Counting down to the ban on R22

Ergro, R22, HCFC22, air conditioning
Concern about the issues surrounding equipment using R22 is demonstrated by this packed summit organised by Ergro.

As the months pass towards the total ban on the use of R22 for servicing air-conditioning equipment, Kevin Groves of Ergro gives his perspective.

The final removal of the HCFC refrigerant R22 from the world’s air conditioning systems has long been heralded and is now upon us here in the UK. Manufacturers of equipment have not included it in new systems since 2003. In 2010 the use of virgin R22 refrigerant was banned, and systems can only now be serviced utilising reclaimed refrigerant for maintenance. Now the final date in the legislative removal of recycled R22 because of its ozone-depleting properties is near. On 1 January 2015, the use of recycled R22 refrigerant will be banned in the EU.

Practically speaking, where R22 refrigerant is in use, there are two main options to make an air-conditioning system serviceable after the ban comes into force. One option is to convert the existing system to enable it to operate using a legal but often less efficient refrigerant or replacing part of or the entire system.

There are two main routes to a conversion solution.

In some cases it will be possible to make a few modifications to the system, such as replacing some gaskets and the oil, which will enable it to run on a new refrigerant such as R422D. This is known as the drop-in refrigerant option, which, in most cases, will lead to a reduction in cooling capacity and increased running costs.

Where another refrigerant cannot be dropped in, there may be the potential to convert the system by installing new fan coils or condensers whilst still retaining much of the building’s existing internal infrastructure such as piping. As well as increasing system capacity, conversion is likely to improve the overall efficiency of a system through the use of modern refrigerants (except when using the drop-in option).

Both solutions are, however, heavily dependent on site, installation conditions and age of the plant.

Systems not suitable for conversion will need to be replaced. Despite the higher installation costs, replacement can lead to greater system efficiencies, lower maintenance requirements and reduced operating costs.

For building-services engineers, the effect of the legislation is likely to mean that air conditioning will take centre stage in many of their operations in the coming years. It’s important that the engineering community understands what is business-critical air conditioning and impresses the importance of preparedness upon facilities managers and business leaders.

Who should act and when, what market forces and liabilities are involved and why it’s becoming the most important news in air conditioning may not be immediately obvious to many business leaders and even facilities managers. In fact, many people who could be affected most acutely won’t even know if R22 is used in their air conditioning or even realise they are responsible for the air conditioning in the spaces they occupy.

At a recent summit in London, held at the Royal Society of Medicine, Ergro assembled a panel of experts to answer some of these questions and to raise awareness of the issues surrounding the ban of R22.

The panel introduced the subject from their various perspectives and took questions from an invited audience comprising building managers, consultants, architects and business leaders.

There were several points upon which the panel was in complete agreement, chief among which was the need for people to gain the knowledge required to properly evaluate their position in relation to a date which, while it seems distant, taken in the context of the financial cycles and business-critical nature of the systems involved, is actually almost upon us.

I represented Ergro on the panel to offer the insight of a contracting engineer who works with air conditioning for skyscrapers, manufacturing, data centres and offices. Also on the panel were representatives of leading air-conditioning manufacturers Mitsubishi Electric and Daikin, legal and liability expertise from property law firm Taylor Wessing and chartered accountants and chartered tax advisors LB Group.

One question concerned the subtleties of supply and demand of the refrigerant itself. R22 is presently trading at around £30 per kilo in the UK, and this price is rising all of the time. When considering the fact that it will become illegal to buy or sell from the end of 2014 it would seem likely that the upward trend in its value will continue.

And what about installing new equipment? If it’s critical to the business that maintenance is possible and downtime avoidable, as it is in many of the instances where an estimated 750 000 systems using R22 exist, then a lot of companies will be looking to replace equipment at around the same time.

Needless to say, where demand outstrips supply in terms of the expertise to fit new systems, there are likely to be delays that could cause unnecessary risk to business continuity.

While it does seem to be a little way off, the R22 refrigerant ban will very soon make its presence felt across the business community. From now and for the next 18 months and beyond, building-services engineers will be at the heart of making business-critical systems compliant and serviceable into the future. But the whole facilities management and building services industry must come together with manufacturers and business services to help the business community to understand how the changes will affect them. Knowledge is power, and a full evaluation of existing systems will equip business leaders with the knowledge to make the right decisions to get ahead of the ban. More information and a countdown to the ban clock is available at the link below.

Kevin Groves is group operations director with Ergro

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