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Expansion of hydrocarbon use dealt blow by IEC vote

Decision not to extend amounts of flammable gas allowed in refrigeration cabinets will now be reviewed over the next year; rejection will slow switch towards lower carbon alternatives, industry has warned

The International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) has voted narrowly to reject increasing the charge limit for flammable refrigerants in refrigeration cabinets, resulting in uncertainty for the development of a range of innovative new technologies.

A motion put forward to the IEC backed increasing the allowable charge size for hydrocarbons, as defined under the IEC 60335-2-89 standard, to 500g from 150g. However, the proposal was defeated by a single vote from the observing and participating national committees at an IEC meeting earlier this month.

It is feared that the decision, which is now expected to be reviewed and appealed, risks undermining industry efforts to introduce new products and technologies for retail cooling, as well as meeting the key ambitions of the EU’s flagship F-Gas Regulation.

A key point of contention concerning the vote was around the definition for the proposed charge sizes of lower flammability gas (A2Ls) that would have been separately quantified under the standard. This would have allowed an increase from 150g to 1.2kg.

Individuals that have spoken to RAC Magazine on condition of anonymity said that the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) vote would have hugely significant impacts for both manufacturers of natural and synthetic refrigerant alike.

However, sources said that the topic of charge size was an issue where a “lot of emotion has been expanded” between different bodies, raising concerns about a clear split in opinion between some larger manufacturers and wider sections of the industry.

It is understood that charge sizes will remain as they are for at least a year, with national technical committees and trade bodies around the world now having to reconsider an acceptable charge size that may get approval in a future vote.

Among those that had supported the charge size amendment, albeit it with an aim for some technical revisions during a later committee stage for A2L charge, was the British Refrigeration Association (BRA).

Sources familiar with the vote said that safety concerns with regard to the charge size of A2Ls and hydrocarbons to a lesser extent, were seen as the key sticking point to allow for greater amounts of gas use.

A growing number of equipment manufacturers and gas suppliers are now offering lower flammability A2L products such as R32.

As the broader cooling industry seeks to move towards lower carbon alternative refrigerants, levels of toxicity and flammability in products, as well as required training needed to handle them, will become an increasingly vital issue as indicated with the IEC vote.

Several sources warned that the themes of risk assessment that saw the narrow defeat of the increased charge size for lower flammability gas indicated the likely hurdles ahead to move to these alternative solutions.

Readers' comments (1)

  • Looking at the air conditioning industry and the roller-coasting of R32 in the absence of clear understanding of what we are dealing with, misusing F-Gas regulations guidelines, a clear worldwide vision regarding LGWP alternatives are the real reason why IEC have rejected the proposal.
    Everybody at the top is playing politics with the safety duties towards engineers and consumers, As an example, all manufacturers are pushing R32 (in Europe) using the ban parameters set by F-Gas as an excuse? The ban for less than 3 kg SYSTEM Charge SPLITS (not Multi splits) is from 1st January 2025 NOT 2020, that is 4/5 years from now? FETA & HSE confirmed that A2L is viewed as highly Flammable product and a safety assessment is required every time it's used. 46,000 or so engineers (in the UK) would need to be aware of the risk to their safety. Products should appropriately display warning signs on literature and technical manuals. Environmental claims must not compromise safety. Neil Afram

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