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Rac industry braced for impending R22 shortage

The air conditioning and refrigeration industry is facing a potentially catastrophic shortage of R22, according to industry sources.

A survey by refrigerant manufacturer DuPont found that 90 per cent of service companies, distributors and system operators think the future availability of reclaimed R22, the most widely used refrigerant gas, will be “insufficient”
or “acutely insufficient”.

“To avoid emergency situations such as the outage or shutdown of cooling systems, 64 per cent of refrigeration service companies advise a swift course of action and - if appropriate to the system - a conversion to non-ozone-depleting refrigerants,” DuPont said in a statement.

Contractors have called for a tightening of the rules on refrigerant use to reduce waste and safeguard future supplies. “This shows the importance of regularly leak-checking the systems as demanded by European Ozone
Depleting Substances Regulations,” said Scott Gleed of Ceilite Air Conditioning.

“When a leak is detected all of the gas should be removed and the system fully pressure tested prior to re charging.

“These systems need to be leak-tight and the old method of just topping up must stop,” added Mr Gleed, who is chairman of the HVCA’s Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Group. “Personally, I believe that there should be a high
tax on ODS gas to make the customer focus on usage. A shortage will push this issue up the agenda.”

A ‘service ban’ on the use of virgin HCFC refrigerants, including R22, has been in force across the EU since 1 January this year. This means that only reclaimed HCFCs can be used to service and top up systems until the end of 2014. After that they will be completely banned. As supplies diminish in the lead-up to the end of the phase-out period the cost of R22 will, inevitably, rise.

The industry is already urging its customers to move away from HCFCs and look to either retrofit existing systems or start complete equipment replacement programmes.

“Responsible end-users, clients and contractors should be looking to use as little ODS as possible anyway,” said Graeme Fox of Dundee-based Specialist Mechanical Services.

“The life expectancy of the equipment is getting shorter and shorter and everyone in the supply chain should be looking to do away with these systems as soon as possible and move towards more energy efficient HFC systems.”

However, according to DuPont, the problem of obtaining reclaimed R22 supplies will become more acute ahead of the final ban and users across Europe are worried.

“The return of R22 refrigerant suitable for reclamation is too low to meet the levels of demand expected for the coming years,” said Jeanette Musick, refrigerant sales manager at TEGA (Technische Gase und Gasetechnik), in Würzburg, Germany.

Another DuPont customer described the situation as being “like a game of poker”.

DuPont, along with other suppliers, is calling for end-users to switch to non-ozone-depleting refrigerants that can be added to existing cooling systems, so they can operate until the end of their lifetime “without the need for costly additional investment and rebuilding”.