Updated findings to 2015 study argues that cooling sector is way behind schedule on switch from R404A; considers market status of alternatives such as R32
With significant cost and supply pressures hitting the industry in 2017, the latest Putting into Use Replacement Refrigerants (PURR) report sets out key developments within the cooling sector since the first BRA’s first findings were released in 2015.
2018 is expected to see severe restrictions on the availability of R404A resulting in a dramatic rise in the price of the product. This will further highlight the increasing importance of recycling or reclaiming gas in existing systems.
The BRA’s report said that the F-Gas regulation, which has introduced a quota on the availability of gases such as HFCs and PFCs to curb reliance on their use, contains just one outright ban. This restriction comes in place in 2025 and will bring an end to R410A, the most common air conditioning refrigerant used at present, by outlawing single split AC systems that contain less than 3kg of F-Gases and have a GWP of 750 or more.
The report said, “Whilst this ban is quite a long way in the future, it is likely to be the F-Gas phase down which will have an effect before 2025.”
“As soon as 2021, the F-Gas cap will be down to 45 per cent of its 2015 baseline, and refrigerants such as R410A (GWP 2088) will be taking up more and more of the quota for any supplier. It is clear that the AC industry needs to move to lower GWP refrigerants well before the ban in 2025.”
BRA added that any new systems now being installed should make use of a refrigerant that has a “reasonably secure” supply over its lifecycle.
“Existing R404A systems are either going to have be retired or have a change of refrigerant,” said the report. “Nevertheless, there are so many R404A systems in use that many of them will remain in service beyond 2020. These will have to be serviced with reclaimed or recycled refrigerant.”
Reclaimed R404A is not part of the phasedown and therefore seeing growing market interest, the report added. However, the BRA argued that cooling industry was well behind where it needed to be in terms of shifting towards alternatives for R404A.
With a relatively high number of systems in place, the report concluded that severe market stress was always anticipated to occur as a result of shortages of new supply of R404A. However, this market stress has arrived earlier than anticipated, according to the BRA.
The report said, “The period of maximum stress will be when new (virgin) R404A becomes short and there are still a large number of R404A systems in the population. In the first edition of this report it was felt that this was likely to occur around 2019 to 2021.”
“From the experiences of 2017, our views were clearly wrong! Product has been in short supply throughout 2017, and this is almost certain to continue into 2018 and beyond.”
The BRA said that flammable forms of gas would be vital to allow industry to curb the GWP of products used in future systems. These are anticipated to include lower flammability (A2L) gas such as R32 or HFO blends, as well as highly flammable A3 product that could include hydrocarbons.
The latest PURR report warned that A2L gas was not suitable for use in retrofitted systems and must only be considered in new technologies installed as a replacement for devices designed around R404A.
It added, “Regulation is in place already, specifying the charge size allowable for these refrigerants in certain room size, levels of occupancy and accessibility scenarios. This regulation is EN378, and it is important that end users, installers and designers are conversant with its contents.”
“Whilst EN378 recognises the A2L classification, in the wider world, products are classified as either non-flammable or flammable. This will mean there will be a requirement to undertake a risk assessment before installation of air conditioning equipment containing one of the new refrigerants.”
The BRA said that several manufacturers had begun to promote use of R32 in specially as a readily available replacement for R410A.
R32 is a widely available HFC with a GWP of 675 that the report said closely matched the properties of R410A. The report noted that R410A consists of 50 per cent R32
It said, “In the Far East, many millions of units containing R32 are already in operation, although it should be noted that flammable refrigerant regulations are very different from Europe.”
“Other HFC/HFO blends are being developed with lower GWP. Hydrocarbons can also be used in air conditioning units, but their much higher flammability means charge sizes are severely limited.”