out these issues and optimise our products for R32. Work began to redesign all relevant components and our engineers spent a couple of years testing the refrigerant in various prototype units under extreme circumstances to fully understand how performance was affected.
We had to work extensively to ensure that not only our own parts and systems were optimised to work with the new refrigerant, but also our key bought-in components such as compressors were too to ensure they performed well within our overall solution.
The Azure range has been two years in the making and the result gives our customers a choice of products for many applications and includes the highest capacity, the most efficient, the most compact and the quietest R32 chillers available anywhere in the world which we’re proud to manufacture here in the UK.
Good things come to those who wait
Of course development work of this magnitude does take some time but we weren’t afraid to wait, because it has to be right. These products have a lifespan of over 10 years so the investment in research and development at the beginning was crucial to allow us to give the Airedale International guarantee of quality and reliability, a reputation for which we have worked hard to build up over the years.
The demand for R410A replacement products is out there. Consultants are increasingly specifying chillers with lower GWP from the outset of construction projects. We recently carried out a survey of our existing customers and 70% said that 0 GWP refrigerants were one of the top three priorities in terms of the future of air conditioning, and nearly 50% said F-Gas concerns were a top 3 influencing factor when purchasing air conditioning equipment.
As in many industries, things are changing at pace in the HVAC world. Our R&D ethos allows us to react to economic, legislative, political and technological shifts but the future is becoming increasingly difficult to predict. Global megatrends such as urbanisation, digitisation and decarbonisation tell us that air conditioning is certainly going to play a larger part in our everyday lives… but it must not be at the cost of the planet.
As with all things both in the natural and business environment, the key to survival is having the ability to adapt to your surroundings. At Airedale International, much of our success is built on the fact that we do more than just survive – we thrive on changes and we meet challenges proactively and head on.
It is our belief that all HVAC manufacturers should be committed to limiting the environmental impact of their products by reducing their energy consumption and impact on global warming.
One thing for certain is that we won’t be standing still with either the Azure R32 range or other opportunities in refrigerants. This year we are spending around £1.4m on R&D which is a signal of our commitment and our state-of-art laboratories in our headquarters in Leeds are full of talented engineers working on the next generation of Airedale innovations. We have a timeline of innovation in our lab showing the products we have launched over the years which takes up most of the wall, but there is always room for more!