To fully comply with the Montreal Protocol and Kigali Amendment requirement, GCC region manufacturers and government bodies must address not only the proper choice of refrigerant but also adequate training and education of technicians and users. This, in turn, will call for a significant modification of codes and standards.
The major refrigerant transition that the world is undergoing is necessary to protect the stratospheric ozone layer from being destroyed and to address climate change. These issues are especially challenging for the GCC region countries, owing to the high-ambient conditions. This was recognised at the time of the Kigali Amendment, resulting in the GCC region countries being placed under Group 2 of Article 5.
Evolutionary changes in global regulations
It seems like not too long ago that the air conditioning industry had to undergo a major transition of refrigerants to phase out the production and consumption of ozone-depleting substances (ODS). It involved the phase-out of CFC and HCFC refrigerants to chlorine-free HFC and HFO refrigerants (R-134A, R-410A). It is estimated that, to date, the parties to the Protocol have phased out 98% of ODS, globally, compared to 1990 levels.
In 2016, the parties to the Montreal Protocol agreed to the Kigali Amendment to phase down the supply of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs). It is estimated that a global transition away from HFCs would decrease the potential global temperature increase by up to 0.5 degrees C. Note that the global goal of the Paris Climate Agreement is to limit the global temperature increase to +2 degrees C.
Someone may ask why we need additional refrigerant transitions. Well, most refrigerants that replaced CFCs and HCFCs are greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change or have a high global warming potential (GWP). Greenhouse gases released into the atmosphere cause heat to be trapped. CO2 (carbon dioxide) is a greenhouse gas that can remain in the Earth’s atmosphere for centuries. GWP measures the relative global warming effects of different gases. It assigns a value to the amount of heat trapped by a certain mass of a gas relative to the amount of heat trapped by a similar mass of carbon dioxide over a specific period. CO2 has a GWP of one. The higher the GWP value, the more that particular gas warms the Earth compared to carbon dioxide. GWPs of commonly used HFCs can range from 1 to about 12,500.
The Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol set forth a phased structure to reduce global emissions of HFC refrigerants. It allows each ratifying country to determine its own regulatory structure, such as an outright ban, a quota system or an allocation. The implementation of the Kigali Amendment is considered a phase-down of HFCs, not a phase-out plan, as was the case for CFCs and HCFCs, because a small percentage of those chemicals will continue to be used in blends. It calls for cutting the production and use of HFCs by 85% by 2036 for Article 2 (developed) countries and by 80% by 2045 for Article 5 (developing) countries. The GCC region countries fall under a special high-ambient “Group 2” within Article 5 countries; their target is to phase down HFC use by 85% by 2047. The global HFC phase-down is well underway. As of August 2022, 137 countries have ratified the Kigali Amendment; however, this does not include any of the GCC region countries.
What does that mean for HVAC manufacturers in the GCC region?
To meet these requirements, manufacturers must switch to new, low-GWP refrigerants. In previous refrigerant transitions, all HVAC manufacturers transitioned to the same refrigerant in most product sectors. In the case of residential and light-commercial equipment, for example, all manufacturers transitioned from R-22 to R-410A. Some HVAC manufacturers have announced that they plan to use R-32 or R-454B in residential and light-commercial air conditioning equipment.
R-32 is a pure, single-component refrigerant with a GWP of 675, and R-454B is a blend of 69% R-32 and 31% R-1234yf, with a GWP of 467. They are both zero ozone-depleting potential (ODP) refrigerants, and both are rated A2L by ASHRAE 34, meaning that they have lower flammability and low toxicity. Both refrigerants yield better energy efficiency and capacity than R-410A, while behaving in a similar manner to R-410A in high-ambient conditions according to testing. Note that lower flammability refrigerants have been shown to have a very limited number of ignition sources, including an open flame without a flame arrestor present, and a very high energy ignition source that are not typically found in homes or businesses.
Well over 10 million R-32 units have been installed the world over. Asian and Australian companies have largely installed units containing R-32, while both refrigerants have been used in the United States. Manufacturers in the GCC region have not yet announced which new refrigerant they plan to use.
Choice of refrigerants
GCC region manufacturers and governments face new and significant challenges in determining which alternative refrigerants are appropriate for the region.
- A critical element for GCC region manufacturers is how the new refrigerants will perform in high-ambient conditions, as both capacity and efficiency of refrigerants can deteriorate or drop. For example, R-22 is more energy efficient than R-410A in high-ambient conditions.
- Determining the GWP level is another challenge. This region is in a waiting mode to see the GWP of refrigerants used long-term in the United States and Europe. Currently, the maximum allowed GWP for refrigerants in many countries appears to be 750, with lower numbers for specific product categories and localities.
- Major HVAC component suppliers – for example, compressor manufacturers – will also determine which refrigerant will be dominant, as most original equipment manufacturers do not produce their own compressors.
- In addition to GWP, other factors must be considered when choosing an alternative refrigerant, such as safety, flammability, toxicity, cost, availability, efficiency, capacity and system pressure.
- GCC region manufacturers must evaluate the results of AHRI’s published research, including their performance under high-ambient conditions. The research was a combined effort of manufacturers, testing bodies, governments, academia and others.
- Codes and Standards: HVACR systems must comply with local safety requirements, including product safety standards, such as UL 1995 and International Electrochemical Commission (IEC) standards, such as IEC 60335. Standards may require leak detection sensors, which vary in quantity and location based on the amount of refrigerant used and the type of system. Since many of the new refrigerants are rated A2L, there must also be a consideration for transportation and fire codes and warehousing building and local codes. International model building codes for mechanical systems, including the International Code Council’s (ICC’s) International Mechanical Code (IMC) and International Residential Code (IRC) and the International Association of Plumbing and Mechanical Officials’ (IAPMOs’) Uniform Mechanical Codes (UMCs.) It usually takes time to update international standards, and a lot of updates are already completed in the United States and Europe.
- Training: Training is a critical area to help reduce global warming caused by refrigerants and improve safety while handling A2L refrigerants. Addressing the existing equipment and service is key to meeting the HFC phase-down. Sixty per cent of the refrigerants in today’s market is used to address leakage in existing equipment, and 40% is used to charge new equipment.
- Reclamation: There is increased focus on reclamation, which is expected to become a more regulated aspect of new and used HVACR systems. Engineers may wish to consider specifying refrigerants that meet the quality and purity requirements of AHRI Standard 700, a free standard used internationally to ensure that high-quality refrigerant is used in equipment (being adopted by SASO and EOS, for example).
AHRI’s Safe Refrigerant Transition Task Force (SRTTF) currently is addressing every step of the supply chain in the transition to low-GWP refrigerants. The task force comprises AHRI members and stakeholders employed with contractors, government agencies, the fire service, unions, training organisations and other businesses. Many useful resources and fact sheets are listed on the SRTTF website. AHRI is also working with UNEP on The Refrigerant Driving License (RDL), a globally recognised and acceptable qualification programme that sets minimum requirements for the proper and safe management of refrigerants in air conditioning, heating and refrigeration equipment. It is designed to help prepare A5 countries for a smooth transition to alternative refrigerants, while ensuring the safety of practitioners and consumers.