﻿Planning for the ban on R22
David Lettis sees the growing restrictions and ultimate ban on the use of R22 as stimulating positive opportunities for building owners/occupiers and the air-conditioning industry.
We have now passed the midpoint of the 10-year programme to phase out R22, and there are still many R22 systems giving good service. The last R22 systems were legally installed up to the end of 2004 and under normal circumstances these should be good for at least another five to 10 years — or more. However, the ban on the sale of virgin R22 gas that came into force on 31 December 2009 is widely expected to create shortages and higher prices for recycled gas, leaving many R22 systems increasingly difficult to service and expensive to run. From 2014, no R22 recharging will be permitted, even with reclaimed R22.
Whilst replacing R22 systems is something that many building owners and tenants would probably rather defer in the current economic climate, financial considerations present a strong case alongside the legal requirement.
By formulating a cost-effective phase-out plan now, those affected by the legislation will not only be ready for the ban, but can also start saving money through energy savings and tax efficiencies. A good place to start the process is to identify all units that use R22, and then the decision to replace, convert or leave as-is can be based on criteria such as system type, age, condition and energy efficiency.
Let us consider the pros and cons of the options available.
First, companies could decide to continue using their R22 systems for as long as possible using reclaimed refrigerant. A system could be recharged on 31 December 2014, just before the total ban on R22 takes effect, and continue to give good service for a while. However, this could become very expensive as demand outstrips supply, and there is the risk that the supply of recycled gas could run out before the end of 2014.
Using an R22 ‘drop-in’ substitute, such as R417A, which has zero ozone-depletion potential (ODP), is another option, but is expensive and less efficient. Like most other manufacturers, MHIE does not allow drop-in replacements, as their performance is not tested or guaranteed, and users may experience reliability and performance problems that add to running costs.
Replacing R22 units with new eco-friendly R410A units can often be the most cost-effective solution. Although this might seem the most expensive choice, a host of short- and long-term benefits will offset much of the cost. As well as meeting R22 regulations, new systems that run on R410A offer superior heat-transfer properties, so less energy is needed to achieve the desired levels of cooling or heating, R410A is also the ideal refrigerant for inverter drive systems; in the long term this means a substantial saving on electricity costs and CO2 emissions from electricity generation.
The improved design and technology of today’s equipment (inverter-controlled scroll compressors, for example) also contribute to significantly better efficiency, cost savings and extended service life. Further, the latest MHIE R410A split systems are designed to ensure easy installation and maintenance, while their reliability under normal operating conditions minimises the need for significant repair work later. Last but not least, the capital cost of investing in more energy-efficient equipment may by offset for business users under the Government’s Enhanced Capital Allowance scheme.
But the big news is that while not all new R410A systems can be slotted into existing pipe runs, many can (including MHIE’s new R410A units). This means a switchover can be completed quickly and with minimal disruption — and re-using installed pipework will also reduce the cost of conversion.
The suitability of existing pipework for re-use will depend on a range of factors. For example, pipes must be of refrigeration quality, be uncontaminated and insulated and have a wall thickness greater than 0.8 mm. Pipe length must be less than 50 m, and there are restrictions on the elevation difference between indoor and outdoor units. An outdoor unit can be up to 30 m above or up to 15 m below indoor units. It is also important that the refrigeration oil a premium quality compressor lubricant — like Suniso, Freol, ether or ester oil — which are designed to perform equally well with HCFC and CFC gases and the new eco-friendly refrigerants.
To assist with the important assessment of existing pipework before re-use, MHIE has produced guides and compatibility charts that can be downloaded from our dedicated R22 refrigerant legislation website.
Companies affected by the new regulations can use the website to check key deadlines in the run up to the ban on R22, and obtain further details about the legislation. We have included an overview of repair or replace strategies to help the decision-making process. With the countdown to the complete ban now well under way, we are doing all we can to provide the information companies need to plan the simplest and most cost-effective route through the new legislation.
David Lettis is sales manager with Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Europe.