F-Gas and the future of refrigerants

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Published: 16 April 2020


Phil Ord, Head of Marketing & Sales Strategy at Mitsubishi Electric UK, says R32 systems are now available for almost every application and can have a major impact on reducing carbon emissions

Air conditioning is now a central part of commercial life, and is a feature of modern offices and commercial properties that we take for granted.

Today’s systems offer a highly effective way of delivering energy efficient cooling and heating. These intelligent and automated units can counter the excess heat produced by IT equipment by cooling down our surroundings, and ensure that offices provide the level of comfort required for employees to work productively.

At the heart of the current debate around air conditioning is continuing to look for ways to make systems more energy efficient – and one way that the industry is working towards this is by altering the refrigerant used in systems. 

The future of EU legislation

We all know that the requirement to move from R410a refrigerant to R32 is due to the significant drop in global warming potential (GWP), as despite the best efforts of everyone involved, there remains a potential for refrigerant leakage, and emissions can occur during installation, commissioning and ongoing maintenance of equipment.

This is one of the reasons that the EU introduced the original F-Gas Regulation in 2006, with the aim of controlling emissions through improved quality of installations, refrigerant recovery and training.

Looking to the future, the F-Gas Regulation is aiming to achieve an 80% cut in emissions across the EU by 2030. From 2020 onwards, refrigerants with a GWP of over 2500 will be made illegal for any system, starting the next 10-year phase down of hydrofluorocarbon gases with the ultimate objective to cut the availability of HFCs by 79% between 2015 and 2030.

R410a and R32: The difference is in the GWP

There is a simple explanation to illustrate the huge potential to be gained from switching from R410a to R32.

For sake of argument, we will say there is one million tonnes of refrigerant currently in the UK market inside hermetically sealed direct expansion units, as this allows us to see a direct comparison between R410A and R32.

To keep the numbers simple to calculate, if we assume a leakage rate of 1% from these one million tonnes, this means that 10,000 tonnes of R410A is being released into the atmosphere. When the refrigerant is inside the sealed system, the global warming ‘potential’ is 2,088, but once it has been released this becomes the global warming ‘impact’ and in the case of R410A, the impact would be 20.8 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent (10,000 tonnes x 2,088 GWP).

With R32, the 1% leakage rate from one million tonnes still results in 10,000 tonnes. However, now the GWP has been significantly lowered from 2,088 to 675. This means that the global warming ‘impact’ of R32 would be 6.75 million tonnes compared to 20.8 million tonnes with R410A.

That is a reduction of over 300% regardless of the figures used in the calculation. The tonnes may change, but the GWP figures for both refrigerants are constant and the percentage improvement from the use of R32 is also constant.

This is why the transition to R32 – another step on the road to even lower GWP - is so timely, especially when less refrigerant is needed within each comparable system.

Reducing refrigerant leakage through training

One of the most important areas to help the industry reduce any potential for leakage is training. It is now mandatory for anyone working with refrigerants to get F-Gas certification from REFCOM – the industry leading provider of F-Gas certification training.

This verifies that individuals are competent to install, commission, decommission or maintain a system containing refrigerant, and that can safely handle refrigerants and are aware of the proper, auditable procedures.

F-Gas certification therefore allows an installer to work on the equipment, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that person is qualified to understand how the system works, how to interrogate it to assess its energy efficiency or how to fault-find correctly – all essential skills. This is where the training regimes from individual manufacturers are so important.

When you consider that a poorly installed and maintained air conditioning system can result in a 20% to 30% reduction in efficiency of that equipment, it is easy to see why training matters so much.

The expanding R32 selection

With the regulations having already been in place since 2006, industry manufacturers have had plenty of time to innovate, and a host of RAC and PAC systems are now available in R32. Also, VRF systems have more recently become available as an R32 option - enabling customers to install multiple systems across an estate, all utilising the same refrigerant. And for situations where R32 calls for additional equipment such as compulsory leak detection, the innovative Hybrid VRF comes into its own, using water instead of refrigerant to act as a heat transfer medium. This reduces the overall refrigerant within the system significantly, cutting down on costs and environmental impact.

Most major manufacturers now have room air conditioning (RAC) and packaged air conditioning (PAC) ranges available in R32, so there is plenty of choice in the market, as we transition from R410A models to R32.

From January of this year, larger R32 VRF systems are also available, which offers customers and end users the ability to benefit from using one, lower GWP refrigerant across a complete site or building. This in turn makes installation and maintenance more straightforward, with contractors only needing to bring one refrigerant to site. 

As an industry, we know we must move quickly to R32 as part of the continued F-Gas phasedown. Now that larger VRF systems are available, this should help convince customers of the need to move to R32 and increase its use.

So, we now have a clear offering to our customers and there are now R32 systems available for almost any application, offering a clear choice for building owners who wish to reduce their carbon footprint and lower running costs.

www.timeforr32.co.uk

The City Multi YNW was the first VRF system to make use of R32

Mitsubishi Electric’s M-Series with R32

 

Case study: Acticare, Hereford

An R32 Hybrid VRF solution from Mitsubishi Electric is providing heating, comfort cooling and ventilation to employees at care home supplier Acticare in Hereford.

The manufacturer’s Lossnay heat recovery ventilation units work alongside the air conditioning by delivering fresh air, extracting stale air and recovering valuable heat energy to maximise efficiency.

The company worked with Business Solutions Partner EMS to design and install the new system. EMS Director Alan Meredith said: “We like what the R32 Hybrid VRF achieves, in particular the enhanced occupier comfort of using water instead of refrigerant in the conditioned space. There’s also the environmental benefits of using the lower GWP R32 refrigerant and keeping this to the minimum needed by using water throughout the majority of the building.”

The use of R32 was also important for Phil Boyman, Director at Acticare. He said: “One of the main considerations when choosing an air conditioning system was how well it would future-proof the building against changing environmental standards. The Hybrid VRF units were able to do so by meeting F-Gas regulations.”