Refrigeration Talk – “Making the Most of It”
“Making the Most of It”
I feel that I need to explain what “It” is. This blog will deal with many facets of the HVAC/R industry. I considered “It” to be the best word to cover all the bases.
Refrigerant Management 101: Don’t Panic!
As the Air Conditioning and Refrigeration Industry face the next milestone in the ever changing refrigerant landscape, the phase out of the production of R-22, one thing is for certain, most of the refrigerants that have commonly been used for air conditioning and refrigeration will be phased out. The reasons for the phase out of the refrigerants are many. They include; governmental mandates, energy efficiency requirements, environmental concerns, safety concerns, manufacture’s improvement of products, technology improvements and political viewpoints. The number of alternative refrigerants that have been developed as replacements has skyrocketed to a point that makes choosing the right one for the application complex. The intent of this series of blogs is to provide a guide to assist in making good decisions in choosing alternative refrigerants, describe the best practices in retrofitting existing systems to alternative refrigerants and selecting the refrigerant that is best suited for new equipment installations. Ruyle Mechanical Services, Inc. has been deeply involved in designing, installing and servicing refrigeration systems from its inception. We have witnessed and been part of the evolution of the refrigerant smorgasbord through the years as the number of refrigerants has expanded dramatically. We will use the knowledge and expertise gained over the last 65+ years that we have been involved in the refrigeration industry to provide custom solutions to the future refrigerant challenges that our customers face.
There is one consistent thing about the AC/R industry that has been clear since the first recorded phenomenon of man-made refrigeration in 1748, things don’t change very quickly. The basic theory of refrigeration and the laws of thermodynamics are still the same as they were then. The technology has changed slowly over the years which led to the discovery that the man-made refrigerants that were being used were causing environmental issues. Thus began the transition of refrigerants that began with the production phase-outs mandated by the Montreal Protocol in 1987. It is very important to emphasize that the Montreal Protocol deals with only the production of the banned refrigerants. The use of any refrigerant is acceptable as long as there is a supply and as long as you can afford it. That being said our first recommendation to customers using R-22 at this time is; Don’t Panic. There will be R-22 available for servicing existing equipment during the transition period that will come from reclaimed supplies. The price of R-22 will continue to rise to a point that will make retrofitting or replacement more economically feasible.
Following are some recommendations to consider:
- Containment of the refrigerant in a system is paramount. As long as the refrigerant is in the system there is no need to replace it. It does not go bad, deteriorate or weaken with age in a dry, clean and leak free system. A proactive preventive maintenance program is the best way to eliminate the possibilities of refrigerant leaks and contamination.
- Keep accurate records of the refrigerant. This includes the types and quantities of refrigerant in existing systems, refrigerants in inventory, repair records and amounts of refrigerant added to the systems. Note: Customers with systems containing a refrigerant charge of 50 pounds or more are required by law to maintain these records.
- Develop a retrofit/replacement plan. Many factors will be involved in developing a plan; age of equipment, repair history, expansion of facilities, corporate policies, etc. Work with your service provider to develop a custom plan to eliminate those dreaded down times.
- Facilities with multiple systems using the same refrigerant can use a phased approach in retrofitting. Since most alternative refrigerants require the use of a different oil the first step is to change the oil while the existing refrigerant is still in the system. Once that is accomplished, the systems can be converted one at a time as major component failures occur. The recovered refrigerant from the failed system can be stored for use by the original owner on other systems. This will allow a slow transition and help maintain the working cash flow of the facility. Note: Recovered refrigerant cannot be resold to another owner unless it is sent into a reclamation site and reclaimed into its original standards and composition.
The future of refrigerants and their availability is foggy at best. Anyone owning an air conditioning or refrigeration system that uses refrigerants which are being phased out needs to do their due diligence and make plans to retrofit or replace those systems. Government mandates and policies, equipment age and service history will regulate the urgency of an owner’s plans. A service provider that has knowledge of the system’s history, the current refrigerant regulations and the available replacement products are the best allies in dealing with the refrigerant challenges coming to the industry. Don’t Panic, be Prepared.
Next Issue: How Do You Know Which Refrigerant To Use?
Ruyle Mechanical Services, Inc.
Don Howerter, Senior Project Manager