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How Regulations Are Driving Refrigerant Changes in Commercial HVAC

David Hules_Blog David Hules | Director of Commercial Marketing, Air Conditioning

Emerson Commercial & Residential Solutions

 

This blog summarizes an article from our most recent E360 Outlook, entitled Regulations Bringing Refrigerant Changes to Commercial HVAC Market.” Click here to read it in its entirety.

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Among the well-known factors driving change in the commercial HVAC market — including advances in building automation and connectivity, and increasing focuses on comfort and air quality — refrigerant regulations have yet to make a major impact. But that will likely change soon, as U.S. regulations will be driving a change in which types of refrigerants can be used in commercial HVAC equipment, specifically chillers.

As a key supplier to equipment manufacturers, Emerson is helping the industry prepare to make this transition. Like the approach taken with commercial refrigeration, we are currently working backward from the implementation dates to adequately design, test and supply the components needed to work with potential new refrigerants.

Part of that preparation also involves helping our customers stay informed and educated about how the coming changes will impact their operations and infrastructure.

Under the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) Significant New Alternatives Policy (SNAP) program, current popular refrigerants R-410A, R-407C, R-134A and others will be delisted in chiller applications effective January 1, 2024. This is prompting the evaluation of low global warming potential (GWP) replacement refrigerants for use in commercial chiller applications.

In this ongoing industry effort to identify low-GWP replacements for R-410A and other refrigerants, four main criteria are being considered. When combined with technology, a viable alternate refrigerant must:

  • Have proven safety properties and conform to building codes and safety standards
  • Be environmentally friendly, with zero ozone depletion and low GWP
  • Offer long-term availability at a reasonable capital cost
  • Provide performance equal to or better than current refrigerants to keep energy consumption low

Currently, there are only a few low-GWP, high-performance refrigerants listed as acceptable by the EPA. While natural refrigerants such as ammonia, propane and CO2 are among these, they are rarely used in chiller applications, primarily because of toxicity, flammability and efficiency concerns. As a result, the most viable, low-GWP replacements approved by the EPA fall into the A2L safety classification.

A2Ls, which are also mildly flammable, present their own set of challenges that the industry is working to solve or minimize. Efforts are currently underway to update A2L safety standards (e.g., UL standards) that will also necessitate an update to building codes. To be included in the next building code cycle, these updates ideally need to be finalized and approved by the beginning of 2018. Any delay in approval likely delays the timeline by which A2L-compatible new equipment becomes available in the market.

At this stage, staying informed is the best way for end users to prepare for the coming refrigerant transition in commercial chiller applications. Depending on refrigerant options and building code updates, HVAC equipment will be changing.

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