The European F-gas Directive is all about the restriction of fluorinated greenhouse gases, which includes hydro-fluorocarbons (HFCs), commonly used as refrigerants for air conditioning. This is a regulation that has been adopted by the European Union to phase-down the usage of refrigerants, which have a high Global Warming Potential (GWP).

Since the most common refrigerants used (e.g. R410A, R134a), by individuals and industry wide, are affected by this regulation, there has been a drive lately to move away from these refrigerants.

F-gas regulations

Airedale has always taken their environmental responsibilities very seriously

Airedale has always taken their environmental responsibilities very seriously and for several years, they focused a large proportion of their R&D resources on moving towards suitable replacements. This development work started before the current F-gas regulations were introduced and started forcing the wider industry’s hand.

This has helped create a level playing field in some respects, but also helped Airedale as a proactive business to stay one step ahead. This has happened with the company’s earlier launch of the low GWP TurboChill Range with R1234ze rather than R134a and now in 2019, the launch of R410A replacement chillers, the Ultima and DeltaChill ranges, both with R32.

Cutting down on high GWP refrigerants

Refrigerants are rated on how they contribute to global warming in comparison to weight of CO2. Gases above a certain GWP will not be specifically banned but will be reduced in availability over the coming years.

If a refrigerant is rated to be 2000 times worse than the equivalent weight in CO2 released to the atmosphere, then surely it’s right that there is a push for change. Environmental responsibility is a topic that a lot of businesses talk about but don’t always put much conviction into, whereas, Airedale has proved their commitment to environmental sustainability.

TurboChill range with R1234ze refrigerant

In 2014, Airedale were one of the first companies to release a chiller with R134a replacement (TurboChill range with R1234ze), before the introduction of the new F-gas regulations in 2015. This chiller range offered a replacement for R134a (GWP of 1430) with R1234ze, which has a GWP of 7. That’s extremely close to the equivalent weight of CO2.

The HVAC major was able to achieve this milestone because they have a dedicated test laboratory with experienced laboratory engineers, providing them the facilities to build and test products extensively in conjunction with their design engineers.

Achieving low GWP across all HVAC products

R1234ze isn’t appropriate for all applications so they were looking to find a suitable replacement for R410A

They not only work on designing new products, but are also dedicated to regularly updating existing products. One thing they strive to achieve is low GWP on all product ranges. Unfortunately, R1234ze isn’t appropriate for all applications so they have been looking to find a suitable replacement for R410A.

If saving the planet isn’t reason enough to care about changing traditional cooling ways, than there is the concern of money spent. As the phase-down is proceeding, the amount of high GWP refrigerants like R410A on the market will significantly drop. When there’s very little quantity and a high demand, prices skyrocket.

Stopping the practice of stockpiling refrigerants

It has already been noted that companies tend to stockpile refrigerants, as well as businesses outside of the industry apply for quota they don’t necessarily need (e.g. butchers, florists, etc.), in order to sell it for a profit. Both of which have affected the price considerably, even if they are stable for now, it is reasonable to expect this to increase again in the future.

This could lead to hefty service costs for maintaining air conditioning products on top of an increase in price for the initial bulk required for a new unit. This is not ideal for companies manufacturing the products or for the customers purchasing them. It seems to have also started a black market of smuggling and selling high GWP refrigerants across borders.

Finding suitable replacement for R410A

Initially, it was difficult to gauge which refrigerants the industry would lean towards. The HVAC industry, after all, is heavily reliant on compressors, expansion valve technology, and more, for the alternatives to be available (without compromising on quality).

The research team at Airedale have spent years investigating alternatives to find a suitable replacement for R410A with emphasis on the potential use of mildly flammable (A2L) refrigerants and regulations around them. With refrigerant producers releasing more and more because there was no clear direction the industry was going in, it left an extremely wide range of options.

The research team compiled a data base of pros and cons for all the refrigerants available on the market with energy analysis to see which would be best suited to replace R410A. After an extensive investigation, they managed to narrow it down to R32. To test this, they built a unit and started testing because nothing beats real life data after all.

Low GWP R32 refrigerant

Firstly, the GWP of R32 refrigerant is 675, compared to 2088 for R410A refrigerant

Firstly, the GWP of R32 refrigerant is 675, compared to 2088 for R410A refrigerant. Also, the properties are very close and after the initial investigation it was given the seal of approval from Airedale’s research team as the best alternative.

This was based on the performance comparison and ability to replace R410A with ideally minimal changes to the existing units. Even though, once testing began it was evident this would not be the case and the design engineers got to work redesigning the units to accommodate R32.

Classified as an A2L refrigerant

With regards to the flammability classification, R32 is classified as an A2L refrigerant, which means it’s mildly flammable. Sounds alarming, but rest assured the dangers involved in this classification are incredibly low.

Generally speaking, the lower the GWP of a refrigerant, the more unstable it is, meaning it breaks down more readily in the atmosphere, in comparison to a more stable, high GWP refrigerant. All of the refrigerants that were appropriate replacements were flammable to some degree.

Low risk of flammability

When talking about A2L refrigerants, however, they have nearly the same level of flammability/explosiveness as hydrocarbons, like propane (R290), isobutane (R600a), etc. This is a new classification (recognized in EN378 in 2016) for any flammable refrigerant with a burning velocity of less than 10cm/s, as well as requiring a high ignition energy to cause ignition (electrical arcs are unlikely to light it) and a very specific concentration to burn in air.

In essence, it is unlikely to ignite an A2L refrigerant and there would need to be a specific quantity released to burn. With high quality manufacturing including permanent/brazed joints, R32 is very low risk.

Testing in R410A prototype units

The company attempted to run some testing using it as a ‘drop in’ replacement

When Airedale started testing R32 in one of their R410A units, there wasn’t a large amount of real life data on how it would perform as a direct replacement, other than it wouldn’t work specifically as a ‘drop-in’. To assess the difference and to help the design process, the company attempted to run some testing using it as a ‘drop in’ replacement. This can be dangerous so numerous safety precautions were considered before testing began.

The results showed a number of issues with oil return to the compressors. Also, due to density differences among other properties, there was a lot of design work required so the project was underway to redesign all relevant components. A number of engineers have been involved for a couple of years now testing the refrigerant in the prototype units to the extremes to understand the performance fully.

After ironing out all of the issues, with an amazing amount of work from all of the engineers involved and working closely with component suppliers, Airedale is now extremely happy to be releasing their R32 chiller ranges.

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