Hydrocarbons are currently being excluded from a new $5.8 million research programme on flammable refrigerants in the United States.
The U.S. government is working together with the Air Conditioning, Heating and Refrigeration Institute (AHRI), the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE), and the state of California to conduct research on mildly flammable (A2L) refrigerants as low-GWP alternatives to hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs) and hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) in air conditioning and refrigeration applications.
Hydrocarbons (categorised as A3; flammable refrigerants) have been left out of the current scope of the research, the objective of which is to support the acceleration of updated safety standards to allow more extensive use of low-GWP alternatives to HFCs and HCFCs not just in the United States but also at global level.
Asked whether natural refrigerant solutions were being deliberately left out, Monica Cardenas, senior director (communications) at AHRI, said, “the first phase of the first project focuses on A2L refrigerants, but it will expand to include A3”.
“This is a long-term programme and will include several projects that will research both A2L and A3 refrigerants,” Cardenas told hydrocarbons21.com.
However, there appears to be some confusion among industry players over how the programme will unfold in practice.
Funding: the key issue
A manager at a prominent U.S. systems manufacturer suggested that funding is at the heart of the matter. “The AHRI and ASHRAE money is only for A2L research. It doesn’t allow to do A2 or A3 refrigerants,” he said.
The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) is contributing $3 million in funding, while ASHRAE and AHRI are contributing $1.2 million and $1 million respectively. A further $500,000 comes from the state of California, with Johnson Controls putting up $100,000.
The research will focus on benchmarking risks from leak and emission testing, assessing flammable refrigerants’ post-ignition risk, determining charge limits, and producing a guide to handling and servicing A2L refrigerant-based HVAC&R equipment.
The results will be used to update the ANSI/ASHRAE Standard 15-2013 (Safety Standard for Refrigeration Systems) and ANSI/ASHRAE Standard 34-2013 (Designation and Safety Classification of Refrigerants).
The representative of the U.S. manufacturer suggests the California Air Resources Board (CARB) may come on board. “I saw that CARB might be giving money. They are trying to get more cash to include the others. They want between $500,000 and $700,000. CARB has asked companies to get involved,” he told hydrocarbons21.com.
“We are reviewing this issue,” he said.
AHRI's Cardenas sought to clarify the matter. "Extra funding is not required. The total funding for the programme will be used to support research of both A2L and A3 refrigerants. The first research on hydrocarbons will begin this fall. Additional research will follow."
"Programmes are made up of several projects. One project has started, at UL, and will test both types of refrigerants. There will be many projects as part of the overall programme," she said.
DOE report highlights potential for hydrocarbons
Meanwhile, a new report on the future of air conditioning in buildings – commissioned by the U.S. Department of Energy – concludes that, “transitioning to low-GWP refrigerants could eliminate the vast majority of direct [GHG] emissions from air conditioning systems”.
“A theoretical 100% adoption of near-zero GWP refrigerants could reduce annual global air conditioning [GHG] emissions by up to 26%, assuming no changes in efficiency,” it states.
The DOE highlights hydrocarbons as a particularly cost-effective option. “Refrigerant costs may not increase for systems that use refrigerants currently in mass production, such as […] hydrocarbons. However, new, more complex molecules, such as HFOs, are expected to be more expensive,” states the report.