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04 January 2016

Out with the old and in with the new

It’s hard to believe that the latest round of F-Gas Regulations has been with us for a year. Most of you probably haven’t seen a great deal of change but for A-Gas – at the top of the refrigerant supply chain – it’s a different story. Through the new quota system, we, like many others, are now subject to caps on the amount of refrigerant we can introduce to the industry.  In 2016 things get tighter as we are faced with the first step down year. This will see a seven per cent reduction (on a CO2 equivalent basis) in the amount of refrigerant we can place on the market. So 2016 is the year to prepare as the F-Gas regulations may begin to bite at end user level.

Many have not grasped what the changes are going to mean in practice. While commentators have talked at length about them, this has not been translated into a shift in buying behaviours and 2015 was a year of slow progress in the movement away from R404A. I expect business as usual will continue until the point we see shortages of R404A and I suspect in the year ahead there will be a lot less of this refrigerant available on the market.

The industry has yet to understand the full implications of the quota system. For engineers it’s very much business as usual but for those of us higher up the supply chain we can see what’s coming down the road and to meet this challenge it’s important to ramp up the education process. Every commentator who has evaluated the F-Gas Regulations says that whatever happens over the next two years we will be working in a very different world in 2018.

In 2016 the focus needs to be on R404A replacements. There are two ideal candidates on the market – Opteon XP40 (R449A) and Solstice N40 (R448A). Both have low GWP (Global Warming Potential) credentials and are closely matched to R404A in terms of refrigeration capacity. They are already in use and although it is early days, it is clear that they are a key part of the solution to leave R404A behind.

F-Gas has brought about a change in the way we look at leak detection and this aspect of maintenance programmes is growing in importance. As it is no longer based on kilograms in a system but on a CO2 equivalent, the engineer has to calculate some of these values to evaluate the leak detection frequency. As a result we are seeing the introduction of new electronic and online-based tools to assist the engineer.

The GTO refrigerant management solution from A-Gas is an F-Gas reporting and advanced cylinder-tracking tool designed to make the task of monitoring refrigerant and cylinder usage easy. This new tool is indispensable for engineers and is a device that makes the F-Gas Regulations simpler to understand and implement. These advances in technology are changes in the industry that engineers cannot ignore. 

In 2016 lifecycle management of refrigerants will grow in importance. As part of this A-Gas is now offering an oil disposal service which will take away the tricky problem of getting rid of this waste product from refrigeration and air conditioning systems in a safe and environmentally-friendly way. Up until now this has often been a piece of the puzzle missing for many contractors.

In 2016 we will also see the finalisation of European refrigeration standard EN378 which will hopefully provide the clarity that the industry is needing on mildly inflammable refrigerants. In 2015 we saw the rise of these refrigerants with R32 making its mark. They are a big part of the future in air conditioning and whatever people say, sales are going to grow.

R32 is not the only mildly flammable refrigerant that we are going to see entering the market. Some of the lower GWP alternatives for R404A planned for release with the 2022 product ban in mind mean that the industry has to get its head around how it handles these gases. The legislation has some catching up to do but change will have an effect.

At some stage during 2017 the European Commission will review the progress of the F-Gas Regulations. This line in the sand, pretty much what they did in 2011 with the original F-Gas Regulations, means that further developments will certainly be on the horizon.

One thing for sure over the next few years is that the industry will not be standing still. These are without doubt times of change in refrigeration and air conditioning. So do not miss the bus and be ready to use the regulations to the advantage of your business.