Why The Refrigerant Matters—For Green HVAC And Much More

Refrigerants can be used strategically to help facility managers reduce energy costs.

By Jeff Warther
From the August 2022 Issue

Historically, not many facility managers had regular conversations about the refrigerant utilized within their HVACR systems. Refrigerants were considered a “package deal” with the equipment—which was typically chosen based on recommendations from their HVACR provider. Refrigerants lived in the “out of sight, out of mind” category for decades. Today, however, the role refrigerants play in a company’s sustainability goals, as well as strategies to reduce energy costs, have elevated the need for facility and business managers to discuss refrigerants.

Facility managers and business owners shouldn’t overlook how refrigerants can support their sustainability goals. (Image: Photos: Getty Images)

Regulatory Landscape

For the past 35 years, regulations to protect the environment have been one of the most significant influences driving changes in the HVACR industry and, consequently, the equipment and refrigerant options available to facilities.

The 1987 Montreal Protocol prompted the global phaseout of chemicals that depleted the ozone layer, opening the door for HFC refrigerants. In 2016, the Kigali Amendment—ratified by more than 130 countries—focused on phasing down HFCs due to their high global warming potential (GWP). Lastly, the Jan. 1, 2022 launch of the U.S. EPA’s HFC phasedown—implemented under the American Innovation and Manufacturing (AIM) Act—spurred additional change. With the Kigali agreement and the AIM Act, HFO-based refrigerants are on a fast track to becoming the dominant solution.

It’s important to note that current regulations require compliance by refrigerant manufacturers and distributors as well as original equipment manufacturers (OEMs). If your facility’s current HVACR system is charged with a refrigerant that is being phased down or phased out, you’re not obligated to replace your system.

Options And Considerations

Currently, supply exists to service facilities’ HVACR systems no matter what refrigerant they use. Facility managers also have different options for upgrades when they decide the time is right. Many HCFC-/CFC-charged air conditioners and heat pumps can be retrofitted to HFC refrigerants.

Similarly, many systems charged with HFC refrigerants can be retrofitted for use with an HFO refrigerant—such as R-449A or R-513A—which provides facilities with the win-win of zero ozone depletion potential (ODP) and lower GWP values.

Lastly, facilities looking for a system replacement have the option of equipment charged with the newest HFO-based refrigerants, which offer superior capacity and efficiency along with zero ODP and significantly lower GWP values.

Recently, air conditioning OEMs have been overwhelmingly selecting new-generation options—such as the Chemours Opteon™ XL41 or “R-454B”—as their refrigerant for future products. In the commercial refrigeration segment, refrigerants like R-454A, R-454C, and R-1234yf will likely be an OEMs’ refrigerant choices.

There is no single right option for all facilities. However, taking the following into consideration can help guide your decision-making when it comes time to upgrade or replace your HVACR system:

  • Your corporate responsibility mission. The refrigerant charging your HVACR system should be in line with your commitment to the health and sustainability of the planet.
  • What matters to your employees. Consider the people working in your facility. Will pride in working for a green company —to create cleaner, safer, and more efficient technologies impact productivity, job satisfaction, and retainment? Will working in a consistently comfortable environment?
  • Customers and clients. Comfort, safety, and being “green and clean”—all come into play in attracting and retaining customers and clients.
  • The age of your current system. Older HVACR systems have greater potential for refrigerant leaks, which, in the case of sulfur dioxide or ammonia, for example, can pose fatal health risks. Older systems also tend to require increasingly costlier repairs and operate less efficiently.
  • Regulatory phasedowns. As phasedowns continue, the availability of HFO-based systems will increase and the availability of refrigerants to service alternative equipment will decrease.
  • Your bottom line. Newer-generation refrigerants and the systems that work with them have been developed to lower energy consumption—which can pay dividends in the form of lower energy bills and overall operating costs for your facility.

We’re on the road to a greener world, and the mission of the HVACR industry on this journey is clear—to create cleaner, safer, and more efficient technologies. And in this, refrigerants play a leading role. The ultimate solution lies in new-generation, HFO-based refrigerant options. However, if you’re not ready to make that investment, options also exist within the family of HFCs that may help your facility operate more efficiently and “eco-responsibly.” Understanding the background of refrigerants and regulations, as well as recognizing that there is more than one option available, will help you lead a dialogue with your HVACR equipment and service provider that results in a refrigerant choice that is right for your facility’s needs.

RefrigerantWarther is the HVACR Training and Business Development Manager for North America for The Chemours Company, and has been involved in the HVACR industry for nearly 35 years. His education includes an associate degree in HVACR Design and Electro-Mechanical Engineering and a bachelor’s degree in Business Management. Warther also holds NATE certifications in Commercial Refrigeration and Air Conditioning service.

Do you have a comment? Share your thoughts in the Comments section below, or send an e-mail to the Editor at jen@groupc.com.

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