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How to Transition Into the Future With HFO Blend Refrigerants

AndrePatenaude_Blog_Image Andre Patenaude | Director, Food Retail Marketing & Growth Strategy, Cold Chain

Emerson Commercial & Residential Solutions

I was recently interviewed for an article in the ACHR News, “HFO Sightings: Refrigerant Retrofits Becoming More Common in Supermarkets,” which discusses steps that can smooth a supermarket owner’s transition to sustainable and compliant HFO blend refrigerants.

How to Transition Into the Future With HFO Blend Refrigerants

What refrigerant changes are coming, and which should you choose?

The R-22 refrigerant is in its final days, and will be officially phased out at the end of next year. There’s also a good chance that hydrofluorocarbon (HFC) refrigerants will also be phased down in the U.S. in the years ahead, as their use continues to be limited in different countries and regions around the globe. Many supermarket owners see the writing on the wall and are starting to transition to lower-global warming potential (GWP) refrigerants — particularly if they are uncertain about counting on the availability of HFCs or concerned about a potential rise in the cost of these refrigerants. Others simply seek to transition to more eco-friendly refrigerants that align with corporate sustainability objectives.

That is why many store owners are choosing to retrofit their existing equipment to use hydrofluoroolefin (HFO) blends, which compare well with HFCs in terms of performance but offer advantages in the forms of energy efficiency, environmental-friendliness and future availability.

However, HFO blends are not drop-in refrigerants. Equipment usually has to be modified before it can be used. Not all equipment is equally easy to retrofit, and not all HFO blends are the same. The ACHR News article lays out clear guidelines to help you navigate among HFO blend options and retrofit processes.

No two retrofits and no two refrigerants are alike

As I point out in the article, HFOs have very different characteristics than HFC or hydrochlorofluorocarbon (HCFC) refrigerants. Some HFOs are classified as A1 (non-flammable) while others fall into the A2L (mildly flammable) category; many have temperature glide characteristics to consider. In addition, many HFO blends have been developed to replace specific HFC refrigerants — for example, R-448A and R-449A are designed to replace R-404A — and there are small capacity and efficiency differences that may vary based on the specific refrigeration application. That said, with the right RFO blend and the right modifications, many systems will continue to operate reliably for years after the retrofits. The age and condition of the equipment should determine if they are good candidates for a refrigerant retrofit.

Making the change

If you are interested in transitioning to an HFO blend, it’s essential to find out if your equipment is compatible with a given blend. There are specific HFO blends designed to replace the most common HFCs, depending on the type of equipment and the refrigeration application. However, not all HFCs can be replaced with an HFO, and in some instances, equipment may require major modifications.

For that reason, you need to consider the specific characteristics of each refrigeration application, the replacement HFO blend, and their impact on system performance to make sure you continue operating within your equipment’s design specifications. For example, a new blend could cause a higher discharge temperature, which could require investing in supplemental compressor cooling. That’s why you should consult with the equipment manufacturer and your refrigerant vendor about compatibility before making any transition.

Manufacturers such as Emerson conduct stringent R&D and testing of RFO blends in their compressors and other components before they are deemed “ready to use” in a retrofit. Because you may be changing the refrigerant for which the units were initially designed, you should also ask about the status of your warranties and the potential impacts before commencing a retrofit.

When you’re ready, the ACHR News article provides a more detailed guide to the retrofit process for you and your refrigeration contractor, from evaluating the system type, design and application for a compatible HFO blend, to charging a unit with its new refrigerant and fine-tuning the equipment.

Retrofitting the future

As regulations surrounding refrigerants continue to evolve, most retailers recognize that moving to HFO blends is one of their best long-term solutions for a large installed base of refrigeration equipment. With a range of safe and environmentally sustainable HFO blends available as replacement refrigerants for HFC-based systems, converting your systems to low-GWP HFO blends is the quickest and cheapest way to achieve a large overall reduction in your future carbon footprint.

Time Is Running out for Foodservice OEMs to Meet DOE Compliance

The Department of Energy’s (DOE) final rule on stand-alone commercial refrigeration equipment goes into effect on March 27, 20171, requiring on average a 30–50 percent2 reduction in energy consumption. Foodservice OEMs who are still offering non-compliant equipment after March 2017 face the potential for DOE civil penalties. But the 2017 DOE deadline isn’t the only regulatory challenge facing OEMs. Less than two years later, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) SNAP delisting ruling3 will phase out the common refrigerants R-404A and HFC-134a in the same class of equipment. This perfect regulatory storm is presenting foodservice OEMs with unprecedented system design challenges.

DOE_Compliance

The timing of these two regulations is forcing OEMs to make a difficult choice: either deal with each regulation separately or combine efforts to comply into a single design cycle. Here’s what foodservice OEMs need to know about the convergence of DOE and EPA regulations:

  • OEMs must act now to comply with the DOE energy reduction mandate on reach-in, stand-alone commercial refrigeration equipment — on average 30–50 percent
  • EPA is phasing out R-404A and HFC-134a in reach-in equipment on January 1, 2019, in favor of low-global warming potential refrigerants
  • All equipment not listed in the DOE compliance certification management system (CCMS) may be subject to civil penalties
  • Design consultants and end users will soon be seeking DOE- and EPA-compliant units; non-compliant OEMs may assume significant business risks
  • OEMs must choose: one design cycle or two
  • Completing the engineering design cycle will take time

Emerson Climate Technologies Has the Expert Resources to Ensure Compliance

If you’re an OEM who has hasn’t begun to think about DOE compliance, we are here to help guide you through this rapid transition. No two systems are alike, and we understand that achieving compliance is more than just changing the engine under the hood — it’s about looking at the efficiency of the whole system, from doors, lighting and insulation to controls and compressors.

Our Design Services Network offers the certifications and accreditations to ensure your equipment is compliant, including:

  • UL and EPA approved as a third party test lab
  • Fully accredited with ISO 17025
  • Approved by the California Energy Commission

For years we’ve been developing the next generation of DOE- and EPA-rated and certified components across our complete product portfolio. We have specific products that meet these requirements, including: Copeland Scroll™ line expansions to include smaller displacements, horsepower and capacities; high-efficiency hermetic and semi-hermetic reciprocating compressors in fractional horsepower that deliver double-digit energy efficiency gains; and condensing units designed to maintain existing stand-alone footprints. We have the breadth of products, knowledge and resources to help you address each regulation separately or combine compliance into a single design cycle.

It’s not too late to comply, but the clock is ticking. We’re ready to help you make the right decision for your business, so let us know how we can help you achieve compliance and answer your questions.


References:

  1. https://www.regulations.gov/#!documentDetail;D=EERE-2010-BT-STD-0003-0104
  2. http://www.emersonclimate.com/en-US/About_Us/industry_stewardship/E360/Documents/Atlanta-Presentations/how-to-meet-wicher-jayanth-021516.pdf
  3. https://www.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2015-08/documents/snap_regulatory_factsheet_july20_2015.pdf

Europe’s Propane Refrigeration Proliferation

As R-290-based refrigeration becomes more commonplace in the E.U., is the U.S. far behind?

The use of propane (R-290) as a refrigerant in commercial refrigeration is the subject of much debate in the U.S. Its A3, flammable classification conjures up negative connotations in the minds of operators, technicians and public officials alike — beliefs that when examined closer are largely unfounded. But in Europe, the use of R-290 based equipment is well into its second decade and continues to play a big role. Some leading retailers are even making it a cornerstone of their refrigeration portfolio. How this may influence R-290 perceptions and its subsequent adoption in the U.S. remains to be seen. We can, however, evaluate R-290’s early adoption in Europe and speculate on its path toward commercialization in the U.S.

Europe-Propane-Refrig

When it comes to adherence to environmentally sound practices, the European Union (E.U.) and its member countries have consistently been ahead of the curve. The E.U.’s F-gas regulations were among the world’s first actions to phase down hydrofluorocarbon refrigerants in favor of low global warming potential (GWP) natural alternatives. At the same time, consumer, OEM and retailer preferences for sustainable goods and eco-friendly systems contributed to driving compliance with these regulations. It’s no surprise then that Europe has led the way in the adoption of natural refrigerants in commercial refrigeration — including R-290.

From an environmental perspective, R-290 is among an elite class of viable green alternatives to many of the industry’s most common high-GWP refrigerants. It’s a naturally occurring hydrocarbon (HC) with a GWP of 3 and 0 ozone depletion potential (ODP). R-290 is a highly refined grade of the fossil fuel propane, and although flammable, it is non-toxic in nature.

R-290’s green potential doesn’t stop there. Its excellent thermodynamic properties — such as pressure, low back pressure, volumetric capacity, capacity and coefficient of performance — are very similar to R-22, even outperforming it in certain parameters. In Emerson Climate Technologies’ test labs and published studies alike, R-290 consistently outperforms R-404A in energy efficiencies.

In the U.S., the R-290 picture is quite different. The U.S. is generally much more hesitant to view the IEC standard for the 150g charge limit as a rubber stamp to move forward with R-290 commercial refrigeration installations. In the absence of national R-290 safety standards, even applications with small charge limits are subject to the authority of state and local governance, as well as fire marshal jurisdiction — and these differ drastically from region to region.

As a result, commercial adoption has been limited primarily to the most established grocers, foodservice outlets and small format retailers who are 1) willing to absorb the cost required to achieve requisite safety assessments and certifications, and 2) seeking to meet corporate sustainability objectives.

In recent years, the U.S. regulatory climate has brought R-290 back into industry and public awareness. First, in 2011 the EPA listed R-290 as acceptable, subject to use conditions, for use in certain commercial refrigeration regulations, keeping the IEC recommendation for a 150g charge limit. More recently, the EPA also instituted the phase-down of R-404A and other common refrigerants over the next several years. On a parallel timetable, the DOE has mandated significant energy reductions in commercial refrigeration equipment, thereby favoring the use of systems and refrigerants that produce high energy efficiencies.

The combination of these two regulations is motivating OEMs and the entire refrigeration supply chain to try and meet both objectives in a single design cycle. While R-290 is one of the few approved refrigerants capable of satisfying both regulatory actions, the lack of a national safety standard is still a barrier toward wider U.S. adoption.

Efforts to establish national standards are in motion, not only for R-290, but potentially for a new class of A2L, (mildly flammable) hydrofluoroolefin refrigerant blends — some of which have yet to be EPA approved. UL, ASHRAE, ISO and IEC are all working to develop and evolve their standards to align with market trends, some of which may be finalized in the coming year.

Even with the existing barriers to R-290 adoption, the EPA approval of R-290 in 2011 prompted some of the larger foodservice and small format retailers to work through their OEMs to introduce light commercial equipment to the market. And with the promise of a true national standard, more OEMs are in the process of developing complete lines of R-290 based equipment.

As the E.U.’s international standards continue to evolve, the industry is appealing for the option to increase the 150g refrigerant charge limit to much higher allowable charges. Should this become enacted, there’s no question it will influence the emerging standards in the U.S., where the possibility of increasing the charge limit to 300g is already being discussed. This would add flexibility to system design and help transition R-290 to larger commercial applications.

One very important question remains to be answered: will the U.S. refrigeration industry allow the many benefits of R-290 to outweigh its perceived risks?

This blog is a summary of the article Europe’s Propane Refrigeration Proliferation from our recent edition of E360 Outlook. Click here to read the article in its entirety.

Allen Wicher
Director of Marketing
Emerson Climate Technologies

 

 

 

Exploring the Potential of CO2 Transcritical Booster Systems

By Rajan Rajendran

We installed a CO2 transcritical booster system to anchor our supermarket module at our recently opened Helix Innovation Center for several reasons. It has the potential to provide an efficient, eco-friendly refrigeration source for medium- and low-temp display cases, walk-ins and freezers. But that’s only the beginning. We designed our CO2 transcritical booster system to not only meet the entire air conditioning and heating needs of the supermarket module, we’re also reclaiming its exhaust heat for the facility’s hot water and snow melt system beneath the sidewalks.

6-Exploring_Potential_CO2_Trans_Booster

We also chose CO2 because we feel it has the potential for much broader applications than what is commonly thought in the industry today. Our system is designed with the flexibility to demonstrate and exploit these possibilities.

CO2 transcritical booster systems have gained wide acceptance in northern climates throughout the world. As a natural refrigerant with near zero global warming potential, CO2 is becoming a preferred option for retailers seeking to meet sustainability goals and take regulatory compliance out of the equation. But with a critical point of 87.8 °F, special measures are required to keep CO2 systems operating at high efficiencies above this temperature.

This is the reason very few retailers have attempted to deploy CO2 systems in warmer regions. It’s also one of the limitations with CO2 transcritical booster systems that we are determined to eliminate.

Like every industry module in The Helix, the supermarket is an entity unto itself, meaning that the power coming into the module is completely isolated. This allows us to measure the power consumed by the store on its own, while further isolating the energy consumption of any one piece of equipment. Because everything is within this controlled environment, we’re able to evaluate the performance of the CO2 transcritical booster system in the supermarket and the larger building envelope.

What all this means to our customers is that they now have a real-world test lab for designing the ideal refrigeration system for their supermarkets, simulating the conditions and environments that are most challenging without risking product loss or potential damage to their brand. While today the system is CO2 based, we have the ability to change the refrigerant as well as the system architecture. We hope that this opportunity will only spawn new ideas and open the doors to further innovation.

This blog is a summary of the article Exploring the Potential of CO2 Transcritical Booster Systems from our recent edition of E360 Outlook. Click here to learn more about the supermarket module at our recently opened Helix Innovation Center.

Montreal Protocol Commits to HFC Management Amendment

By Rajan Rajendran

For more than a year, we’ve discussed the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) actions to prohibit the use of hydrofluorocarbon (HFC) refrigerants in certain commercial refrigeration and air conditioning applications, as well as expand the list of low-global warming potential (GWP) alternatives. But while these actions have focused on U.S. and North American initiatives, the move to limit HFCs is also picking up steam on a global level.

5-Montreal_Protocol_Commits_HFC_MA

Last November at the 27th international meeting of the Parties to the Montreal Protocol in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, Article 5 (developing) and non-Article 5 (developed) nations alike came together and committed to reduce worldwide greenhouse gas emissions from HFCs.1

The meeting concluded with an agreement to phase down HFC consumption by completing an amendment to the Montreal Protocol in 2016.

It’s an important reminder that a global commitment to responsible environmental stewardship is nothing new. First signed on September 16, 1987, the Montreal Protocol treaty has served as an example of decades-long cooperation among world governments, industry and the environmental community. With every country within the United Nations charter a signatory to the agreement, it is considered one of the most effective multi-lateral environmental treaties ever negotiated.

The original treaty’s first order of business was to achieve a rapid phase-out of ozone-depleting substances — particularly chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) — by replacing them with HFC-based alternatives. While scientists are projecting a full restoration of the ozone by 2050,2 they are also cautioning against the continued widespread global use of HFC refrigerants due to their environmental dangers.

As we know, HFCs are used in everything from air conditioners and refrigerators to foam insulation and fire protection systems. And while the U.S. and the European Union are well down the path of phasing out HFC use in specific applications, the demand for these technologies continues to grow in developing countries where they provide added health, safety, comfort and productivity benefits.

The Montreal Protocol’s success was founded on its reliance on sound scientific reviews, ongoing technology assessments and a funding mechanism to assist developing countries. The Parties of the Protocol’s decision to address the HFC issue with an amendment in 2016 is largely focused on helping developing countries make the transition to low-GWP technologies, while accelerating HFC phase-down schedules in developed countries.

While the details of the amendment are still unclear, it is certain that efforts to phase down HFCs will soon have a global driver. Many of us in the U.S. are already in the process of reducing HFCs and therefore have a head start in making this transition. As negotiations continue to take place throughout the year and an amendment to the Montreal Protocol is drafted, we will keep you updated on its progress and the implications to our industry.

 This blog is a summary of the article Montreal Protocol Commits to HFC Management Amendment from our recent edition of E360 Outlook. Click here to learn more about the amendment to the Montreal Protocol.


References

  1. http://www.unep.org/newscentre/default.aspx?DocumentID=26854&ArticleID=35543
  2. http://www3.epa.gov/ozone/science/makemore.html
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