The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) gives its perspective on its recent approval opening the US market to three hydrocarbons in household and small commercial stand-alone refrigerators and freezers, outlining its impact on the market players, especially retailers inside and outside the US.
Global acceptance of hydrocarbons to gain momentum
“While hydrocarbon equipment has been available in many countries for over a decade, the acceptance by the US EPA will give other countries confidence that, within these types of products, hydrocarbon refrigerants can be used safely,” says David Godwin, an engineer and refrigeration expert in the Alternatives and Emission Reduction Branch of the US Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Stratospheric Protection Division.
“Hydrocarbons are one of the many choices that can be used to ensure that substitutes chosen during the phase out of ozone-depleting substances are sustainable in the long term,” he adds, pointing out that this decision will speed up the acceptance of these refrigerants on a global scale.
Training and certification
From the consumer point of view, there will be no change in the equipment, “apart from lower electricity bills,” Mr. Godwin notes. Another change for the HVAC&R industry will be the training and education that is necessary for handling hydrocarbon refrigerants. “EPA’s SNAP rule made several recommendations regarding technician training and maintenance practices. We expect that technicians will want the additional skills needed to identify and properly handle hydrocarbon refrigerants, and that training programs will develop to provide this type of specialized training.”
Mr. Godwin remarks that, “technicians will need to be on the lookout for the labels and markings that are required as use conditions. These markings will alert them that the refrigerant inside is flammable and that proper safety precautions must be taken when working on the equipment.”
Impact on retail industry
When questioned about the influence on the retail industry, Mr. Steve Hagen of Fresh & Easy who is a member of EPA’s GreenChill programme, said that “it will allow us to move forward with the self contained propane cases we have trialed.” However, referring to the willingness of industry in general to move towards hydrocarbons, he expressed concerns by saying that “as with everything new and different there will be a lot of resistance and while progress will be made, it will be slow and cautious.”
According to Mr. Godwin “propane stand-alone units are expected to become more common, and will likely be requested, as GreenChill members and others look to reduce their carbon footprint and improve their bottom line with lower electric bills.”
“The recent SNAP rule allows the entire supermarket industry to take another step in reducing their impact on the ozone layer and climate change, “ he added.
Prospects for other hydrocarbon applications
With respect to the outlook for allowing hydrocarbons in additional applications, Mr. Godwin confirms that, “the US EPA’s SNAP program has other applications for the use of hydrocarbon refrigerants under review now. Just as EPA did for stand-alone refrigerators and freezers, SNAP will be working with the submitters to perform risk assessments for the new products. EPA will continue to work with safety organizations and the industry in general to assess these risks and understand what conditions might be necessary for the safe application of hydrocarbons. Although we can’t prejudge what the outcome of those evaluations will be, we certainly see a path forward for hydrocarbons in other refrigeration and air conditioning applications.”