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04 July 2016

Time to step it up a gear

A-Gas Managing Director John Ormerod says that progress is being made towards creating a low GWP landscape but more work still has to be done to achieve the underlying F-Gas goal.

We are more than half way through the year and the time has arrived for the industry to increase its focus on the rapidly approaching F-Gas bans and refrigerant quota reductions. Most in the industry – manufacturers, contractors, suppliers and engineers – are aware that change is on the way and that it will have an effect on how we all operate on a day-to-day basis.

The time has arrived for the industry to up its game. Through the new quota system, as a supplier, A-Gas, like many others, are now subject to caps on the amount of refrigerant that we can place on the market. 2016 is the first step down year and there is a seven per cent reduction (on a CO2 equivalent basis) in the amount of refrigerant we can place on the market.

Many have yet to understand the full effects that the quota system will have on the industry. Contractors and engineers are continuing to get on with the job with low GWP refrigerants in the back of their minds. It is fair to say that a sizeable proportion of end users are not yet rising to the low GWP challenge.

All industry observers say that whatever happens over the coming months and years, 2018 will be a turning point. The large reduction in the HFC quota will almost certainly have an impact on the cost of higher GWP refrigerants like R404A with prices likely to go one way and that is up.

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Some commentators are suggesting that this is overstating the case with supply problems and price increases being eased by the availability of refrigerants from stockpiles accumulated before the quota system started. I would suggest that planning ahead is a more sensible approach than hoping things will be okay. Ignoring the prospect of price rises is not a risk worth taking if you are an equipment supplier or an end user.

Most contractors, manufacturers and consultants consider themselves ready for the move towards low GWP refrigerants but that the problem area lies with the customer. This is where we must rise to the challenge. It is up to all of us in the industry, where we can, to remind end users of the trap they could be setting for themselves by not getting ready for what’s down the road.

Low GWP refrigerants won’t be going away. They cannot be brushed to the back of our minds.  Don’t get ensnared by debates on price rises, prepare for the future and ensure you are ready for what it may bring.

It is time for all of us to spread the message about the benefits of low GWP refrigerants. Mildly flammable HFO blends are opening a new window for end users and equipment suppliers. These HFOs blends do offer a practical alternative to higher GWP refrigerants.

The Solstice L40X (R455A) refrigerant from Honeywell is an ultra low GWP R404A replacement which will soon be commercially available. This hybrid mixture contains R32 and CO2 and closely matches the capacity of R404A with the same or better efficiency.

R32 is already making its mark in air conditioning especially for split systems. Under F-Gas small split systems containing high GWP gases (above 750) will be banned from 2025. R32 is a single component, zero ODP gas with a GWP of 675, significantly less than R410A, which has a GWP of more than 2000.

Air conditioning manufacturers are working with R32 and equipment running on the gas is already available.

Other legislation is also providing fuel for the low GWP campaign. Originally the European standard EN378 did not make a distinction between mildly flammable refrigerants like R32 and refrigerants with higher flammability such as Propane and Propylene. This regulation which sets out the charge limits for mildly flammable refrigerants will soon provide new risk management methods for these alternatives.   

There is no doubt that the industry is changing but needs to step up a gear. Some end users are even suggesting that those suppliers who are dragging their heels on low GWP equipment could find themselves out in the cold. The industry as a whole is now under pressure as we move towards a low GWP landscape.