Jim Wheeler: Let's talk new refigerants
In 1988 when I quit my job as the national service manager for a major HVAC equipment company to become an editor for an HVACR trade magazine, I was asked by then-ACCA Director Jim Norris to look into the question of whether CFCs (particularly R11 and R12) were damaging our planet by destroying the earth’s protective ozone layer.
So, under the auspices of the magazine, I attended all the environmental conferences to find out everything that I could. And what I came to realize was that CFCs do in fact damage the ozone layer. So, I wrote an award-winning series of articles calling for their phase-out.
However, what I didn’t understand at the time was that our industry wasn’t causing most of the problem. Other industries such as foam blowers were. After all, we work with enclosed systems that only used a small fraction of the world’s CFC production. And if we could have started a serious recover/reclaim program (we didn’t really), there would have been no reason at all to ban the manufacture and use of these wonderful low-GWP (global warming potential) refrigerants.
Yet, before long (because the HVACR industry was an easy, visible target), CFC refrigerants were put on a hit list of chemicals to be phased out. Industry manufacturers in North America and Europe started changing over to the use of more environmentally friendly HCFCs, which at the time cost primarily low-temperature refrigeration users and large building owners a fortune to make the conversion.
But after that, a prominent person wrote a book that became a sensation, which in part urged the phase-out of all chlorine-based solvents and refrigerants. And before long, all the money that had been spent to convert CFC systems to (low-GWP) HCFC systems was out the window as we started changing all of the new HVACR equipment to the use of more expensive non-chlorinated HFC refrigerants. And this has, in fact, cost consumers around the world a fortune, as production of HCFCs in North America and Europe was ended, and all the old HCFC equipment had to be (and still has to be) replaced. This was silly because HCFCs do little (and some none at all) damage to the ozone layer.
But now they claim that the new HFC refrigerants have a high global warming potential. So we need to scrap all the existing new HVACR equipment and stop production of HFC refrigerants (as soon as 2023), which will again cost consumers throughout the world fortunes because the stuff that we are now installing to save the planet has to be replaced once more to save the planet. No, there are no plans for a serious recovery/reclaim program — just the scrapping of the current equipment.
What will we be changing to? Well, it looks like what we will mostly be using are refrigerants that are “mildly flammable,” so building codes will have to be changed. In fact, in Europe, some refrigerator manufacturers have already converted their equipment to the use of highly-flammable butane as the refrigerant. So, it gets crazier.
The fact is (and I doubt it will happen), everyone needs to step back and take a deep breath. Understand that we work with totally enclosed systems, so there is no real need (nor has there ever been) to phase out refrigerants in HVACR systems.
All that is required is a serious recovery/reclaim program that provides financial incentives to servicing/installing companies for getting involved (the old one didn’t).
Of course, this means that all refrigerants would have to be sold with an added deposit cost, to be refunded when it is returned for recovery.
You don’t like that idea? Then come up with a better one!