The votes are set to be counted on an updated international safety standard that would allow increased charge sizes of flammable refrigerants in household air conditioners, heat pumps and dehumidifiers.
The proposal has sparked discussion in the world of HVAC&R.
Although it would apply to A2, A2L and A3 refrigerants, the proposal has been framed as the key to increasing uptake of hydrocarbons, especially propane (R290), in the huge global room air conditioner market.
Proponents argue that the change could lead to massive reductions in direct and indirect emissions. Critics have disputed the energy-efficiency claims associated with hydrocarbons, and highlighted the safety concerns around the highly flammable refrigerant.
One of the key inputs in this debate was a briefing paper prepared earlier this year by Öko-Recherche, an independent environmental research institution and consultancy in Germany. The paper was produced in response to a European Commission directive to assess cost-effective, technically feasible, energy-efficient and reliable alternatives to fluorinated gases in new small single split air conditioners. It strongly recommended increased uptake of R290, and advocated for changes to safety standards and building codes to make this possible.
The EU report that followed came to many of the same conclusions. It noted that it would be technically possible to avoid fluorinated gases today in new single split air conditioning with a cooling capacity below 7kW by using R290, unless national legislation or codes prohibit its use.
The report also stated that “R290 units provide good energy efficiency and are available at a very modest price increase that would likely disappear if mass produced and marketed at large scale”.
Many industry bodies have backed the findings and have supported the change to the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) standard to allow larger charge sizes.
At a recent webinar organised by Environmental Action Germany and independent consulting firm HEAT, in cooperation with German development agency GIZ and the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA), speakers argued that despite mid-range GWP refrigerants such as R32 being marketed as environmentally friendly alternatives with “green” labelling, they will not allow us to achieve our emissions reductions goals under the Paris Agreement.
Natural refrigerant advocate shecco also pointed out that many industry representatives see HFCs such as R32 as an “intermediary solution”, and recommended that the EU revise the GWP limit for small split AC to 150, instead of the current 750. The EIA went as far as calling for a ban on HFCs in split systems.
Other industry bodies have criticised the briefing paper and the subsequent EU report.
The European Partnership for Energy and the Environment (EPEE) and the Japanese Business Council in Europe wrote that “there is no solid justification to support the claim made by Öko-Recherche that the criteria of cost-effectiveness, technical feasibility, energy efficiency and reliability would currently be fulfilled by R290 in small split a/c below 7kW capacity”.
Australia is one of the countries that must vote on the updated safety standard IEC 60335-2-40 by October 30. According to a recent article in HVAC&R Nation there are many local advocates for hydrocarbons, however, some manufacturers still consider the safety risk too great. It is still not clear which way Australia will vote.
If advanced, the proposal may be further amended before moving to the last stage for a final vote, with a target publication date in late 2021.
Once adopted in the IEC standard, the revisions must also be adopted through harmonisation into many key regional and national safety standards and building codes to take full effect.