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Warnings continue over R404A as demand squeeze intensifies

The price of R404A is set to continue rising and availability will reduce further as refrigerant manufacturers manage the rapidly decreasing quota for HFCs.

That was the message from speakers at RAC’s F-Gas Question Time, who continued to urge end-users to move away from higher-GWP refrigerants sooner rather than later.

Speakers stressed that while many major retailers had made plans to move away from R404A, there were large numbers of customers in other sectors, such as convenience stores and industrial refrigeration, who remained woefully ignorant of the changes.

Consultant Ray Gluckman warned delegates that companies were moving much more slowly with conversions to lower-GWP equipment than had been forecast. “Our assumptions about the speed of companies retrofitting were optimistic.”

Mr Gluckman said: “Someone has to warn end users to get their R404A out of the system. There is a big cut in quota coming – 44 per cent next year – and that is certainly a challenge. I really worry that we have still not got the message through to contractors and end users that the end is nigh.”

He also warned that the volume of reclaimed R404A was also much lower than had been forecast, because the conversions were not being made, so companies should not necessarily depend on being able to use reclaimed R404A for their existing estates.

Mr Gluckman added that whatever the results of the Brexit negotiations, the UK would have to be committed to the F-Gas regulations for at least the next two years.

The theme was continued by Chemours market manager Janet Ludert: “We have to be proactive and not reactive when it comes to moving to lower GWP refrigerants or we may find ourselves falling off a cliff. Now is the time to plan retrofits because there are fewer constraints on quota in the early years of HFC phase-down – and the legacy refrigerants such as R404A and R410A will become harder to find.”

Ms Ludert pointed out that for the refrigerant manufacturers, the sheer economics of managing the steadily reducing quota, based on CO2 equivalent, would mean a lower volume of higher-GWP refrigerants imported. She said: “Let’s remember that for every container of R404A that we might bring in, we can sell three containers of XP40 (R449A).”

She warned of what she called the ‘retrofit wave’, which would occur if everyone panics ahead of the 2018 quota reduction. She said: “We can’t fit all the retrofits in to one year in 2018 – there won’t be the technicians or the equipment to meet the demand. Depending on how the industry manages it, it could be a trickle or it could be a tsunami.”

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