This second article collects the views of some industry players on whether the US EPA approval of hydrocarbons in household and small commercial stand-alone refrigerators and freezers, could be seen as the beginning for introducing hydrocarbons in other applications. The industry players also reflect on how fast a transition to hydrocarbons could happen in the US.
Towards accepting hydrocarbons in additional applications
“I am pleased that this approval gets us one step closer to bringing this efficient technology to many different consumer applications”, notes A.S. Trust & Holdings’ Richard Maruya, the inventor of refrigerant blend R441A, one of the three approved refrigerants.
“We expect that this is the first small step in the direction of opening up the US market to hydrocarbons in many other applications and we are hopeful that this announcement is an indication that the US regulatory system has decided to change course and work towards “catching up” rather than continuing to fall behind”, says John W Clark, Technical Advisor, HyChill Australia Pty. Ltd..
Of course, “safety factors and applied cost will continue to be the market drivers relative to further acceptance”, emphasises Keith Gifford, Director of Global Marketing at Tecumseh Products Company. “We’re already seeing some evaluations of central systems that may make more sense to be de-centralised for use with HC refrigerants”.
However, “there can be little confidence that approval in other applications will happen any time soon, given the level of opposition to HCs in the US, and the onerous and cumbersome approvals process of the regulatory authorities”, notes Brent Hoare, Executive Director of the Green Cooling Association, the Australian based organisation for environmentally responsible refrigeration and air-conditioning practitioners.
This will also depend “on whether the charge size limitations can be increased in the future”, highlights Nicholas Cox, Managing Director of UK based Earthcare Products Limited.
Industry’s readiness and willingness for a smooth yet gradual transition to hydrocarbons
Asked about whether they consider the industry ready and willing for a smooth transition to hydrocarbons (conversion of manufacturing plants, servicing infrastructure, training of technicians, etc), Mr Maruya notes that “the implications of this type of transition, as a general concept, has been considered for years, as various HFC and HCFC refrigerants have been phased out”. Talking specifically about their own experience he notes: “My company has been addressing the larger implementation issues at every step of our development programmes; for example, we have designed a safety valve for automotive air-conditioning systems that will easily be added to new car cooling systems that employ our hydrocarbon blends. We have also created Material Safety Data Sheets in compliance with standard industry practices, and have been working for years with ComStar International, a leader in the development and marketing of industrial strength, environmentally safe HVACR chemical products, to ensure safe and practical compliance at all levels of operation.”
“I have no doubt that the US appliance, HVACR and automotive industries are up to the task to put in place the necessary production, training and servicing training that will be required”, notes Steven P. Mella, Chief Executive Officer at ComStar International Inc, which has been working with A.S. Trust & Holding Co. and has the production and distribution rights to R441A. “The groundwork for the conversion of manufacturing plants, servicing infrastructure, training of technicians, etc is already there, not so much in the US but in select countries around the world where hydrocarbon refrigerants are being manufactured, sold and in use”. ComStar already manufactures R441A at its US plant and is now making preparations to supply Asian customers from its China plant, while it will also begin offering safety certified compressors in the US and overseas markets using the hydrocarbon blend.
According to HyChill, the transition is unavoidable but will be gradual, as it will take time to reverse the significant resistance to hydrocarbons in the industry that has been built up over an extensive period of time. The Green Cooling Association shares the same views: “Unfortunately the assertion of unrealistic flammability risks has been made so frequently and strongly in the US that I fear it will take a long time to overcome the misplaced apprehension that appears to exist there, but I’d love to be proved wrong about this”.
Tecumseh also believes that the movement within North America to hydrocarbon refrigerants will be a gradual one. “As a result, the transition won’t have an immediate impact on the vast majority of refrigeration contractors and service technicians. However, the transition is inevitable and the industry needs to be adequately prepared”, says Mr Gifford.
When it comes to the industry’s willingness to move towards hydrocarbon solutions, Mr Cox is less optimistic in the short term: “At the moment there are no indications that the US industry is willing for a smooth transition to hydrocarbons” he notes, “But if EU manufacturers are prepared to start exporting to the US and if the Chinese follow then the US industry will have to change, willing or not!”