Challenging the R410A rumours

Published:  01 December, 2011

Daikin, HFC, R410A, greenhouse gas, GWP
Ill-based rumours — Simon Keel.

The global-warming potential of HFC refrigerant gases is, to some people, an emotive subject, which is leading to all sorts of rumours — including the banning of a very common refrigerant for air conditioning. Simon Keel takes a considered look at the facts and calls for common sense to prevail.

Despite the fact that the future of HFC refrigerant gases has yet to be decided, there is considerable confusion and misinformation surrounding their future — including a substantial body of rumour suggesting R410A is to be banned.

These unfounded rumours have resulted in evidence that consultants and specifiers may be opting for alternatives, such as ammonia-based systems. In turn, this has led to concerns that consultants may unintentionally risk failing in their duty of care to their clients by not specifying the most energy-efficient solutions.

Contrary to common belief, the future of HFCs has not been decided. The F-gas regulations are now under review and have been subject to a major Europe-wide survey. It was expected that there would be a new document in place by the middle to end of 2012, but now it is likely that this date will slip. No one knows what the position will be on refrigerants when it is published. However, from what has already been said it seems likely that HFCs will be phased down over a period of some years — enabling manufacturers, designers and end users to meet new requirements in a managed and timely manner.

The vast majority of refrigeration and air conditioning, including the rapidly expanding heat-pump market, relies on HFCs. For a ban to come into place there would be a plethora of information from a variety of sources, including manufacturers, well in advance, which would be published by the press — both on a local and international platform. Alarm bells should start ringing if information is relayed without verifiable sources being given.

The confidence of manufacturers in R410A is demonstrated by its use in Daikin’s VRVIII-Q system, which can replace all existing Daikin R22 and R407C VRV installations and use substantially less energy — reducing the global-warming effect of generating electricity. Not only does R410A have a 10% lower GWP than R22, but it also has no ozone-depletion potential — unlike R22.

The reason for the concern about HFCs is the global-warming properties (GWP) of these gases. If released, they will contribute to climate change by accumulating in the upper atmosphere and not dispersing for some time. If, however, they are totally contained within their refrigeration circuits and are collected and destroyed harmlessly at the end of the plant life, as is best practice, then their GWP is zero.

However, there will inevitably be some spill and accidental release. The quantity of this is also under review and varies from one plant type and size to another. The good news is that the laws on F-gas installer training and compulsory certification have led to a greater awareness at the level that counts, namely the engineers on site, whose professionalism has grown exponentially over the past few years. Today, the likelihood of an air-conditioning system being found short of refrigerant is an exception rather than a rule.

The rational way of looking at the subject is by considering a damage-limitation scenario. By comparing one proposed installation with another, it may be possible to show that the plant incorporating an HFC will do less environmental damage because it is more efficient and uses less power input, thus saving carbon emissions at the point of electricity generation. This saving is straightforward to calculate for air conditioning and refrigeration, and Annex B of EN378-1 2008 shows how to do a Total Equivalent Warming Impact (TEWI) assessment.

A pleasantly air-conditioned office — but what about the issues surrounding the technology delivering that comfort?

This principle has also been accepted by and included in BREEAM 2011 where credits can be awarded for systems with high GWP refrigerants that have small volumes of leakage over their lifetime. It also relates to the efficiencies of HFC chillers and refrigeration plant when compared with the alternatives.

When it comes to laws, rules and regulations, any statement with dubious provenance is always worth a second opinion from an official source, and hasty action should not be taken as it may be regretted later. If a statement has wide and major industry-changing implications, it is unlikely to be announced in isolation. It will normally have been discussed widely for some time before and will have a period of grace, usually years in the case of refrigerants, before it is put into force.

If the rumours seem to originate from other official bodies (such as BRE, BSRIA, BREEAM etc.) it is always worth checking with them also. Most manufacturers will also be able and willing to help as they need to pay particular attention to any future legislation which may impact on their core business.

Assistance on any F-gas issue can be found on the link below and/or by direct questions to fgas-support@enviros.com

Simon Keel is with Daikin UK.



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