Refrigerant revolution is coming to the market

The fight to prevent global warming is very much in evidence in refrigerant regulations.

F-gas regulations are continuing their phase-down over the next few years, as hydrofluorocarbon (HFC) gases with a global warming potential above 2,500 will be banned in all new commercial refrigeration equipment placed on the EU market after 1 January 2020.

And as the R404a refrigerant currently used in many commercial refrigerators and freezers will be part of the next wave to be booted off the usable list, how is this impacting professional refrigeration equipment manufacturers?

At Hoshizaki for instance, UK technical manager Stuart Kayes believes: “The introduction of the F-gas regulations in 2020 will have little impact on the Hoshizaki range as it is something we’ve been working towards since the implementation of the Gram sustainability strategy back in 2000. At the time, we recognised the need for a more sustainable, environmentally friendly solution to the use of existing refrigerants in commercial equipment.

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“At the forefront of innovation, Hoshizaki, and formerly Gram, has pioneered a number of new technologies and manufacturing techniques designed to enhance the energy saving credentials of the portfolio. As such, virtually all of our refrigeration equipment is available with the latest hydrocarbon (HC) refrigerant and therefore compliant with the forthcoming F-gas regulations. Those appliances using the older, HFC refrigerant will be phased out prior to the regulation change in 2020.”

He foresees: “The planned phase-down and regulation tightening over the next 4 years is going to force manufacturers to carefully consider the design and operational efficiencies of their refrigeration portfolio. At Hoshizaki, we have always strived to achieve the best results for our customers in order to deliver equipment that meets the demands of their business. A number of our appliances are class leading, including the Superior Plus range, from which the K72 is the market leader.

The F-gas regulations should have little impact on Hoshizaki cabinets, as the manufacturer has been working on sustainable alternatives to HFC refrigerant for many years.

“All our appliances are tested in the most stringent fashion. We put our equipment through the highest, ‘climate class 5’ testing, meaning the results are achieved in the simulated kitchen conditions, including and ambient temperature of +40°C and a relative humidity of 40%. As such, dealers, distributors, and operators can be confident that a Hoshizaki or Gram refrigerated appliance will perform well in even the most demanding of environments.”

In terms of suitable alternative gases going forwards, he revealed: “There is a significant amount of work going on behind the scenes, both by refrigeration manufacturers and by large chemical manufacturers, to develop a long term replacement to the current lower global warming potential (GWP) refrigerants, R452 and R449, which are both interim solutions to R404a. We are extremely confident that there will be a number of viable solutions in place before the change in regulation in 2022.

“This could include the further development and widespread use of CO2 technology in smaller standalone units. Already in use in large cold storage solutions, for the likes of blast chilling/freezing, and in combined systems incorporating heat recovery, greater cost efficiencies could see a more extensive role out of this type of system to smaller appliances purely as a refrigerant.

“What’s more, the design limit of HC refrigeration is fully expected to change from 150g to 500g in the near future, which will also enable its use on a greater range of equipment. Currently, the largest appliance that can be produced using 150g of HC refrigerant is a double-door freezer; however an increase to 500g would allow us to manufacture appliances up to the size of a small cold store.

“It’s worth noting that these comments only represent the manufacturing sector as those operating in the service sector can continue to purchase and use R404a beyond 2022.”

Looking ahead, he predicted: “Having been working on sustainable alternatives to HFC refrigerant for many years, the regulatory change is going to have very little impact on the design and operation of Hoshizaki and Gram appliances. We’ve implemented a sustainability drive across our global business, including everything from the refrigerant we use, to the packaging, and the logistics used to transport our products across the world. As a result, our refrigeration equipment has already been carefully designed and crafted to ensure environmental friendliness in every detail.”

Elsewhere, as Pentland Wholesale supplies a wide range of refrigeration products, from small impulse purchase coolers to large commercial storage cabinets, its entire portfolio has been affected in some way by the F-gas regulations.

According to operations director, Dean Simpson: “Our challenge has always been to maintain our extensive range available to dealers without any disruption to supply and make the transition between refrigerants seamless. A lot of hard work goes on behind the scenes ensuring we are constantly ahead of the curve and being proactive not reactive to the changes within the industry. Due to the vast experience within our company, regulation change is not a daunting issue.”

He continued: “In reality, although F-gas has imposed changes, the only impacts to our products have been positive ones, resulting in more efficient products for the end user – exactly what the regulations set out to achieve.

“It’s important to stress the refrigeration industry has had significant changes imposed on it over the recent past, most notably with the reduction of fluorinated gases (CFCs and HCFCs) and the EcoDesign directive; the industry as a whole is capable of adapting to change.”

Preparations for the 2020 deadline and the 2022 tightening started a couple of years ago at Pentland when the firm started looking at viable alternatives to R404a and discussing the options with its factories and brand manufacturers.

Simpson underlined: “It was important we had a full understanding of the implications of the changes to ensure our warranty obligations would not be affected on existing equipment, and that we could confidently recommend an alternative refrigerant for repairs to systems, in the event R404a was not available.

“After extensive research and subsequent in house testing on various products, we decided that R452a is a good solution and an effective alternative to R404a. It has the added advantage that existing components can be used, so no equipment currently on R404a would become obsolete, and importantly it has a GWP of 2141 which enables servicing (but not production) after 2022. Nobody needs to worry about our equipment after these dates; we will ensure everything we offer is future-proofed.”

As Pentland sells predominantly plug-in equipment, this means the refrigeration systems are relatively small and therefore mainly fall into the current 150g limit for HC refrigerants. Simpson commented: “Fixed equipment has other options, but for the plug-in commercial refrigeration market, HC seems the only viable long term solution.”

The main design challenges to incorporating HC refrigerants into Pentland’s cabinets relate to larger units like multi-decks. “However we hope the limit of 150g will be addressed (the current rumour is 500grams) to allow these products to be manufactured without significant increases in costs,” said Simpson.

“There are already some products being manufactured with twin refrigeration systems to allow for the restriction in refrigerant charging levels, but this obviously has an impact on the cost of manufacture and ultimately the end user pays more for the product. Therefore it makes sense all round for a review of the current restrictive legislation.

“Whether we remain in the EU or eventually leave, it would make sense for the UK to operate by the same rules as our neighbours to prevent trading issues for both importers and exporters. Operationally we don’t expect any difference for the user; ultimately all that is needed is a space that is cold with minimal fuss.”

Precision Refrigeration changed the vast majority of its products over to HC refrigerants in 2016.

Thetford-based Precision Refrigeration changed the vast majority of its products over to HC refrigerants in 2016 when the EcoDesign Energy Labelling regulations came into force. MD Nick Williams explained: “With the required F-gas regulations in mind, we needed to make the changes anyway, but decided to take immediate advantage of the energy savings that HC offers.

“We still have a couple of blast chiller models which need more than 150g of R290 – the current maximum permitted charge is 150g. As a result, we are working closely with one of our compressor suppliers to find the best solution as soon as one becomes available.”

As for which alternative gases will be useful for the long term, he detailed: “The main alternatives to the R404a refrigerant will be the natural refrigerants, R290 and R600a HC refrigerants. They offer low environmental impact and an excellent thermodynamic performance, perfect in the long run.”

Taking into account the use of HC gases and how they could impact refrigeration design and operation, Williams underlined: “Flammability is a big risk, and so it is essential that all components are non-sparking with HC refrigerants. These refrigerants are extremely efficient, and therefore provide great energy savings.”

At Project Distribution (Prodis), national accounts manager Darren Mairs welcomed the movement towards greener gases. “F-gas regulations have had a positive impact on our refrigeration range as it has encouraged us to look at more environmentally friendly and efficient refrigerants,” he said.

“We have already begun to phase out R134a and R404a as our primary refrigerant. Our full range of storage refrigeration is now running on HC refrigerants and we are now beginning the phase out for our display refrigeration ranges.”

He further revealed: “After exhaustive testing, our XDPRO range of display refrigeration is due to be relaunched in the very near future. This entire range has been switched to the environmentally friendly R290 refrigerant for increased energy efficiency and reduced running costs, without having any negative effect on the performance of the cabinets.

“This is just the first of many tested and planned upgrades and we plan to have our entire refrigeration range running exclusively on HC refrigerant by the middle of 2019.”

As the size of the refrigeration units Prodis supplies does not exceed the maximum charge limit of R290, this will be the manufacturer’s main alternative to R404a. “We feel that R290 is the most suitable refrigerant for low temperature freezers or heavy-duty refrigerators and has proven itself for many years to be a reliable and dependable alternative,” said Mairs.

Going forward, he detailed: “From a user’s point of view the visual design and operation of our refrigeration cabinets will not alter with the change to HC refrigerants. The changes will happen within the refrigeration systems themselves, leading to more energy efficient and environmentally friendly cabinets. This will have the positive effect of reducing the running costs for the end user which is a change we are sure they will appreciate.”

While for Liebherr, then-commercial sales manager Mark Cooke detailed: “All Liebherr models run on environmentally friendly HC refrigerants as standard, therefore we do not envisage an impact on our production or operations. However, we may see operators and equipment distributors choosing to buy more Liebherr prior to the January 2020 legislation enforcement.”

He feels that the manufacturer is well-prepared for all regulations development, commenting: “Liebherr production and stock levels have always been maintained at a high level in order to give the operator instant access to our range of products without long lead-times. The phase down from 2020 and the tightening in 2022 therefore could have an entirely positive impact Liebherr sales of commercial refrigeration equipment.”

Looking ahead, Cooke concluded: “The long term refrigerant solution has to be a total switch from HFC and fluorinated gases for use in commercial refrigeration. Liebherr will continue to lead the way with the use of non-ozone depleting gases with zero GWP in all of our products.”

Gassing ahead

Manufacturers are working with refrigerant suppliers to develop alternative gases that have much lower global warming potential (GWP) and ozone depletion potential (ODP). Glenn Roberts, chair of trade association CESA, feels: “These technologies that should provide a green, long term solution to the F-gas problem, though the R&D investment in launching new products may impact on refrigerator manufacturers’ list prices. However, as well as being ‘greener’, many of the new refrigeration products should be more energy efficient and will thus reduce running costs.

“For example, hydrocarbon refrigerants are very effective yet have a much lower GDP than HFCs and zero ODP.”

CESA itself is helping to educate end users, dealers and consultants. For example, the trade body produced a Guide to the F Gas regulations, which is available to download and gives simple, factual information about the issue.

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