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A vision for the future

AHRI’s Low Global Warming Potential Alternative Refrigerants Evaluation Programme has produced vital information on energy efficiency, says Francis Dietz

The Air-Conditioning, Heating and Refrigeration Institute (AHRI) has worked for decades to help its members and industry improve the efficiency of vital HVACR and water heating products.

And with this, the efficiency of the equipment AHRI members manufacture has steadily increased as a result of a commitment to research and development so that, today, consumers across the globe have a wide range of efficiency choices – many of which far exceed efficiency standards set by their governments.

AHRI member companies are always doing their own research, innovating new products and equipment, and searching for their own solutions – because being market-driven means staying ahead of the competition and providing solutions for their customers.

At the same time, AHRI closely monitors the marketplace and regulations that affect manufacturers.

Regulations with respect to refrigerant use are just the tip of the iceberg – although a very important one – because there also are minimum energy performance standards, or MEPS, in many different areas of the globe, including places such as the Middle East where they had not previously existed.

In Europe, AHRI member companies are heavily involved in the regulation of fluorinated gases, or F-gases, and other nations the world over are actively pursuing technologies that deliver the required comfort while using less energy.

One of the ways AHRI addresses the regulatory climate is to support the industry with valuable and necessary research.

In the 1990s, AHRI spearheaded the Alternative Refrigerants Evaluation Programme to research potential alternatives to HCFCs – research that resulted in HFCs, which are in widespread use today. This was done in response to the phase-out of ozone-depleting substances under the Montreal Protocol.

Today AHRI is hosting a similar – and even larger – research initiative to find more environmentally friendly alternatives to high global warming potential refrigerants.

Global impact

Now in its fourth year, the Low Global Warming Potential Alternative Refrigerants Evaluation Programme (Low-GWP AREP) is testing 15 new low-GWP refrigerant candidates.

When the programme first began, the goal was to test and evaluate promising alternative refrigerants for major product categories, including air conditioners, heat pumps, chillers, ice makers and refrigeration equipment.

After successfully completing this first phase in December 2013, AHRI continued research in areas that were not previously addressed: refrigerants in high ambient conditions (ie warmer climates); refrigerants in applications not tested in the first phase; and new refrigerants identified since testing for the programme began.

AHRI makes all of the research reports from this programme available at www.ahrinet.org.

In addition, AHRI will host a conference on 21 January 2016 in Orlando, Florida, right before the AHR Expo, to present the findings from this programme.

Unfortunately, there is no magic replacement for HFCs – it is not just a matter of swapping out one for another.

There are trade-offs that must be considered with respect to availability, cost and efficiency.

Choosing an alternative cannot be based solely on the GWP of a particular refrigerant. Instead, the options must also take into account the lifecycle cost performance of each refrigerant, so as to avoid such unintended consequences as when a refrigerant has a low GWP, but is less efficient, resulting in a higher use of energy derived from power plants that emit greenhouse gases.

There are other issues, as well.

Some of the proposed alternatives are at least mildly flammable, or classified as 2L refrigerants per ASHRAE Standard 34.

In the US, as in some other parts of the world, use of these refrigerants is restricted by building codes.

That means that research into how to use these refrigerants safely must also be undertaken as part of the overall effort to find alternatives to HFCs.

To help this along, AHRI established a Flammable Refrigerants Subcommittee that will determine gaps in existing flammable refrigerant research

and develop a roadmap with priorities and a timeline for how to complete the necessary research toward the safe use of flammable refrigerants.

Through this effort, the subcommittee hopes to understand the comparative risk of using 2L refrigerants with those in use today, and to deliver scientific findings to support code and standard activities related to the use of flammable refrigerants.

The aim is to provide information to allow the code committees to make informed decisions about these very important issues.

AHRI will work closely with relevant technical committees and organisations in the US and abroad as we move forward.

Using this multi-faceted approach, AHRI will continue leading the global HVACR industry toward refrigerant solutions that will benefit consumers, and the planet, for decades to come.

Francis Dietz is AHRI vice-president of public affairs

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