A-Gas product manager for refrigerants Roger Smith on how the industry has risen to the challenge and adopted R32 as a replacement for R410A.
The news that air conditioning manufacturers are unveiling more new equipment able to run on R32 highlights how the industry has changed. R32 with its low GWP hit the headlines three years ago as an emerging refrigerant which was a practical alternative to the high GWP R410A.
In some respect it has been no surprise that the uptake of R32 by major manufacturers has been one of the success stories of the F-Gas Regulations’ phase downs. After a slow start, R32 is now a popular choice in new AC split systems. Manufacturer after manufacturer has announced that R32 will now be the mainstay product in splits despite the fact that there’s more than five years to go before the 750 GWP deadline is with us.
Many manufacturers have embraced R32 fully on splits and have now upped a gear to offer R32 on the much larger hybrid VRF systems. Moving forward with the phase down of high GWP products manufacturers have, quite correctly, taken a view of let’s get on with it now rather than wait until we have to take action. They have shown progressive thinking and in doing so have been able to display their green credentials and offer savings to customers.
By its very nature, a VRF system is a larger, more complex installation and under BS EN 378 2016 putting a full charge of R32 into a VRF system is banned. It may take some time before pure R32 features in large hotels and office blocks because of the physical size of these systems.
R32 is an A2L or lower flammable refrigerant and what makes this gas such an excellent alternative to high GWP refrigerants is that typically you will use less product in the system. It is a very stable refrigerant and add to this the smaller line sizes and a potential cut in running costs which can be as much as three per cent a year and you have some very impressive savings to offer the customer.
R32 does require a new approach. Lower flammable A2L refrigerants are not drop-ins and cannot be used to replace non-flammables in air conditioning systems. Engineers need to be aware of how to handle them and ensure that they have the right tools to do the job. However, the uptake of R32 clearly demonstrates this is not presenting too great a problem for installers who, to their credit, have risen to the low GWP challenge.
A2Ls are very difficult to ignite. Only a naked flame – and not a spark – will ignite them as there’s not enough energy in the spark to do so. The amount of refrigerant which would have to escape into the atmosphere also has to be on a much larger scale to reach low flammability limits. That aside R32, like all refrigerants, should be handled with care.
Manufacturers are looking at additional technologies to support and grow the use of R32 in the air conditioning industry. I fully expect to see some more developments soon. But having said that, we have not seen the last of R410A as this refrigerant still has a long life ahead.
At A-Gas I expect that our approach to R410A will follow much the same pattern as it has to other legacy gases, such as R404A. We will be working closely with the contractors to recover and reclaim as much product as possible with the aim to return reclaimed refrigerant back to the market. As long as it is needed to support existing equipment we will work with the industry to ensure that there will be adequate supplies of reclaimed R410A available.
If you are unsure about how to make the switch to R32, consult your refrigerant or air conditioning equipment supplier. They are there to help and will be able to advise you on the best course of action whether it be a split system or VRF system. From a refrigerant supplier perspective, I have no doubt that R32 and R410A will be significant players in the air conditioning industry for many years to come.