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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.

 

 

 

Focus on Greener “Cooling Matters” for World Refrigeration Day

RajanRajendran2 Rajan Rajendran | Global Vice President, Environmental Sustainability

Emerson’s Commercial & Residential Solutions Business

June 26 is annual World Refrigeration Day: a day when the world recognizes the significant role that refrigeration plays in modern society. This year’s theme is “cooling matters”; at Emerson, we couldn’t agree more. World Refrigeration Day is a chance for us to reflect on the current state of the HVACR industry, the mega trends impacting the global refrigeration landscape, and how we’re helping to develop and advance ever more reliable and sustainable cooling technologies.

Refrigeration sits at the intersection among three environmental megatrends impacting our world today:

  • Phasing down the use of hydrofluorocarbon (HFC) refrigerants with high global warming potential (GWP)
  • Improving the energy efficiency of commercial buildings
  • Reducing food waste while increasing global food security

Supporting next-generation refrigeration technologies

In commercial refrigeration, the HFC phasedown and equipment energy consumption are two key factors in lowering greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, through what we refer to as the total equivalent warming impact (TEWI). Refrigerant leaks are direct contributors to GHG emissions, which is why each refrigerant has a relative GWP rating; the higher the GWP rating, the worse the direct GHG impact. The energy consumed by a commercial refrigeration system is considered an indirect contributor to GHG emissions. Combined, these direct and indirect emissions make up a system’s TEWI.

Commercial refrigeration stakeholders are becoming ever more focused on lowering their carbon footprints by reducing these direct and indirect GHG emissions. Many of our customers are setting Net Zero targets and pledging to meet both near- and long-term decarbonization goals. U.S. regulatory mandates are taking shape that will help to drive our industry toward achieving these goals.

At Emerson, we’re committed to leading the transition to lower-GWP, energy-efficient refrigerant technologies. We already have an extensive portfolio of CO2 and R-290 refrigeration components and system technologies to help our customers leverage these proven natural refrigerant options. We’re also actively preparing for the emergence of synthetic A2L refrigerants, which will fill a niche in commercial refrigeration by covering a wide range of applications. Regardless of which refrigerants align best with our customers’ operational and sustainability goals, we’re supporting equipment strategies to help them phase out legacy HFC systems and phase in their next-generation refrigeration technologies.

Today, an estimated 3.6 billion cooling units are in use globally — a figure that is expected to increase to 9.5 billion by 2050. Developing more energy-efficient cooling systems with the ability to optimize energy consumption, flex demand, and enable grid interactivity will be essential for achieving a greener future. Today, Emerson monitors over 70,000 refrigerated sites annually, underscoring the critical importance of our efforts to develop more sustainable ways to ensure essential cooling while minimizing peak energy consumption.

Preserving perishable foods

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, up to 40 percent of the total food supply is wasted in the U.S., with more than 30 percent attributed to food loss at retail establishments and consumer homes. To combat hunger, reduce GHG emissions at landfills, and maximize resource utilization, reducing food waste is among the most critical issues facing our world.

Perishable food preservation — in storage and in-transit — is the primary objective of our refrigeration efforts and cold chain business. We’re committed to reducing food waste through:

  • Reliable Copeland™ compression technologies
  • GO real-time tracking and monitoring devices
  • Lumity™ E3 supervisory control and software platform, and connected control devices
  • Internet of things (IoT) connectivity and data analytics

Our integrated solutions deliver maximum reliability and visibility to food quality and safety from farm to fork. We’re capturing the cold chain data that empowers our customers with the insights they need to extend the life of their perishable products, meet their sustainability goals, and drive bottom-line improvements to their businesses.

So as we observe World Refrigeration Day this year, let’s remember that “cooling matters” must also be balanced with sustainability efforts. At Emerson, this is an everyday guiding principle for our cold chain business.

 

Recruiting the Next Generation of HVACR Professionals

RajanRajendran2 Rajan Rajendran | Global Vice President, Environmental Sustainability

Emerson’s Commercial & Residential Solutions Business

The growing shortage of qualified HVACR service technicians is perhaps the greatest challenge facing the commercial refrigeration industry today. As we transition to lower-global warming potential (GWP) refrigerant technologies and system architectures, the collective role of our technician workforce will be more essential than ever. I recently explored ways to reverse this trend in an article published in HVACR Business.

Industry statistics reveal the urgency of the current situation:

  • 80,000 HVACR technician jobs are currently unfilled — representing 39 percent of the total industry workforce.
  • An estimated 20,000 technician jobs are lost annually due to the retirement of an aging workforce or career attrition rates.

For years, Emerson has been a champion of shoring up the technician workforce by collaborating with vocational schools, helping to shape curriculum and supporting students along their HVACR career journeys. But solving this problem will require the participation of all industry stakeholders — from contracting companies, manufacturers, end-users, wholesalers and trade associations to educators, adjacent industries and government agencies.

Engage locally

Stakeholders agree that one of the most effective strategies for recruiting the next generation of HVACR technicians is by supporting local vocational schools and technical colleges. Combined with incentives from state governance, industry-sponsored scholarship programs and pre-apprenticeship opportunities, this local approach can inspire a lifelong passion for HVACR careers.

We’ve seen examples of this local engagement model firsthand. Emerson’s The Helix Innovation Center often interacts with students enrolled in nearby vocational schools here in Ohio. We recently offered a pre-apprenticeship opportunity to Nicholas Didier, a student attending the Miami Valley Career Technology Center (MVCTC) near Dayton.

As a high school senior enrolled in an HVAC program, Didier was interested in learning more about the basics of refrigeration and getting hands-on field experience. During his time at The Helix, he gained a much more in-depth understanding of the challenges facing our industry, a greater appreciation of the service profession and a passion for system design.

Nicholas’ efforts were recognized by the Ohio Valley chapter of the Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC), who awarded him a new Ford Ranger truck and a $1,000 scholarship via its Today’s Opportunities Offering Lifetime Skills (TOOLS) program. He plans on using these funds to purchase HVACR technician tools and further his education.

Changing perceptions

Industry stakeholders attribute the declining interest in HVACR roles to a variety of misperceptions and an overall devaluing of trade professions. One primary example is the belief that HVACR professionals do not make a competitive wage or have long-term career path opportunities.

Social media streams — which often present unrealistic, idealized views of the four-year college experience and other professions — make it even more difficult to change these perceptions.

But upon closer inspection, these myths easily can be dispelled. HVACR technician jobs check important boxes for many young professionals that four-year college degrees simply cannot.

  • Make an impact with a meaningful career —HVACR professionals are implementing new environmentally-friendly solutions and technologies that will play an integral role in greening our planet.
  • Work with cutting-edge tools and technologies —Modern refrigeration and AC applications utilize advanced controls, software and remote diagnostics capabilities.
  • Achieve job security —With little competition for available jobs, HVACR professionals are virtually guaranteed employment and enter a field with both long-term security and growth potential.
  • Earn while you learn — HVACR technicians can earn a competitive wage with a two-year vocational certification and have the option to augment the certification process with on-the-job training in apprenticeship programs.

It’s important for all industry stakeholders to understand, highlight and promote these differentiating factors to help paint a more realistic — and positive — picture of modern HVACR professions. At Emerson, we will continue to reach out to local vocational schools and technical colleges to hopefully guide more students along this path.

 

[Webinar Recap] Global Panel Explores the Essential Role of HVACR Careers

RajanRajendran2 Rajan Rajendran | V.P., System Innovation Center and Sustainability

Emerson’s Commercial & Residential Solutions Business

Throughout the world, HVACR technicians play essential roles in society — providing comfort cooling and maintaining the integrity of the cold chain responsible for preserving food and life-saving medicines. While this career path offers lifelong learning opportunities and salaries often exceeding those of many college graduates, our industry is experiencing a global shortage of qualified technicians. In a recent E360 Webinar, we assembled an international panel of expert technicians, practitioners and apprentices to reflect on their personal career journeys, explore the importance of technician professions, and discuss strategies for attracting the next generation of candidates.

In the U.S., we refer to this career path as HVACR technicians. In other parts of the world, they are known as different titles, such as: engineers in the UK; workers in Asia-Pacific; and experts in the Middle East. As I moderated this engaging discussion, each of the panelists provided interesting anecdotes that spoke to different aspects of the global importance of this role and the expanding opportunities that exist. Here is a brief sample of those perspectives.

Don Gillis, technical training specialist at Emerson
As a 30-year journeyman technician and current educator, Don spoke about a typical technician career trajectory for those starting out in the industry that mirrored his own life experiences. A technician often begins their career as an installer, carrying tools, cutting, cleaning and fitting copper together for new applications. A next logical step would be to shadow a more experienced professional, helping them with preventative maintenance and seeing firsthand how rewarding this career can be. Learning more about servicing, troubleshooting and diagnosis exposed him to a variety of issues that can impact system performance, capacity and efficiency. Don shared that his son has followed in his footsteps and started his own HVACR contracting business.

Joe Healy, director of application engineering, MEA, at Emerson
Currently based in Hong Kong, Joe’s experience serving the Middle East and Asia-Pacific regions provided a unique perspective regarding the variety of HVACR approaches within different countries and continents — from the cutting-edge sustainability initiatives of Australia and New Zealand to advanced HVACR technologies in Japan to the manufacturing-focused China to the challenges of underdeveloped infrastructures in India. Joe explained that this broad diversity makes HVACR-related professions both interesting and exciting endeavors in these regions. He also shared how technicians make it possible to not only live, work and thrive in extreme climates and densely populated environments, but also serve as the wheels on which these diverse cultures run.

Alonso Amor, director of engineering services, Mexico, at Emerson
Alonso explained that the ambient temperatures in the Latin American region place high demands on refrigeration and AC loads. Perhaps these conditions have led to what he observed as an eagerness and commitment to learn the technician trade in this region. He explained that HVACR-related seminars are always very well attended, indicating a high level of interest in these skilled trades throughout the region. From his experience, candidates take the initiative to receive training, achieve certifications, and make their contributions felt, despite the hot climate and difficult working conditions.

Carlos Obella, vice president of engineering services and product management, Latin America, at Emerson

Carlos shared how his distinguished career started 35 years ago as an HVAC field technician. As an engineer with a college degree, he quickly gained expertise in installing and servicing parallel rack compressor systems for large supermarkets, which has served as a foundation for understanding the proliferation of today’s refrigeration architectures. He offered an anecdote about how the most competent refrigeration technician he ever met was not a degreed engineer. This individual went on to start his own refrigeration contracting business and became the primary refrigeration consultant for one of the biggest supermarket chains in Argentina.

Trevor Matthews, HVACR training and development specialist at Emerson
As a first-generation refrigeration technician, Trevor explained how this rewarding career checked other boxes on his job criteria checklist. First, he knew he wanted a career that would be universally in demand and allow him to travel the world. Second, like many job seekers, he was interested in earning potential. Not only did his job as a refrigeration technician allow him to travel, but he was making a six-figure salary after five years. He said his passion for refrigeration is fueled by the opportunity for continuous learning. Even though it can be a demanding career, Trevor loves the fact that it proportionately rewards the level of commitment you put into it.

Becky Hoelscher, director, aftermarket sales at Emerson

Becky discussed the growing urgency for our industry to replace a retiring generation of baby boomer technicians with the next generation of technicians. She explained that there will be an estimated 15% deficit of qualified technicians by 2026, and the industry needs to start recruitment efforts in high school and entice students to consider this career. Becky reiterated the importance of apprenticeships and discussed federal, state and local efforts to support these initiatives. She believes that a combination of classwork learning and on-the-job training can ultimately lead to certification — where students can even start getting paid while working toward a certification.

Nicholas Didier, mechanical technician (HVACR student)

As a high school senior enrolled in an HVACR program, Nicholas shared his experience participating in a pre-apprenticeship opportunity at Emerson’s The Helix Innovation Center. His goals were to understand the basics of refrigeration and get hands-on HVACR field experience. But in the process, he gained insights into the technician profession and uncovered a desire to further explore system design. Nicholas’ passion and accomplishments earned him a $1,000 scholarship from the Today’s Opportunities Offering Lifetime Skills (TOOLS) program and a new Ford Ranger truck. He plans on using the money to purchase tools for the HVACR technician trade and further his education.

All these anecdotes and individual perspectives speak to the opportunities that await those who enter this rewarding career path. To learn more about the importance of HVACR technician careers and how to attract the next generation of candidates, view this webinar.

 

 

Become a “Cooling Champion” for World Refrigeration Day 2021

RajanRajendran2 Rajan Rajendran | V.P., System Innovation Center and Sustainability

Emerson’s Commercial & Residential Solutions Business

Emerson is pleased to announce our sponsorship of the third annual World Refrigeration Day (WRD), which is celebrated globally today, June 26. The theme of this year’s WRD event, Cooling Champions: Cool Careers for a Better World, coincides with Emerson’s commitment to raise awareness of the expanding career opportunities throughout the heating, ventilating, air conditioning and refrigeration (HVACR) industry. For our part, we will commemorate WRD by promoting the importance of education and recruitment of HVACR technicians via an E360 Webinar, as well as on our social channels and website.

As the world’s only international event designed to increase visibility and raise awareness of the significant roles that refrigeration, air conditioning and heat pump (RACP) technologies play in modern life and society, WRD has become a special day here at Emerson. This year’s focus on career opportunities aligns with a key initiative that we have been championing for more than a decade: the growing shortage of skilled, qualified and certified HVACR technicians.

According to recent industry statistics, 80,000 HVACR technician jobs are currently unfilled — representing 39% of the total industry workforce of 260,000 professionals. At the same time, the industry is losing an estimated 20,000 technician jobs per year due to the retirement of an aging workforce or basic career attrition rates. If we continue along this pace, our industry could potentially face a deficit of 100,000 technicians within the next five years.

Solving this problem is an industry-wide obligation that will require the participation of all stakeholders — from contracting companies, manufacturers, end users, wholesalers and trade associations to educators, adjacent industries and government agencies. Addressing this challenge and proposing potential solutions will be the collective focus of our WRD-themed E360 Webinar on Wednesday, July 7 at 9 a.m. EDT (6 a.m. PDT) titled, Exploring Cool Careers and Emerging Opportunities in HVACR. This webinar will assemble a global panel of experts to discuss recruitment strategies and highlight the many positive aspects of an HVACR technician career, including:

  • Leveraging advanced technologies and modern tools
  • Equipping technicians with skills that enable a high earning potential
  • Co-op and apprenticeship opportunities to learn the trade while also earning a paycheck
  • Learning skills that support our infrastructure and make the world a better place
  • Inspiring passion in HVACR professions

Today, Emerson’s social media channels will feature a series of videos and related content from many of our global regions. Be sure to follow us on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and YouTube to see information highlighting:

  • The importance of recruiting the next generation of HVACR technicians
  • Key individuals and success stories in the field
  • The value of this evergreen, in-demand career path

For Emerson, becoming a “cooling champion” for World Refrigeration Day is all part of our commitment to helping the industry address the growing HVACR technician shortage and ensure a more sustainable future for our planet. To learn more about these efforts, please register for our upcoming E360 Webinar and read our latest E360 Article.

For more information on World Refrigeration Day, visit www.worldrefrigerationday.org.

 

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