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R32 – a game changer?

Newly adopted in the GCC region by Daikin, R32 is purported to be a better alternative to the more popularly used HFC blend, R410A. But with some industry players still harbouring doubts over its suitability in high-ambient temperatures, it remains to be seen how big an impact the refrigerant will have on the region’s air conditioning industry.

| | Jun 3, 2015 | 7:27 pm
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Newly adopted in the GCC region by Daikin, R32 is purported to be a better alternative to the more popularly used HFC blend, R410A. But with some industry players still harbouring doubts over its suitability in high-ambient temperatures, it remains to be seen how big an impact the refrigerant will have on the region’s air conditioning industry.

 

By Fatima de la Cerna | Assistant Editor

 

Daikin makes a case for R32

(As presented by the company in a white paper introducing the refrigerant)

It does not deplete the ozone layer.

  • It has a GWP of 675, which is lower compared to R410A and R22, which have a GWP of 2,088 and 1,810, respectively.
  • It is rated as an A2L refrigerant under ISO817, which means that there is a wide range of potential applications due to low toxicity (A) and lower flammability (2L).
  • It is a single component refrigerant, which means it can be easily reused and recycled, and there is no need to worry about composition changes, in case a leakage occurred in the equipment.

 

Since the Montreal Protocol’s development in 1987 and subsequent enforcement in 1989, it has undergone several revisions – each one, experts say, a reflection of the progress the air conditioning and refrigeration industries the world over have made in mitigating the environmental impact of refrigerants.

This positive assessment does not, however, mean that all the work is done, for with every progress made, new challenges crop up and more exacting standards are created. Where before, a refrigerant with minimal Ozone Depleting Potential (ODP) was embraced, today a refrigerant must boast zero ODP to pass muster. And other considerations, such as the refrigerant’s safety, Global Warming Potential (GWP) and Life Cycle Climate Performance (LCCP), to name three, are also given weightage. The search for the right refrigerant, it appears, is far from over.

At present, in the Middle East, Daikin Industries is claiming that the search leads to the HFC refrigerant, R32, at least when it comes to room air conditioners. In early May, the manufacturer announced the launch of the GCC region’s first R32 system, prompting the question: Will R32 answer the need of high-ambient countries for alternative refrigerants that have a low GWP and simultaneously address safety concerns?

 

A matter of suitability

“No” is the firm response of Asit Kumar Dutta, the Manager of Fujitsu General’s Technical and Engineering Department, when presented with the question. Fujitsu General, it must be noted, sells R32 products in Asia and Oceania.

By way of explanation, Dutta says: “I do not consider R32 as a refrigerant that is suitable to the high-ambient environment of the Middle East. I say so because of three reasons. First, the refrigerant has high discharge temperature characteristic. Second, adopting the refrigerant in the Middle East will not be cost-effective, because it will require high-technology equipment and could mean an expensive product. We already have R32 systems in Japan, Australia and other countries, but the conditions in the Middle East are different. We cannot use the same equipment we’re already using in other regions. And third, R32 is known as a refrigerant with mild flammability.”

Asit Kumar Dutta

 

Safety first

A look into the history of R32 will reveal that the refrigerant’s flammability has long been an issue. According to a paper prepared by Hung Pham and Rajan Rajendran of Emerson Climate Technologies Inc, for the 2012 International Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Conference at Purdue, R32 “is not a new refrigerant – it was studied during the 1990s in the search for a zero-ODP solution but was not adopted due to concerns about its flammability characteristics”.

Today, the same issue of flammability, as a safety concern, as well as the region’s current lack of related regulations are the primary concerns of K Jayakumar, Emerson’s Vice President and General Manager. “While Emerson recognises that R32 shows promise as one of the candidates being evaluated worldwide as an alternative refrigerant [for high-ambient countries], the company believes that the Middle East is not yet ready to adopt it,” Jayakumar says. “R32 has an A2L safety rating, which means that it is mildly flammable, and the regulations/ building safety codes concerning A2L category refrigerants are not yet fully conceived. Global bodies are still not done laying them out. Furthermore, there is a lack of technician training to support R32 systems.”

To clarify, he adds, “For Emerson, it is not an issue of being ready with the products – because we already have a full line-up of R32 compression products in the Asian markets – but of R32 becoming more widely accepted and of the region being ready to adopt it today.”

K Jayakumar

 

A better choice

For his part, Biju Kannan, Senior Sales Manager (OEMs) for the Middle East at Danfoss, acknowledges that R32’s flammability is a concern but clarifies that he does not regard it as a major problem. “From the point of view of a components manufacturer, R32 being flammable is not an issue, because that can be addressed with the right equipment,” he says. “The challenge in handling the flammability of the refrigerant lies with the equipment manufacturer.”

Kannan further notes that if one were to discount the safety worry over flammability, R32 strikes him as the better alternative to R22 than R410A. “At Danfoss, we watch the trends in the market with regard to refrigerants, and we have been looking at R32 from a technical and components point of view,” he reveals.
Explaining his preference for R32, he says: “In the Middle East market, R22 is already being phased out. In fact, Saudi Arabia has stopped importing R22 equipment in favour of R410A. That is the current situation of the region – R22 is being replaced by R410A, but R32 is actually a better choice because it has lower GWP and its energy efficiency, while around the same with R410A in medium-ambient temperatures, is slightly better than R410A in high-ambient temperatures.”

Biju Kannan

 

No perfect refrigerant

Energy efficiency, safety and cost-effectiveness are not only valid concerns but critical factors to consider when choosing a refrigerant, opines Eng Narciso Zacarias of the Environment Department of Dubai Municipality.

Zacarias, who works in the Municipality’s Environmental Planning and Studies Section, points out that the three factors, on top of the refrigerant’s ozone-depleting and global-warming impact and cooling performance, must be evaluated for one to reach a smart and educated decision. “We must look at all factors,” Zacarias says. “We must remember that there is no such thing as a perfect refrigerant. Each one has its own characteristics. We just have to aim at finding a balanced choice, because in some areas, one refrigerant might prove to be superior but completely inferior to another in a different area. Ammonia, for instance, is both a highly effective and eco-friendly refrigerant. It does not contribute to ozone depletion and has no greenhouse or global warming effect, but its toxicity is a safety issue.”

He is also of the opinion that in the coming discussions on the viability of R32 for the Middle East, people must seek to establish its suitability to the region’s hot climate and calculate all the costs involved, by asking: “What is the energy consumption? How will the refrigerant, and the equipment that will run on it, contribute to power demand? What will it cost the environment? What will it cost the end user in terms of safety and affordability? What is its cost factor for retrofitting?” He adds that all the questions must be put forward to manufacturers not only of refrigerants, like R32, but also of equipment that runs on the refrigerants.

Narciso Zacarias

 

Daikin’s R32 system, as described by the company…

  • The GCC region’s first commercialised high-ambient air conditioning system to use R32.
  • The system combines R32 and inverter technology.
  • The wall-mounted cooling only and heat pump air conditioners come in three capacities: 18, 24 and 28 MBH (thousand British thermal unit per hour).
  • The units can achieve an Energy Efficiency Ratio (EER) (Btu/kWh) in cooling of up to 13.3 at T1 conditions (35 degrees C) and up to 8.6 at T3 conditions (46 degrees C).
  • The tropical compressor is capable of operating fully in extreme weather conditions for at least 52 degrees C and delivering a powerful year-round cooling performance, regardless of the outside temperature, up to 1.5 times faster than traditional systems.
  • The units are whisper-quiet, with sound pressures as low as 32 dBA (A-weighted decibels).
  • The units come with an ‘intelligent eye feature’ that adjusts the set-point according to the occupancy level of the room, as well as a user-friendly wireless control.
  • All units are equipped with a Titanium Apatite air purification filter, which absorbs and decomposes microscopic particles and organisms while removing odours.

 

INTERVIEW

‘R32 is not a Daikin story. It’s an industry story’

To get answers to questions about the adoption of the refrigerant in the GCC region, Climate Control Middle East sat down with Daikin’s

Michel Farah
Product Planning Director

Michel Farah

Excerpts from the interview…

Let’s start with a brief background of R32…

Michel Farah: First off, R32 is not a new refrigerant. It is a component of R410A, which is currently used. Actually, it is 50% of R410A. R32 is a single-component refrigerant that came into the picture, when the world community started looking for refrigerants with lower GWP.

Sana Hamdani: R32’s GWP, at 675, is only a third of R410A’s, which is about 2,100.

Sana Hamdani

Farah: As I said, the world was looking for lower GWP alternatives. Now in selecting refrigerants, we look at many factors. There’s ODP, GWP and energy efficiency. Affordability comes into play, as well, and, of course, safety. A combination of those factors would give you the right choice of refrigerant. Another factor is the refrigerant’s LCCP, which involves calculating the refrigerant’s efficiency over the lifecycle of the unit, because when we talk of refrigerants, we usually talk about its direct emissions, but you have indirect emissions that come from the running costs and the running efficiency of the unit, and that’s what really impacts the overall performance. It is about combining lower direct emissions with high efficiencies in the operation of the unit. R32 came as one of the choices, actually. It wasn’t the only choice. There were other choices. First was CO2, which requires very high-pressure machines.

Veerle Beelaerts: CO2 also doesn’t have very good efficiency, but it does have a low GWP of 1.

Veerle B

When did manufacturers start adopting R32? And where has it been adopted?

Farah: The first air conditioners using R32 started in Japan in 2012. R32 products are also available in, just to name a few markets, Australia, Thailand and Indonesia, and in Europe.

 

And in early May this year, Daikin launched the GCC region’s first R32 system – three years after the refrigerant was first used in Japan. Why introduce it to the region now?

Hamdani: One reason is because countries have different deadlines for meeting the requirements of the Montreal Protocol, and in regions like Europe, their deadlines are nearer. This means that they have developed the necessary technology to meet those deadlines. For our region, our deadline is 2030. That’s part of the reason why it’s a bit later here. We have to combine it with the available technology, and now we have the knowledge and the refrigerant.

 

Farah: Just to add to that, we don’t want to just bring in anything new. A lot of testing took place to make sure that this will work in the region. It’s a proven high-ambient product. In fact, I have personally witnessed it tested in a lab up to 56 degrees C. So the refrigerant and the unit were tested at higher-than-usual ambient environment than what we experience here.

 

In talking with other industry players, one concern about R32 that has been pointed out is its flammability. How has Daikin addressed the challenge? And what safety measures should be in place when handling the refrigerant?

Hamdani: We had quite a lot of discussion about flammability. But what it boils down to is that if installed properly, there is no flammability risk. The brazing equipment is much more critical to handle than the refrigerant contained in the equipment. All the safety measures you have to take with R32, in fact, are exactly the same as when handling any refrigerant.

Farah: The training of technicians is a general need in this region. This market is now changing from R22 to R410A, which requires different tools to handle. Good practices are definitely required, and we think that this is going to be a trend. A technician of air conditioning, in the Middle East, will require more and more skills to do his job as we go forward. In Europe, you have to be F-Gas certified to be able to deal with that, for example. I don’t know if a certification programme will be put in place, but we’re hearing that policymakers are going to put more measures to enforce good practices. And R32 will not need more than those good practices to be safely installed.
Also, R32 is only mildly flammable, and it’s not the type of flammability that goes by ignition. A spark would not start a fire.

Beelaerts: When they braze and R32 is in the tubes, it’s mostly the oil that burns up and not the refrigerant itself.

Farah: Let me also just point out that, if you go for a very low-GWP, non-toxic and non-flammable option, the refrigerant could end up more expensive than the machine itself. It would not be economical. The art is in that balance. R32 is not toxic. The compromise was this low, mild flammability. With the advancement of technology and having people trained better…. Theoretically, it’s a compromise, but practically it’s not a thing to worry about.

 

In terms of energy efficiency, how does R32 perform?

Farah: Energy efficiency is part of the characteristics of the refrigerant itself, in the heat absorption it can do. There’s two parts of it. One part is energy efficiency in a 4 kW system, which could be… According to our calculation, we can get around six per cent higher efficiency from the refrigerant itself. The second part is that we reduce the material, because we can reach the same capacity with less material in the unit. This means that if the unit is designed specifically for R32, it can use less material with higher efficiency.

Hamdani: We cannot look at just the efficiency of the system itself; we need to look at many parameters. LCCP is a parameter that will give us information on the refrigerant’s impact on the climate and the environment, taking into account direct and indirect emissions. It is a better way to evaluate a refrigerant, because if we look at efficiency alone, we might reach the wrong conclusion. So, we look at the direct and indirect emissions, and we see more benefits from R32 than R410A (see Figure 1 for Daikin-provided calculation).

Untitled-14
Figure 1 (Provided by Daikin)

Farah: Another important part is the unit. The energy efficiency ratio (EER) of our units is 13.3 at T1 conditions (35 degrees C) and up to 8.6 at T3 conditions (46 degrees C). We are exceeding not only existing regulations but also coming standards, which we’ve heard are going to be in place as of November. And that’s only on one point, which is the full load. When it comes to seasonal, that’s where the real efficiency happens.

 

With regard to cost, availability and maintenance, how easy it is to reclaim and clean? How does R32 stack up against other refrigerants?

Farah: R32 is more affordable compared to alternatives with lower GWP, and in terms of availability, it is normal that in the beginning, when there’s less demand, you will not find it everywhere. But we have partners whom we’ve talked to, and they have made the commitment to make it available, and we are also making it available to the market. And maintenance is one of the strengths of R32, because it is a single-component refrigerant. It doesn’t decompose, but of course, it is good practice to recover it.

 

Can the R32 be used as drop-in for refrigerants like R410A?

Farah: We know some manufacturers who are, right now, experimenting with the use of R32 in their current designs of R410A systems and testing to see its behaviour and impact, but that is all lab work for now.
I also just want to clarify one point: R32 is not for chillers. R32 has been selected as a good option for room air conditioners, and that is why our line-up is for room air conditioners.

 

Beelaerts: Because there is no refrigerant that is the best solution for all applications. For every application, you have to evaluate which refrigerant is best, according to the points that have been discussed.

 

What are your expectations from the GCC market and from its equipment manufacturers? Are you expecting a swift adoption of the refrigerant?

Hamdani: I think it will take time. But our intention is to bring the right solution. We want to drive the market towards more efficient solutions that will, in the end, reduce the energy consumption of the region.

Farah: R32 is not some sort of magical solution, but we are optimistic of the industry’s reaction. It’s worth noting that the Japanese manufacturers have migrated to R32. The number of units already sold…

Farah: We’re talking huge numbers, not just a few containers. That’s four million units already sold. Two years ago, I went to Japan with a group of people who wanted to see the practice of charging R32 in the factories. During the trip, we went to an electronic shop and asked about air conditioners. We found that majority are R32 already, and they’re from different brands. So R32 is not a Daikin story. It’s an industry story.

 

With R32 success stories in other markets, would you say that R32 has potential of becoming a game changer in the GCC air conditioning market?

Farah: It’s not necessarily about changing games. It’s about bringing global research into the region. We believe that, for now, this is the edge of what the industry is doing in terms of air conditioning solutions, and it’s arising from a need brought about by depleting natural resources. If this changes the game for the better, and everyone believes it is for the better, then so be it… and we will not be crying victory for ourselves but for the industry and the community.


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