It’s almost June, and after a long and rainy winter, summer has finally arrived in Vancouver!  It’s time to take out the BBQ and refill the propane tank.  In the near future, it’s quite likely that not only will your BBQ tank be filled with propane, but also the refrigerant lines in your air conditioning system.

Why the drastic change?

Refrigerant is the substance used in your air conditioning equipment.  In the refrigeration cycle it changes phase from liquid to gas.  Refrigerant is present in many components of HVAC equipment, from Roof Top Units to Chillers to Condensing units.

Historically, refrigerant has been composed of ozone depleting chemicals called Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs).  Popular industry examples include R22 and R410A.  The problem is that these chemicals have high Global Warming Potential (GWP).  For example, R410A has a GWP that is 1700 times carbon dioxide.

The recently signed Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol in October 2016 has started the global phase-out of HFCs.  Beginning Jan 1, 2024, chillers will need to stop using HFCs.  As a result, manufacturers are starting to explore new options for refrigerant with lower GWP.

The current generation of refrigerants in commercial buildings is currently non-flammable or Class 1.  The exception is ammonia used in ice arenas.  Hydrocarbons, such as Propane, are being considered for the next generation of refrigerants.

The main strategy to control the danger of flammable refrigerants is to limit the size of the charge (i.e. amount in the system). However, this will require a redesign of many types of air conditioning equipment including popular VRF systems.

A recent ASHRAE article concludes, “The HVAC&R industry is actively investigating the safety of flammable refrigerants. The industry is determining the risks of flammable refrigerants by understanding the probability of potential occurrences and severity of events in various application situations, including servicing and handling.”

For more information on these refrigerants and how to prepare for upcoming industry changes, please contact BC Comfort.