The F Gas situation for Chillers

F Gas Situation for Chillers

The F Gas Situation

As of 1st March 2018 price for R134a now exceeds that of R513A

The EU F Gas II regulations 2014 announced an 80% phase down of HFC (HydroFluoroCarbon) refrigerants entering the market by 2030, based upon the quantity used in ~2011.

Additionally certain very high GWP (Global Warming Potential) gases shall be outlawed prior to that date, e.g. R404A will be banned from Service use* by 2020. *Where ‘service use’ means charging into any refrigeration system, but not operation of a system already containing the refrigerant mentioned

For our sector of the industry there are three predominant refrigerants in common service use plus the R22 direct replacements, e.g. Isceon MO*9 series …

Refrigerant grade

GWP CO2 Tonnes / KG

Price Feb 17/kg

Price now / kg

Direct replacement available

R134a

1430

~ £14

~ £38

Yes - Opteon XP10 - R513A GWP 650

R407C

1774

~ £14

~ £50

No - none in development

R410A

2088

~ £14

~ £60

No - although some similar operating characteristic gases are being developed but these will be flammable

Isceon MO*9 series **

Varies 2265 - 2729

~ £28

~ £70

No - these were direct replacements for R22, so none in development

** Isceon MO series include R417A = MO59; R422D = MO29; R438A = MO99

Prices mentioned are based upon typical trade re-sale service use prices from provider firms such as ourselves to commercial users. Source prices for refrigerants from distribution may be available at lower cost. Projects costed with refrigerants included are generally costed close to purchase price to keep margins sensible. Therefore the above prices reflect the market trend and we believe are a reasonable representation.

The way F Gas II has been introduced caps the total available CO2 tonnage and this cap provides a single quota across the EU for ALL suppliers to bid for, where suppliers will be refrigerant makers / distributors and importers of pre-assembled equipment. It is not expected that Brexit will affect the quota available to the UK, but the fall in the £ against both the US $ and € Euro has undoubtedly fuelled some of the massive price increases seen this year.

Quota Reduction

The overall quota is a fixed size and is reducing in steps. Initial quota 100% based upon the total marketed volume ~ 2011

Quota volume reductions

2016

6% (to 94%)

2021

60% (to 40%)

2017

17% (to 83%)

2024

72% (to 28%)

2018

44% (to 56%) This year !!!

2027

79% (to 21%)

2020

Total ban on using R404A

2030

80% (to 20%)

Because the quota has been based upon the CO2 tonnage figure the market is effectively working to uplift the price of gases proportionate to their GWP rating - higher GWP ratings = higher prices. Whereas the first year (2016) saw little impact, the alarming thing is that in 2017 the price has escalated each month since February with announced ~15 - 30% compounding price rises month on month, hence the level we are now at.

 

R134a Pure single molecule HFC refrigerant (not a blend)

R134a is the best of a bad bunch as far as GWP CO2 tonnage is concerned, and offers good energy efficiency. It is also the only of the predominant refrigerants with a viable long term lower GWP replacement tested and already on the market. R134a also has other benefits - it can be used by our techniques in equipment originally designed for R22 / R407C with only a minor loss of capacity, and operates at a significantly lower pressure, reducing internal pressure stresses upon older vessels. It is also the only gas with a market proven lower GWP replacement available. These are the primary reasons why R134a is favoured for retrofit for ReChill® and NuChill® options.

R407C HFC Blend refrigerant of R134a / R125 / R32

R407C is now a gas of the past, and after all it was introduced originally by ICI as Klea 66 as a pure HFC gas blend ( blend of R134a / R32 / R125) to replace R22, and for that purpose it has been quite effective, but R134a on its own is ~8% more energy efficient, hence its predominance in larger chillers.

ThermOzone have developed techniques to replace R407C with R134a using inverter screw compressors, although a minor loss of capacity is experienced unless the evaporator is also replaced with a vessel re-sized for R134a, which for NuChill® is the norm. Typical capacity loss on ReChill® is ~5%, and for most sites this does not matter so much because other measures elsewhere in buildings, e.g. LED lighting are generally seeing building loads on chillers reduce.

R410A HFC Blend refrigerant of R32 / R125

R410A operating at higher pressures offers a bigger punch meaning a higher performance can be obtained from relatively smaller equipment, although its efficiency is about the same as R134a. It is predominantly used for low cost chillers with fully sealed (hermetic) systems. This has led to a market seeing an increasing dominance of R410A chillers of increasing capacity, using multiple scroll compressors and brazed plate heat exchangers, neither of which lead to an effective longevity much past 8 - 10 years reliable service, but generally such equipment is cheap, if longevity is less of a concern - so good for Tenants (and Accountants !), not so good for Landlords and property owners.

Also for R410A and a significant problem, we expect anyway from next year, is that there is no viable replacement that is not flammable, or at least mildly flammable. Presently the makers are not marketing the R410A characteristic replacements under development as suitable for retrofit. Indeed anyone who does do this should be aware and take appropriate steps to demonstrate they have properly risk assessed the fire risk aspect.

Those in our industry sector addicted to R410A not just for chillers, but also Close Control and Multiple split systems (VRF / VRV) have a real dilemma, and seemingly an entire sub-industry has buried its collective head in the sand on this subject.

A salutary lesson

Flammable refrigerants are not new to our industry, indeed hydrocarbon refrigerants (Isobutane R600) have been commonly used in domestic fridges since around 2000.

Although the Public Enquiry has only just begun, for Grenfell Tower, it is certain knowledge the fire started in a fridge freezer, and from discussions with others in the industry this was a Hydrocarbon gas charged fridge, but we do not yet know if this fire was burning of the refrigerant or possibly the insulations. The Public Enquiry has identified finding the source reason for the fire as a key requirement, so this should become known in due course.

Regardless, personally I am not so sure filling our commercial buildings with significant quantities of flammable, albeit mildly flammable, gases is such a good idea.

HFO Refrigerants - HydroFluoroOlefin

Following the discovery that HFC refrigerants, the former saviours from Ozone depleting CFCs - R12, R502 & HCFC R22, had equally bad environmental affects from their global warming impact, the latest set of refrigerants are known as HFOs.

All HFOs, applied neat, are at least mildly flammable, i.e. will burn and sustain burning without an external flame source. Most HFCs will burn, but only if held to burn with another fire source. Diluting HFOs, as is the case with R513A, results in a non-self sustaining flammable mixture, so is deemed safe in this regard in the same way as HFCs and prior to that CFCs / HCFCs were.

R32 Pure single molecule HFO refrigerant (not a blend)

I felt R32 merited its own mention because certain large manufacturers are using it for small split AC systems. R32 is one part of the two gases (R32 / R125) making up R410A, and is the low GWP part. But it is mildly flammable. As a result there is a risk of gas accumulation in any enclosed space using it, whereby an indoor unit could leak and leave a dangerously flammable mix present in the room. For this reason R32 split systems have a formula for minimum room size -v- maximum refrigerant charge size. Presently this rules out use of R32 for close control and multi split (VRF / VRV) type units.

R32 is also a very high pressure refrigerant, requiring a higher standard of engineering and installation for the system using it.

R1234ZE Pure single molecule HFO refrigerant (not a blend) GWP ~ 6

R1234ZE is intended to replace R134a, but ideally for equipment where re-design can take account of both a 20% reduction in refrigeration capacity (for a slight improvement in operating efficiency), and where suitable design precautions have been taken to allow use of a mildly flammable gas.

At the present time we believe R513A which is a blend of HFC R134a & HFO R1234ZE, offers a more effective medium term solution for retrofit.

R1234YF Pure single molecule HFO refrigerant (not a blend) GWP ~ <1

R1234YF is a similar molecule to R1234ZE, but is more complex and therefore expensive to manufacture, however it has proven effective as a replacement for R134a in automotive air conditioning applications. It is not in widespread use presently for other retrofit situations. Like R1234ZE it is also mildly flammable.

R513A as duty replacement for R134a A blend of R134a / R1234ZE

Presently R513A is priced at ~£56 / kg

At the present rate of rise of the HFCs we expect R134a at £38 will surpass it within just a few months, and then it will become economically viable, indeed a necessity to use it. We are about to undertake our first R513A project at a site near Milton Keynes. We are informed by the makers / distributors (Chemours / Climalife) that R513a (also known under its Trade name Opteon XP10) offers the same technical performance as R134a.

We have asked why R513A has not yet been price affected as it does hold a significant quantity of R134a in its blend, and the answer is a bit woolly. We suspect that a lot of the price rises we are seeing are market exploitation by those in a position so to do.

2018

A potential availability crisis looms as the quota reduces to 44%

In 2018 we are expecting major shortages of most HFC grades. We have already had non-availability reported for R410A, and our particular supplier has announced that existing clients will have priority access to stocks, with new clients at the back of the queue. Notably some of the major users, e.g. Supermarkets have been trying to buy vast multi ton quantities (NB not R410A), which would hoover up everyone else’s share (as measured by GWP tonnage), and have been refused.

And this is just with 17% quota reduction. 2018 will be an interesting time as we move to 44% reduction in quota.

Summary of the current F Gas situation

In summary there are no easy solutions without a cost implication. R134a offers in our view the most effective option for both new and retrofit of former R22 / R407C equipment.

  • Those with R410A equipment already face an expensive solution and quite soon.
  • Those still specifying R410A equipment for new installations need to seriously ask themselves why!
  • Compared with R22 / R407C, & R134a, R410A equipment is generally lower longevity anyway, not least due to the high pressures, and why on Earth should anyone be discussing retrofit possibilities on equipment not even yet purchased ?
  • Further reading - the Danfoss website to be about the best summarisation of the F Gas phase down rules - http://refrigerants.danfoss.com/hfc/danfoss-on-f-gas-regulation/#/

If you would like to know more about the situation our Industry is running headlong into whilst blindfolded please call or email. I might not have all the answers though.

Disclaimer

The foregoing information represents a snapshot of the F Gas refrigeration situation as observed by someone closely involved in design and retrofit of existing Chiller and other cooling equipment. I have also experienced at first hand the phase out of both CFCs in the mid 1990’s and later HCFCs 2010 - 2014, so have direct first hand knowledge of issues and problems that can arise when different refrigerants are applied. However, the situation is continually changing and new refrigerants are entering the market, with a myriad of blends from different manufacturers. Some of these gases will fall by the way side and others will arrive to replace them. The fate of HFCs as effective refrigerants is however very limited, and this is a political decision unlikely to be reversed.

We will be doing our utmost to continue to provide sound advice as we discover it, and I apologise if any of the information I have given is incorrect, or may later be found to be incorrect. Responsibility for cross checking the information provided rests with the reader, who should make due efforts to verify for him / her self best solution for their own situation.

Trevor Dann - ThermOzone Ltd - February 2018