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A2L Emergence: What’s Next for U.S. Commercial Refrigeration?

RajanRajendran2 Rajan Rajendran | Global Vice President, Environmental Sustainability

Emerson’s Commercial & Residential Solutions Business

The emergence of A2L refrigerants is a topic of many conversations taking place among U.S. commercial refrigeration stakeholders. As the hydrofluorocarbon (HFC) refrigerant phasedown proceeds, A2L refrigerants are among the emerging alternatives capable of achieving needed reductions in global warming potential (GWP). From a regulatory perspective, the process of approving A2Ls for use in commercial refrigeration is well underway. However, the A2L “lower flammability” classification will require A2L refrigeration equipment and installations to follow the guidelines defined by the safety standards governing the use of flammable refrigerants. In an article published by Engineered Systems, I explored these regulatory developments and discussed the current and future potential of A2Ls in the U.S. commercial refrigeration sector. To view the full article, click here.

Establishing a framework for A2L use

As we await the regulatory approval of A2Ls in U.S. commercial refrigeration, it’s important to remember that A2Ls are already approved and deployed in commercial refrigeration applications in Europe and other global regions. These installations have proven to be safe and reliable while filling the growing need for low-GWP refrigeration. They also serve as proofs-of-concept for U.S. food retailers seeking to comply with regulatory mandates or transition to next-generation refrigeration technologies.

Today, U.S. regulatory bodies are actively working to establish a framework for A2L use. Recently published updates to the 2nd edition of UL 60335-2-89 provide product and/or equipment guidelines for the use of A2Ls in self-contained and remote commercial refrigeration equipment. On the application side, ASHRAE 15 is also being updated via Addendum L to align with the revised UL 2-89, which would allow for the expanded use of flammable refrigerants in commercial refrigeration applications.

These key steps will help to give the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) the safety information it needs to proceed with its A2L refrigerant approval process. Finally, building codes will need to be updated to enable A2L use. All this is to simply say that the regulatory wheels are in motion to soon support the approval and/or safe use of A2L refrigerants.

Understanding the relative flammability of A2Ls

The precedent for the use of flammable refrigerants in U.S. commercial refrigeration has already been set with the natural refrigerant (hydrocarbon) propane (or R-290). With its A3 “higher flammability” classification, R-290 has commonly been used in lower-charge, distributed applications, such as self-contained, stand-alone units and display cases. R-290 also has a long history of use in commercial refrigeration and is considered a known commodity.

In contrast, A2L refrigerants are relatively new, and very few food retailers in the U.S. are familiar with them. A2Ls are composed of various blends of hydrofluoroolefin (HFO) refrigerants and select lower-GWP HFCs. These chemical compositions can produce lower degrees of flammability while delivering low-GWP ratings below 300 and 150 GWP. To clarify the flammability differences between A2L and A3 refrigerants, consider the following metrics:

  • Lower flammability limit (LFL) — The LFL of A2Ls is roughly eight times higher than R-290. Thus, A2Ls are less likely to form flammable concentrations, which potentially allows for larger refrigerant charges and/or larger refrigeration applications.
  • Minimum ignition energy (MIE) — A2L MIE is much higher than R-290, which has a very low MIE. This makes A2Ls potentially safer to use with electrical components.
  • Burning velocity (Su) and heat of combustion (HOC) — Su and HOC are much lower in A2Ls than R-290, which results in a much lower severity of ignition events.

UK retailer helps to prove the case for A2Ls

ASDA, a leading food retailer in the UK, was recently recognized as the first retailer to adopt an all-A2L refrigeration strategy. In 2019, the company successfully completed its transition from a centralized HFC-based architecture to a distributed A2L approach. Moving to a distributed, remote system design also helped ASDA to lower refrigerant charges and limit the potential for refrigerant leaks — which not only minimizes safety risks, but it also ensures that systems are operating at full capacity and efficiency.

A key element of ASDA’s A2L strategy was to gradually upgrade its older HFC cases with newer versions that were also rated for A2L compatibility. Laying this groundwork at the case level helped them to transition from their previous centralized HFC systems to their next generation of A2L distributed refrigeration plants. Their A2L display cases utilize a modular leak detection alarm system that’s integrated with the case controller. If leaks are detected, the system activates an alarm that triggers a shut-off valve, which stops refrigerant flow and helps to ensure operational safety.

As A2Ls become available for use in the U.S., this strategy serves as a potential example for how U.S. retailers might make a similar refrigerant transition in their stores.

To learn more about Emerson’s A2L-rated compressors and leak control systems, please visit the A2L section of our website.




Copeland™ Mobile App Wins a Gold Dealer Design Award

Jeff Lichty | Director – Product Management

Emerson’s Commercial & Residential Solutions Business

Emerson is thrilled to announce that our Copeland Mobile smartphone app took home the gold at the 2022 ACHR The NEWS Dealer Design Awards. These awards recognize products that assist contractors with the installation, maintenance and servicing of installed equipment in the HVACR industry. The recently overhauled Copeland Mobile app received the top honor in the contractor services and software category.

Everything contractors need at their fingertips

Originally launched in 2014, the gold-winning Copeland Mobile app underwent a complete redesign and functionality upgrade in early 2021. Copeland Mobile — which is available for free in the Apple and Google Play app stores — provides on-the-go access to 30 years of air conditioning and refrigeration product specifications available in the Copeland online product information (OPI) database. Contractors simply can scan the barcode on any compressor to pull up its product specifications, access application engineering manuals, or quickly troubleshoot and diagnose an issue.

With Copeland Mobile installed on their smartphones and/or field devices, contractors can quickly check the availability of replacement compressors, condensing units or service parts from local Copeland authorized wholesaler locations — even cross-reference non-Copeland models for suitable replacement suggestions. Built-in HVACR calculators help contractors to select the correct products for their customers’ air conditioning and refrigeration applications.

For real-time, on-the-job support, Copeland Mobile’s live chat feature connects contractors with Emerson’s support agents and Copeland technical specialists — 24 hours a day, five days a week. Contractors can even use Copeland Mobile to help them track open projects with its jobsite commissioning feature. In addition, the handy warranty look-up capability quickly gives contractors the information they need to determine if a compressor or condensing unit is still under warranty.

In summary, the winning combination of these comprehensive features brought home the gold award:

  • View product specifications and application engineering manuals
  • Cross-reference Copeland products
  • Troubleshoot and diagnose Copeland compressors
  • Check the availability of local replacement products
  • Chat with Copeland technical specialists
  • Track open projects
  • Look up product warranty status

Supporting the next generation of HVACR technicians

Among the many challenges facing the HVACR industry today, perhaps none is more urgent than addressing the growing shortage of qualified service and maintenance technicians. According to recent statistics, 80,000 HVACR technician jobs are currently unfulfilled — representing 39 percent of the total industry workforce. At the same time, the industry is losing an estimated 20,000 technician jobs per year due to the retirement of an aging workforce and/or predictable career attrition rates.

Emerson created the Copeland Mobile app with this industry challenge in mind. Whether you’re a new or experienced contractor, we know you’re stretched thin working with fewer resources while being expected to perform at the same high-quality service level. Copeland Mobile is designed to provide easy access to the resources and tools that you need when you need them most. Whether it’s real-time alerts or on-the-go access to product, installation and service information, Copeland Mobile helps technicians to provide the best possible support to their HVACR customers.

To learn more about Copeland Mobile, please visit the apps section of our website. Search the app library on your device for a free download of this award-winning app.

[New Webinar]: Preparing for Emerging Refrigerants and CARB Compliance

Kurt Knapke | Vice President of Solutions Strategy, Cold Chain

Emerson’s Commercial & Residential Solutions Business

After years of speculation and uncertainty, the phasedown of hydrofluorocarbon (HFC) refrigerants has officially arrived in the U.S. Retailers in California were among the first to be impacted, as the California Air Resources Board’s (CARB) recent mandate went into effect as of Jan. 1, 2022. For stakeholders in the rest of the country, it’s no longer a question of “if” but “when” federal refrigerant mandates will impact them. In our next E360 Webinar, Katrina Krites, Emerson’s director of strategic marketing, and I will explore the roles that emerging refrigerants play in achieving both CARB and federal refrigerant compliance. The webinar will take place on Thursday, Aug. 4 at 2 p.m. EDT/11 a.m. PDT.

As the refrigerant transition sweeps across the country over the next several years, food retailers are busy determining which alternative refrigerants will form the bases of their future refrigeration strategies. Unlike the previous generation of commercial refrigeration equipment, there is no one-size-fits-all approach that will solve most retailers’ requirements. Corporate sustainability goals are also informing the evaluation process, as many companies seek to lower greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by using lower-global warming potential (GWP) refrigerants and improving refrigeration system energy efficiencies.

Regardless of the motivation, these critical equipment and architecture decisions should not be taken lightly, as they can impact retail operations for 1–2 decades.

Among the most likely emerging refrigerant alternatives include proven natural refrigerants — such as CO2 (or R-744) and the hydrocarbon R-290 (aka propane) — as well as a new group of synthetic A2L options. Although these HFC successors offer the necessary GWP reductions, they introduce new performance characteristics and system architectures designed to address a wider variety of store formats and retailer requirements.

Phasing in the next generation of low-GWP refrigerant alternatives

Our next E360 Webinar is designed to help food retailers in California and throughout the U.S. align their refrigerant choices with their company’s long-term operational and sustainability goals. In addition to providing an overview of each emerging refrigerant’s operating characteristics and likely equipment options, Katrina and I will also explore strategies for achieving CARB compliance and preparing for soon-to-be implemented federal mandates. Attendees will learn about:

  • The continued growth of CO2 transcritical booster systems in North America
  • The expanding potential of R-290 due to charge limit increases per recent safety standards updates
  • How to prepare for the emergence of low-GWP A2L refrigerants, and how their lower flammability classification impacts system design and safety management
  • Strategies for achieving CARB compliance by evaluating total GHG emissions across a retailer’s entire fleet of stores in California
  • Aligning refrigerant choices with architecture recommendations in an ever-expanding range of food retail store formats

If you’re ready to phase out HFC refrigerants and start phasing in your next generation of lower-GWP alternatives, then register now. This informative and free webinar will take place on Thursday, Aug. 4 at 2 p.m. EDT/11 a.m. PDT.




Tips for Preparing for the Refrigerant Transition —HVAC School Podcast

Jennifer Butsch | Regulatory Affairs Director

Emerson’s Commercial & Residential Solutions Business

HVACR service technicians are at the front lines of the global refrigerant transition. As federal and state regulations take shape in the U.S., technicians and contracting companies have many questions about why this transition is underway and how to prepare for what’s coming. In a recent HVAC School podcast hosted by Brian Orr, Rajan Rajendran, Emerson’s global vice president of environmental sustainability and I answered some of the most pressing questions that technicians have about the changes in this dynamic refrigerant landscape.

As someone who has his finger on the pulse of the HVACR technician community, Brian knows the many challenges facing technicians as they help the industry transition to the next generation of lower-global warming potential (GWP) refrigerants. In our podcast discussion, he shared how many technicians are feeling the pressure of “bearing the burden” of execution and seeking guidance on how to prepare. Rajan and I were happy to have an opportunity to shed light on some of the key topics impacting technicians and our entire industry.

Keeping the refrigerant transition in proper context

Although many HVACR stakeholders are most concerned about which refrigerants will be used in the future, it’s important to think about the implications from a more holistic perspective. As Rajan explained, this was the spirit in which The Helix Innovation Center was conceived. Yes, the refrigerant GWP is an important factor, but it must also be considered among other variables, such as: system energy efficiency, consumer and/or retail trends, sustainability objectives and even the journey to achieving net-zero in commercial operations.

Similarly, Rajan discussed how the same holistic philosophy applies to equipment and/or system design, and how important it is to think beyond individual silos and to take a full ecosystem approach (i.e., focusing on the impacts of an entire system rather than simply evaluating individual component performance). Of course, the long-term implications to service technicians and end-users are chief among these considerations. Whether you’re considering the impacts of the refrigerant transition on an individual stakeholder, industry, equipment or system level, it’s crucial to consider the entire ecosystem and not just focus on one aspect.

Embracing the refrigerant continuum and staying informed

Another way to alleviate consternation about the refrigerant transition is to recognize that what’s occurring today is part of a continuing evolution and not necessarily a one-time event. As Rajan and I explained in the HVAC School podcast, this continuum has always been a factor in the ongoing evolution of HVACR technologies. When we look ahead to the changes coming to the commercial refrigeration, commercial AC or residential AC sectors, we’re anticipating a series of transitions over the next decade. The increasing global awareness of environmental sustainability will likely result in a more active period, leading to advances in refrigerant and energy-efficiency technologies.

So, what can technicians do now to prepare? Staying informed is the best way to gain a comfort level and a sense of preparedness. As Rajan stated, “Transitions are only a problem when you don’t know what’s coming.” Industry associations — such as the Air-conditioning, Heating, and Refrigeration Institute (AHRI) — equipment manufacturers, and emerging resources like the HVAC School podcast are all stepping up efforts to keep technicians educated and informed. For our part, Emerson’s E360 stewardship program continues to offer a series of webinars, articles and resources; Emerson Educational Services offers programs on next-generation refrigerant applications and safety best practices.

What’s on the regulatory horizon?

Perhaps more than any other HVACR industry stakeholder, service technicians are keenly interested in what regulations are coming soon that could impact them next. Although this topic alone could be the source of a full series of podcasts, Rajan and I were happy to provide Brian with the high points:

  • The American Innovation and Manufacturing (AIM) Act has authorized the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to phase down the production of high-GWP hydrofluorocarbon (HFC) refrigerants. The next step is a 40 percent reduction in 2024, based on total GWP content.
  • The EPA will soon release draft regulations to refrigerant manufacturers regarding how quota will be allocated for the 2024 reduction.
  • Increasing demands for lower-GWP refrigerants will enable the emergence and wider adoption of A2L “lower flammability” refrigerants. Leak detection will become an even more integral part of A2L system safety.
  • Natural refrigerants like CO2 and propane will continue to play expanding roles.

Rajan and I discussed these regulatory topics in greater detail in our latest E360 Webinar, and we encourage you to view it for more information about what to expect in the regulatory pipeline. To hear our conversation with Brian Orr on the HVAC School podcast, please visit their website.




[Webinar Recap] The Latest in Refrigerant Rulemaking and Safety Standards

Jennifer Butsch | Regulatory Affairs Director

Emerson’s Commercial & Residential Solutions Business

As we near the year’s halfway point, the HVACR industry is watching closely as the next steps in the global phasedown of hydrofluorocarbon (HFC) refrigerants appear on the horizon. Emerging decarbonization targets are driving a reduction in the use of high-global warming potential (GWP) HFCs and the transition to next-generation, lower-GWP refrigerant alternatives. In a recent E360 Webinar, Rajan Rajendran, Emerson’s global vice president of sustainability, and I provided an update on the status of refrigerant regulations and their impacts on our industry. From federal- and state-led phasedown initiatives to evolving safety standards governing the use of A2L “lower flammability” refrigerants, we provided an overview of the current landscape and discussed strategies for achieving present and future HFC and GWP reductions.

AIM Act and the EPA (managing supply and demand)

Perhaps the most important driver in the U.S. HFC phasedown was the 2020 passing of the American Innovation and Manufacturing (AIM) Act and the authority it grants to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The EPA is enacting a strategy that limits both the supply and demand of high-GWP HFCs per the phasedown schedule set forth by the Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol.

The first step began this year with a 10 percent reduction in consumption and production of HFCs. The next step will be a 40 percent reduction, which will take effect in 2024 — a benchmark that represents the first major stepdown felt throughout U.S. HVACR sectors. Refrigerant production and import quotas are based on the GWP rating of a specific refrigerant, thereby supporting the increased production of lower-GWP refrigerants and a decrease in the availability of high-GWP HFCs. Hence, the law of supply and demand will drive up HFC prices and accelerate the transition to lower-GWP options. As we have seen, our industry is already experiencing rising HFC prices.

On the demand side, the EPA is proposing to drive down high-GWP HFC usage in new equipment by imposing new refrigerant GWP limits in commercial refrigeration and AC applications. This may lead to the restoration of its Significant New Alternatives Policy (SNAP) rules 20 and 21 and/or the introduction of SNAP proposals aimed at approving new low-GWP options as they become available for use in emerging refrigeration technologies.

To help determine what those new GWP limits will be, the AIM Act sponsors asked for industry input via petitions, several of which the EPA has already taken into consideration. The EPA is currently working on drafts of proposed rulemaking, which we hope to see yet this year.

The EPA’s strategy for limiting HFC demand also applies to the servicing of existing equipment. This important aspect of the demand equation is primarily focused on leak reduction, verification and reporting (similar to the EPA’s Section 608 proposal, which guided previous generations of refrigerant phasedowns). The EPA is working to provide details related to HFC management, which may result in the restoration of Section 608 and/or an all-new HFC reclamation program.

HFC phasedown toolbox (direct vs. indirect emissions)

As Rajan explained in the webinar, the HFC phasedown ultimately is geared toward reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions based on their direct and indirect environmental impacts. Direct emissions refer to the potential for refrigerants to leak or be released into the atmosphere; indirect emissions refer to the energy consumption of associated refrigeration or AC equipment (which is estimated to be 10 times the impact of direct emissions).

Per estimates from the Air-conditioning, Heating, and Refrigeration Institute (AHRI), 86 percent of total refrigerant use stems from refrigeration, AC and heat pump equipment. Of that, only 40 percent can be attributed to filling up new equipment, while 60 percent is used for topping off systems that have had direct refrigerant leaks.

Rajan shared that preparing for the next step change in HFC reductions in 2024 will require our industry to leverage key strategies in the HFC phasedown toolbox, such as refrigerant management and equipment design best practices. In existing systems, this will mean an increased focus on maintenance to reduce both direct leaks and the indirect environmental impacts of poor system performance and energy efficiency. Recommendations for existing systems include:

  • Detecting, reducing, and eliminating refrigerant leaks
  • Retrofitting to a lower-GWP refrigerant in the same class (A1), with the best-case scenario of selecting equipment that is also A2L-ready
  • Recovering and reclaiming refrigerant for use in service (never vent refrigerant or release into the atmosphere)

For new equipment, Rajan recommended using the lowest possible GWP alternative and adopting emerging refrigeration system technologies that leverage lower refrigerant charges. As has been the case with other lower-charge options — such as self-contained, R-290 systems — the end goal is to achieve maximum system capacity using a minimum amount of refrigerant charge.

For both new and existing equipment, it’s critical to always maintain all components, equipment, and systems in accordance with optimal design conditions, including during installation, commissioning and normal operation. Doing so will improve system energy efficiency and performance while minimizing indirect impacts. By implementing these strategies on new and existing equipment, we believe our industry can achieve HFC reductions below the 2024 phasedown — as well as the 70 percent reduction scheduled for 2029.

A2L emergence, safety standards and state-led initiatives

Achieving the needed GWP reductions will require the use of emerging A2L refrigerants with a “lower flammability” rating. These alternatives — also likely to be among those soon to be approved by the EPA — have been the subject of rapidly evolving safety standards and building codes designed to enable their safe use in commercial refrigeration. From a refrigerant landscape point of view, Rajan explained which A2L refrigerants are being developed and how they compare to their HFC predecessors in terms of GWP and capacity ratings.

I also provided an overview of the regulatory activities taking place within states in the U.S., including the latest California Air Resources Board (CARB) proposals, decarbonization actions in New York and Washington as well as those being proposed by the U.S. Climate Alliance. Many of these state-led activities represent regulatory approaches that are not only more aggressive than the AIM Act’s proposals, but they would also lead to a potentially more complex patchwork of regulatory compliance from state to state — a factor that some governors have recognized as inferior to the adoption of a standardized federal approach.

To learn more about making a successful HFC phasedown, emerging A2L alternatives and the refrigerant rulemaking landscape, please view this webinar.



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