REFRIGERANTS: Doing nothing is not an option

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Published: 07 June 2017


Ed Whinyates of Stonegrove Refrigeration Services asks whether everyone is ready for the continued phase out of high GWP refrigerants.
 
With over two years still to go before the next refrigerant ban on high GWP (Global Warming Potential) refrigerants – European regulation 517/2014 – the warning levels from manufacturers (and to a lesser extent refrigeration and air conditioning installation companies) about the need for customers to change existing systems impacted by the regulation has been high. With ongoing price rises and refrigerant manufacturers’ quotas being significantly cut in 2018, a number of issues need to be considered.
Is there a supply disaster looming?
This all depends on how seriously clients are taking the warnings.  With equipment for some of the phase out refrigerants still being produced, there are fears that end users are ignoring the concerns and warnings of refrigerant scarcity and redundant equipment. 
 
There are a number of high GWP refrigerants affected by the ‘cull’ in 2020.  Due to being the most widely used, the refrigerant that is being impacted the most is R404A.  Because of this, R404A is being used as the ‘phase out poster boy’ and the one most referenced when talking about the problems that are being predicted. 
 
What is happening and being said about R404A? 
All of the leading refrigerant manufacturers have applied price increases.  For example, in April refrigerant manufacturer Chemours increased the price of R404A by 25%, and a further 30% in May, with continued price rises anticipated throughout the year.  It has been reported that the refrigerant manufacturer Honeywell have even gone as far as announcing they will stop sales of R404A in 2018.  This does not bode well for any company who are reliant on an R404A refrigeration system.  A leading UK supplier has warned that the F-gas “honeymoon” is over and there may be limitations on supply.  Next year it won’t be about pricing, it will be about availability.
 
Why is this happening? 
Unlike the R22 phase out leading up to 2015, the phase out of the high GWP refrigerants isn’t just a timeline where one day you can add it to a system and the next day you cannot.  There is a forced reduction of the amount of refrigerant being manufactured.  This is due to the 37% cut in CO2e required next year under the European F-gas regulations being implemented on 1st January 2018.  (CO2e is the abbreviation for carbon dioxide equivalent.  It is a standard unit for measuring carbon footprints. The idea is to express the impact of each different greenhouse gas in terms of the amount of CO2 that would create the same amount of warming).  This means the European industry will have a maximum of 115Mt (Mega tonnes) CO2e – a little over two-thirds of the 168Mt CO2e consumed in 2015.  Crucially, 2020 also sees the imposition of a service ban being applied to all systems with a charge size of more than 40Tonnes CO2e, which is around 10kg. It is also important to note that R507 and R422D will also be impacted by this service ban.
What can be done to avoid short term problems?
The most obvious thing would be to try and negate the need to top up a system by reducing or preventing the possibility of a system leak.  A well-maintained system with regular leak checks is advisable. A client’s refrigeration maintenance provider can offer sensible and suitable advice on the best way of achieving this.  If practical, the installation of a leak detection system would also be of benefit in catching a leak before too much refrigerant is lost.  
 
What are the longer term options?
Due to the service ban for any system with a charge of 40TCO2e for R404A, R507 & R422D, the options are limited to two choices.  Either look at a replacement refrigerant to retrofit to an existing system, or replace the system all together.  As with the phase out of R22, there are a number of benefits for both options.  A retrofit would be less capital expenditure.  Refrigerant manufacturers have produced alternatives to the high GWP refrigerants that are being phased out.  For example, a number of lower GWP alternatives are also available to retrofit existing R404A equipment.  However, there is no guarantee that at some point in the future the new alternatives will not be affected by further changes to regulation.  Installing a new system could future proof a client against any potential refrigerant GWP law changes, and offer the most up to date technology and better energy efficiency.  This, however, will be a more costly option.
 
In conclusion: are you ready for the continued phase out of high GWP refrigerants?
There is no getting away from the enormous impact that is already being felt.  This will only get worse if inactivity is not replaced by action.  It is not just the end user who needs to take responsibility for taking action. Refrigeration companies also need to start working with their affected clients now on how to manage the phase out impact and come up with sensible solutions.  Burying our heads in the sand is not an option.
 
For further information about how Stonegrove can help you with your refrigeration and air conditioning requirements, visit our website www.stonegroverefrigeration.co.uk or contact us on 01279 408690 ed@stonegroverefrigeration.co.uk