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Earth Day and Refrigerants: A Look Back — and Forward

Jennifer_Butsch Jennifer Butsch | Regulatory Affairs Manager

Emerson Commercial & Residential Solutions

It’s Earth Day, which means we should all take a minute to reflect on how we can do our part to make the planet a greener place. In the world of commercial refrigeration, environmental initiatives and sustainability best practices typically focus on limiting the harmful effects of hydrochlorofluorocarbon (HCFC) and hydrofluorocarbon (HFC) refrigerants. When these refrigerants leak into the atmosphere via direct emissions, their environmental impacts can be measured in terms of ozone depletion potential (ODP) and global warming potential (GWP).

But when considering the total equivalent warming impact (TEWI) of commercial refrigeration systems, direct emissions are only part of the equation. TEWI also considers indirect impacts, or the greenhouse gases generated from the energy consumed to run these systems — estimated to represent as much as 95 percent of the total climate impact. At Emerson, we take both energy efficiency and refrigerant GWP into consideration to evaluate the full lifecycle climate performance (LCCP) of a system and its fluids.

Montreal Protocol to complete R-22 phaseout

Today, most global refrigerant regulations are focused on phasing down high-GWP HFCs. But it’s important to remember that these activities have a precedent that’s more than three decades old. In 1987, the Montreal Protocol treaty aimed to phase out ozone-depleting substances (ODS), such as the commonly used HCFC, R-22. This global treaty was since ratified by 197 countries, including the United States, Canada and Mexico, all of whom have followed its recommended phaseout schedule.

The next step in this process will take place in 2020, when the production and import of R-22 will no longer be allowed under the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Air Act. It may come as a surprise to some, but there are still untold operators with older refrigeration systems that are currently charged with R-22. Unlike smartphones and other commodities that we change or upgrade every year,  commercial refrigeration equipment can have a lifespan of 20 to 30 years. This phaseout will likely lead to an increase in system retrofits in the near term, especially as operators exhaust their supplies of R-22.

Thankfully, there’s a good deal of evidence that since the removal of ozone-depleting substances from the environment began, the ozone layer is on the mend. Some estimates state that the ozone hole above Antarctica could close by the 2060s.

HFCs targeted for global warming potential

As the HCFC phaseout began decades ago, the industry transitioned to HFCs with very low ODP. Unfortunately, many of these have since been discovered to have varying degrees of GWP. In fact, the most common HFC used in commercial refrigeration is R-404A, which has a GWP of 3,922 and is considered on the high end of the GWP scale. It’s no surprise then that it was among the first refrigerants to be targeted for phasedown under the EPA’s Significant New Alternatives Policy (SNAP) rules 20 and 21.

But per the 2018 ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals, the EPA no longer has the authority to regulate the use of refrigerants based on their GWP under the framework of the Clean Air Act. While we expect the EPA to soon provide clarity on the future of its HFC initiatives, there currently is no federal mechanism through which the proposed phasedown of high-GWP refrigerants will take place.

In the meantime, California has adopted the original EPA SNAP framework into law, and as of January 1, R-404A and R-507A are no longer allowable in many new commercial refrigeration applications. California is just one of 23 states or territories in the U.S. Climate Alliance that are making commitments to enforce similar climate protection initiatives. Currently, this growing alliance represents half of the U.S. population and more than 50 percent of the national GWP.

Globally, the Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol seeks to expand the treaty’s scope from just ozone protection to addressing global warming by phasing down short-lived climate pollutants, including HFCs. While this amendment has yet to be ratified by the United States, it has achieved the required ratification of 20 member countries to take force — including Canada and the United Kingdom, among others. For participating countries, the Kigali Amendment took effect on January 1.

Exploring the alternatives

Because regulatory variances occur from state to region to country, there are vastly different levels of environmental awareness throughout our industry. While operators in California are cognizant of the state’s efforts to phase down HFCs, there are many U.S. areas where transitioning to lower-GWP refrigerants isn’t as high of a priority.

Regardless, many top retailers have begun the process of exploring low-GWP refrigerant options as part of their sustainability objectives. Not only do they have retrofit plans in place, some are even trialing alternative refrigerant architectures in their stores — with hydrofluoroolefins (HFOs), HFO/HFC blends and natural refrigerants as leading options.

There are relatively minimal retrofit requirements when moving from R-404A to R-448A/R-449A — both A1 HFC/HFO blends — such as adding compressor cooling and other minor system changes. For a greenfield location or a complete system overhaul of an existing site, operators may consider one of many emerging low-GWP options, including:

  • Low-charge ammonia chillers on the roof
  • A2L (mildly flammable) blends in chillers on the roof and machine rooms
  • Distributed, small-charge systems with both A1 and A2L refrigerants
  • R-290 integrated cases outfitted with micro-distributed systems
  • CO2 transcritical and/or cascade systems using CO2 for low temperatures, and an HFO (or lower-GWP HFC) for medium temperatures

 

Refrigerant management best practices

As always, proper refrigerant management practices are important, regardless of the type of refrigerant used. Operators should start with a documented leak detection plan that includes the necessary tools and early-detection methods to identify and quickly respond to leaks. Leaks are not only bad for the environment; they also degrade refrigeration performance and system energy efficiencies.

With the new class of refrigerants, it’s especially important that technicians are trained to understand proper handling, charging and performance characteristics. In addition, as systems charged with higher-GWP HFCs eventually reach the end of their lifespans, it’s critical that service technicians follow proper recovery and disposal protocols.

Earth Day is a good time to reflect on the environmental progress our industry has made. At Emerson, we’ll continue to support sustainability objectives with compressors, components and systems that are both environmentally responsible and economically viable.

Copeland Hermetic CS Compressors Rated for Lower-GWP Refrigerants

VarunGarg_Blog_Image Varun Garg | Manager, Product Management – Refrigeration

Emerson Commercial & Residential Solutions

The Copeland™ Hermetic CS compressor line has been extended for use with leading alternative refrigerants. To learn more about this important update, read our recent E360 product spotlight.

Copeland Hermetic CS compressors are commonly used in self-contained and remote walk-in coolers, as well as in ice, soft serve and frozen carbonated beverage applications. Most recently, we’ve updated this industry-standard compressor platform to qualify for use with modern refrigerant alternatives — which include R-407A, R-448A and R-449A — to offer lower glower warming potential (GWP) while providing the same reliable performance.

Found in a wide range of commercial refrigeration applications, R-404A is one of the most commonly used hydrofluorocarbon (HFC) refrigerants. In recent years, HFCs like R-404A have been targeted for phase-down via global, federal and state regulatory efforts to limit the use of high-GWP refrigerants. Throughout the industry, many operators are actively seeking lower-GWP options to help them achieve regulatory compliance and meet corporate sustainability initiatives.

Many factors must be taken into account when considering how to transition to a lower-GWP alternative refrigerant, including service, maintenance and operational requirements. It’s no surprise that many operators are hesitant to transition to an option that will force them to overhaul their current refrigeration architecture or introduce a new compression platform. Emerson is helping those familiar with the Copeland Hermetic CS compressor line move from R-404A to one of these approved alternatives — without introducing new system complexities.

For those seeking to comply with regulatory targets or meet sustainability objectives, Copeland Hermetic CS compressors are qualified to use R-407A, R-448A and R-449A in medium-temperature applications. This will enable significant GWP reductions compared to R-404A.

R-404A 3,922 GWP
R-407A 2,107 GWP
R-448A 1,273 GWP
R-449A 1,282 GWP

GWP by refrigerant

Retrofit vs. new: considerations
With these new refrigerant qualifications, operators now have the option to retrofit their legacy Copeland Hermetic CS compressors. It’s important to understand that R-407A, R-448A and R-449A are not considered true “drop-in” replacements.

Even though operators can keep the same compression platform, switching from R-404A to one of these lower-GWP options requires adherence to Emerson’s Refrigerant Changeover Guidelines to help ensure optimum system performance. Expansion valve adjustments, proper lubrication and filter changes must be followed per the application engineering bulletin.

For new applications, this newly qualified Copeland Hermetic CS line of compressors grants operators the flexibility of determining which replacement options are best suited to meet their external regulatory requirements and/or internal sustainability initiatives. Emerson recommends consulting its application engineering bulletin or a certified compression expert to help better understand the performance characteristics of each low-GWP refrigerant option.

To learn specific performance ratings of these new refrigerants, please visit the Copeland Online Product Information (OPI) tool. R-448A and R-449A data will be published in February 2019.

 

SNAP, CAP and all That: Feedback From the Recent EPA Meeting on HFCs

During the past several months, the Significant New Alternatives Policy (SNAP) program hosted a series of sector-specific workshops and a broad stakeholder meeting. In February, I participated in the EPA’s broad stakeholder meeting on possible future actions and direction concerning hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) under the SNAP program and the Climate Action Plan (CAP).

The purpose of the February 2014 meeting was to promote a dialogue between stakeholders and the EPA on possible next steps and effective approaches to meet the president’s goals under CAP. At the meeting, the EPA announced plans for two separate SNAP rule-making proposals this year:

Expanding the list of low-GWP refrigerants for air conditioning and refrigeration applications — under consideration are ethane, iso-butane, propane, R-441A (HC blend) and HFC-32. All of these refrigerants (except HFC-32) have a GWP of less than 10. Since these refrigerants are also flammable, the EPA is planning to adopt safety standards and propose specific uses for each refrigerant. The EPA expects to move on this in spring 2014.

Changing the approval status of certain high-GWP HFCs in specific applications — the EPA is not expected to issue any across-the-board GWP limits, but instead will consider the end use and target-specific applications where viable options already exist and are being used. For instance, a high-GWP refrigerant in one application may be considered in the low- to mid-range for another. In addition, servicing existing equipment will not be impacted to help prevent stranding capital.

The five proposed specific application and HFC status changes include:

  • Vending machines and stand-alone, reach-in bottle coolers — changing the status (banning the use) of R-134a and blends with a higher GWP
  • Multiplex supermarket refrigeration — banning the use of R-404A, R-507A, and blends with a higher GWP. Retaining R-407A/C/F and R-134a or any approved refrigerant with a GWP lower than R-404A and R-507.
  • Motor vehicle air conditioning — banning the use of R-134a
  • Non-medical and non-technical aerosols — banning the use of R-134a, HFC-227ea and HFC-125. Retaining HFC-152a.
  • Various foam blowing — banning the use of R-134a and higher-GWP refrigerants

The EPA expects to move on this in summer 2014.

We believe these proposals are a logical approach to CAP and welcome additional clarity to HFC action in the industry. However, these measures will not be accomplished without significant investments by our industry in equipment and training, and these investments need to be considered in conjunction with the recent U.S. Department of Energy’s proposed improved energy efficiency standards for commercial refrigeration equipment.

Stay tuned for further details including effective dates as the actual proposals are targeted for release this spring and summer. Emerson will continue to be involved in the process and provide feedback when appropriate to the EPA. We are open to arranging discussions around this topic and look forward to your thoughts on these proposals.

Rajan Rajendran, Ph.D.
Vice President, Engineering Services and Sustainability
Emerson Climate Technologies

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