One of the biggest things to happen to us in the commercial refrigerants was the passing of Clean Air Act and the Montreal Protocol. The Montreal Protocol, passed in 1987, was an international agreement designed to protect the ozone layer. The ozone layer which surrounds the Earth protects us from UV radiation and is, on average, is only 3 mm thick – about 3 dimes stacked on top of each other. Ever since the passing of The Montreal Protocol, we have been phasing out the production and import of CFCs (chlorofluorocarbon) and HCFCs (hydroclorofluorocarbons). The ozone is made up of O2, and when CFCs and HCFCs get into the air, they separate the O2 from one another, thinning out our ozone layer.
Beginning January 1, 2020, US production and important of the widely used refrigerant HCFC-22, commonly known as R-22, will end. In fact, it’s phasing out has already begun. R-22 and other CFC/HCFCs are extremely potent greenhouse gasses and are used in a wide variety of applications, from vending machines and water coolers to household air conditioner refrigerants and commercial refrigeration. This phase out is incredibly important for our environment and requires those in our industry to begin considering the changes in equipment and refrigerant that must happen before the deadline is here.
To Retrofit or Replace
There isn’t a need for anyone to do things differently this instant as the phase-out will not be complete until 2020. However, now is the time to start thinking of how you’re going to do things differently as the supply of R-22 diminishes.
For those who wish to use R-22 for as long as they can, they can continue to use it only if it is reclaimed. To reclaim, the old refrigerant must go through filters and dryers to remove the oil and impurities until it is re-processed to a specific purity. While this may seem like a cost-saving measure in theory, in practice it is quite expensive. But as we saw with the R-12 phase out in the 1990’s, the phasing out of R-22 means equipment needs to be retrofitted or replaced.
If one is considering retrofitting, keep in mind that there’s about 5 different refrigerants which can be used right now: 427, 407-A, 407-C, 407-F, and 450-A. However, what may work in the lab may not work in the field, so it’s important that we test each alternative refrigerant early in order to find the best solutions before the phase-out ends.
For some of our customers, we’ve begun retrofitting their equipment and testing refrigerants, but new refrigerants change the capacity of the system. For example, if on an 80* day the old system was an 12,000 BTU system, it may still be at 12,000 BTU with the new refrigerant on another 80* day. But on a 100* day, when it used to be 10,000 BTU and it’s now 8,000 BTU with the new refrigerant, we’ve got a problem. By working out these problems early, we will be better prepared for our clients well before the phase-out ends.
What Can You Do Now?
For clients in commercial refrigeration, we first recommend learning about the upcoming changes and your options. We are testing the new refrigerants for clients interested in retrofitting. Some clients may have equipment worth retrofitting, so we are going through the headache of learning which refrigerants work best.
If your equipment is 15-20 years old, you should look at replacing the equipment rather than repairing or retrofitting it. You benefit from spending the same as a retrofit PLUS you get a warranty. If the new equipment happens to need to be retrofitted, it’ll be easier and less expensive to do it because they’re already built ready for it. It’s extremely hard to retrofit older machines.
As you are planning future expansions, you may need to adjust your budget because the cost of purchasing the new equipment will be higher in the future than if you were to buy it now.
At Chill, we’ve taken the position of getting into the change now and learning the curve rather than waiting to see what happens. It’s important for our clients and the environment. If you have questions or want to talk about your options, give the team at Chill a call today!