Transformations in Rules and Technology are Helping to Boost Innovation
Dave Rule, President of IIAR, which advocates for the best refrigerants available to support an efficient and healthy food supply and a clean and safe environment, explains how the industry is adapting to harness new markets and embrace new operational challenges.
The Future of Refrigeration
As the president of the IIAR, I’m often asked what I foresee for the future of refrigeration. The question is complex because there are so many elements and aspects of this industry to consider. But what I can say, simply put, is that the future is an exciting one full of change.
To assess what the future holds, it’s crucial to look back at what we’ve seen occurring in the industry from past to present and how regulatory changes and technology have helped catapult innovation.
The Impact of Regulatory Changes
I’ve witnessed more transformations in this industry during the last six to eight years than I’ve seen in my entire career, particularly regulatory changes. The IIAR was formed to advocate for what are believed to be the best refrigerants available to support an efficient and healthy food supply and a clean and safe environment for the world we live in. That’s still our mission, but our focus must also address the changes in the industry over time.
To begin to understand many of the issues that are driving change and regulatory impact, one should start with the implementation of the Montreal Protocol and the phase-out of HCFCs (hydrochlorofluorocarbons), more commonly known as R-22. Having identified R-22 as a major contributor to ozone depletion, regulations were put in place by many countries to gradually end its use as a refrigerant. This was accomplished in the US through the EPA’s SNAP programme and by other countries through their own government regulatory agencies.
These regulatory changes led industry to search for a replacement refrigerants that would be compatible with existing systems while meeting refrigerant performance requirements for broad applications, low flammability and other safety needs. The result of this search was the introduction of a number of refrigerants known as HFCs (hydrofluorocarbons). These successfully eliminated the chlorine component, which resolved the ozone-depleting issues, but were later identified as a contributor to the greenhouse effect due to their high global warming potential (GWP).
In response to the global warming concerns, the Kigali Amendment was later introduced to modify the Montreal Protocol and provide a mechanism to regulate the use of HFC refrigerants. The 2016 agreement brought together 170 countries in Rwanda to develop an agreement to begin the phase-out to control the use of HFC or high GWP refrigerants and ultimately safeguard the environment.
As a result, in Europe, the F-Gas regulation has been very effective in implementing the decreased use of several HFC chemicals in refrigeration and other industries. In the US, the regulation of HFC refrigerants has been much slower due to the current administration’s reluctance to sign on to the Kigali Agreement and due to the court’s decision to limit the EPA from developing regulations to phase down the use of high GWP refrigerants. However, individual states are moving forward through the US Climate Alliance to implement their own state regulations to eliminate the use of HFC refrigerants in support of the Paris Climate Agreement.
The efforts to ban HFC refrigerants, to include, but not limited to R-134a, R-404A and R-410A, called for a phase-out by 2100.
How did and does the Kigali agreement continue to impact our industry?
How the World Approaches Rules and Regulations on F-Gases
The Kigali agreement set standards for countries to ultimately phase out HFC refrigerants completely, but regulatory changes were met with some resistance. However, the European Union has adopted two legislative acts that directly affect the refrigeration industry and are designed to control emissions from F-gases.
Put into effect at the start of 2015, F-Gas regulations set forth by the EU differed from previous regulations in the following manner:
- The regulations limit the amount of certain F-gases that can be sold, ultimately cutting the use by 2/3 by 2030.
- F-gases cannot be utilised in certain types of equipment, commonly used in supermarkets, homes, for AC units and more, when less harmful and more natural alternatives are available.
- The regulation requires proper servicing and checks of equipment to prevent emissions of F-gases.
These changes have quickly filtered into the US, beginning with California’s establishment of Assembly Bill 32. The regulations set forth in California are intended to phase down the use of HFC refrigerants at the state level, and support the rules established by the EU F-Gas regulations and similar regulations proposed by the US EPA. 24 other states in the US are now considering similar regulatory actions to support the phase-out of refrigerants with high Global Warming Potential. All of these regulations are currently driving the change in refrigeration-system design and the consideration of replacement refrigerants that will achieve regulatory compliance in the future.
So, what are other considerations that are impacting refrigeration regulations?
CFATS: An Overview
Standards across the world are evolving at a rapid pace and must take into consideration the growing threat of terrorism across many regions of the world. In January 2019, President Trump signed legislation to extend the authority of the Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standards (CFATS) programme, but not without controversy. There are concerns about the effectiveness of the CFATS programme, administered by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), and even about new legislation that proposes to require compliance costs for the government and the industry and provide incentives for facilities participating in a DHS-recognised industry-run security programme.
The launch of the CFATS program in 2006 was designed to enhance security at facilities in the United States with certain chemicals and to reduce the risk of terrorist attacks targeting chemical facilities. Its focus is on overall safety in contrast to other regulations facing the ammonia refrigeration industry, which primarily focuses on human and environmental safety. Other countries may be forced to follow with similar regulations, given the increasing threat of terrorism throughout the world.
The regulation puts into place security measures for facilities producing chemicals of interest, which add up to more than 300, including ammonia. Each facility is required to file a Top Screen once they reach the threshold quantity, and the DHS then determines the level of security risk present. As a result, once organised into risk tiers, facilities are required to develop site security plans to address the standards set forth by the regulation.
Since the programme began, ammonia has been deemed a chemical of interest, which directly impacts the refrigeration industry in the US. Over time, however, ammonia facilities classed as high-risk have become few and far between. But, with changes to the regulation’s methodology, an increasing number of ammonia facilitiesare now being placed into more high-risk tiers, raising questions about how ammonia is ultimately viewed by the DHS.
This has led to a push from IIAR to ensure that ammonia facilities are being evaluated in the most appropriate manner. IIAR and its members view facility security as a top priority for all plants located around the world. In the US we maintain the same focus but advocate for a reauthorisation of CFATS and similar regulatory programmes in other regions in order to maintain policy environments that are positive, consistent and predictable. This is why ongoing dialogue with regulatory officials in all countries is an important consideration when predicting the future of refrigeration.
Seeking Innovative Solutions
With legislation and regulations in flux, refrigeration professionals have continued to seek out the next sustainable and economic refrigerants to use on a worldwide basis. Chemists have been developing new synthetic refrigerants but are also looking at natural components that won’t harm the environment.
Many refrigeration systems utilising the ozone-depleting R22 remain in place and will soon need to be replaced with compatible refrigerants that are compliant with the new regulations. Those facilities that have been converted to the HFC refrigerants are now considering new refrigerant replacements to address global-warming concerns.
In response to the phase-out of the HCFC and HFC refrigerants, chemical companies have introduced a new family of hydrofluoroolefins refrigerants termed as HFOs. A couple of examples of the HFO refrigerants would be R1234yf and R1234ze(E). These new synthetic refrigerants require a complex chemical reaction of their basic components resulting in a blended refrigerant with lower GWP characteristics. However, as with most refrigerants, there are drawbacks that must be considered in each application. Due to their inherent complex manufacturing process, the HFO refrigerants tend to be very expensive, making them less economical to use in larger-volume systems such as industrial food-processing applications. HFOsystems are also very susceptible to leak contamination due to air and moisture being drawn into the system. This may result in oil degradation and acid formation that could damage compressors and other components. Moisture freezing in expansion devices may also be an issue.
There are also growing concerns about environmental issues and the flammability of HFO refrigerants. HFOs, by their chemical nature, break down in the atmosphere easily. One of the resulting chemical components is known as trifluoroacetic acid or TFA. This chemical is a concern due to its potential to contaminate the fresh water supply as it is washed by rainfall from the atmosphere. Reports are beginning to emerge of countries monitoring the increased levels of TFA in drinking water and other freshwater systems. Increased flammability issues are also a concern when applying HFOs in the typical commercial comfort cooling and refrigeration applications. Refrigeration professionals and scientists are attempting to address these issues by modifying the blends with the addition of other fluorine component refrigerants that will reduce flammability, but this also increases the GWP. These issues must continue to be addressed in order to consider the HFOs as a viable refrigerant to meet application needs and compliance with both environmental regulations and safety standards.
At IIAR, we promote the safe and efficient use of ammonia and other natural refrigerants. We realise, though, that ammonia does have its drawbacks. While it is cost-effective and efficient, it is mildly flammable and considered toxic. Carbon dioxide is another viable option. These are natural refrigerants and chemicals that will not damage the environment should they be released into the atmosphere. Ammonia has 0 Global Warming Potential and 0 Ozone Depleting Potential. CO2 has 0 ODP and 1 GWP.
The bottom line as we look to the future of refrigeration is to understand that changes come quickly, and we’re evolving along with them. We’re adapting to meet regulatory changes, harness new markets, embrace new operational challenges and move into different environments. These efforts help us to re-energise the traditional industrial application of ammonia and CO2. It has prompted us to open our doors and our minds to non-traditional and new natural refrigerant applications.
Adopting New Technologies
Technology has had the most drastic impact on the future of refrigeration. Design methods have improved and we’re now able to design systems with less refrigerant, lowering the regulatory burden, particularly for natural refrigerants, and allowing for more sustainable refrigerants to be used.
The production of new products involving components that allow us to design systems with less refrigerant is an exciting development. Larger ammonia facilities are now taking advantage of new engineering methodology and equipment-design innovation that will significantly reduce refrigerant charge thus mitigating the regulatory burden and improving safety for employees and the surrounding communities. Many of the new system designs also result in improved efficiency for the refrigeration operations and less electric demand on the grid, resulting in an even more positive impact for our environment.
The introduction of small, low-charged units provides new opportunities for manufacturers and refrigeration engineers to design, build and ship packaged systems, isolating small charges. This offers the best of both worlds for our industry. As the equipment manufacturers continue to ramp up their production facilities and our technology continues to improve, we will see the cost of these products becoming more competitive with traditional synthetic refrigeration systems and this will result in natural refrigerants receiving greater consideration in more applications. In the past, we didn’t have this option, and technology has offered innovative solutions to keep our industry productive and compliant with regulation.
Improvements in technology have also led to the secondary loop design that improves efficiency and lowers energy costs. We’re seeing these types of transitions across the world. Just one look at the supermarket industry shows that low-charge ammonia packages with secondary loop systems are gaining popularity, offering improved efficiency and providing regulatory solutions.
Responding to the Changes
The future of refrigeration must involve a clear recognition of the transitions taking place. ARF and IIAR have taken the initiative to get ahead of the game. We’re committed to evolving directly with the change in order to support the application of natural refrigerants in new markets, meet regulatory challenges and support our members around the world.
Here are just a few ways in which we’ve responded to the changes taking place:
- Our organisation has developed ammonia refrigeration management guidelines, known as the ARM-LC. We’ve worked extensively with volunteer technicians and engineers to develop these technical guidelines and to address change occurring in the commercial and food retail industry.
- We’ve revamped and updated the existing CO2 handbook with broad industry-sector support committed to address both the industrial food process industry and the broad applications now moving into the commercial refrigeration sectors.
- The first draft of the new CO2 safety standard for the industry was completed in 2018 and was opened up for comments and public review in March 2019. This safety standard addresses the design, installation, maintenance and operation of CO2 systems. The standard was crafted by a balanced committee with individuals of industrial and commercial industries. We hope that this standard will be approved and processed by ANSI within a year.
The future of refrigeration has also led us to a focus on hydrocarbon refrigerants. The bottling and beverage distribution sector and supermarket industry have been considering self-contained low-charge systems using hydrocarbons. European companies appear to be leading this interest, but the US is also weighing these refrigerants as a potential direction. On the regulatory front, the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) recently approved an increase from 150 grams of refrigerant per system to 500 grams, further opening opportunities for designers to use hydrocarbon refrigerants in more applications. In response, we’ve organised a task force to review the use of hydrocarbon refrigerants and develop safety standards to support our industry in all sectors of the globe. This involves expanding the standard of ASHRAE and working with our larger sister organisation to coordinate the development and implementation of a new standard.
Another effort to respond to changes in the refrigeration industry is to reach a broader audience. We’re in the process of translating all of our regulatory and standard documents into Spanish.
In addition, conference sessions at the IIAR Natural Refrigeration Conference & Expo in March this year introduced a new track of technical papers, workshops and panels for commercial food and retail distributors. This is an effort to invite new guests to learn about the future of refrigeration and educate existing members.
IIAR partnered with the North American Sustainable Refrigeration Council to compile an agenda that embraced both commercial refrigeration and the traditional industrial market. This, along with the push to advance safety-standard documents, is a step forward for the industry as we continue to embrace new technology and innovative solutions.
Ongoing Research into the Future of Refrigeration
IIAR, through the Ammonia Refrigeration Foundation, has established goals to provide our members and the industry with deliverables that ultimately help people operate more efficiently and save money. And, with evolving regulations and the introduction of efficient systems and natural refrigerants, the need for research is critical to our growth in the future.
Our mission, as a non-profit research and education foundation, is to identify, fund and implement scientific and educational programmes that are related to the use of all-natural refrigerants and in all sectors of industry.
Vahterus, as a member of IIAR and a Trustee level contributor to the Ammonia Refrigeration Foundation has demonstrated its commitment to this mission and to give back to the industry.
The Ammonia Refrigeration Foundation ‘Founders Scholarships’ provide grants each year to support engineering and science majors who may wish to pursue a career in the refrigeration industry. With the growing need for technically trained people in food-production plants, the commercial food retail industry, equipment manufacturing, contracting and engineering design, the Founders Scholarship programme is available to help new talent prepare to enter the refrigeration industry.
Research is the other corner stone of the Ammonia Refrigeration Foundation. Each year, the ARF Board considers new research projects that will build on our current technology and provide the science necessary to ensure that our facilities will operate safely and more efficiently in the future. These research programmes have covered analysis of refrigeration insulation procedures and practices, the science necessary to properly size ammonia piping for systems to reduce installed cost and ensure the most efficient system operation, as well as CFD analysis of ammonia release to determine improved warning and safety procedures.
We believe that providing our end-users with transparent data is the key to a successful research and education foundation. And since each new research proposal is vetted, approved and executed, we’re learning that the future of refrigeration isn’t always something we can predict. What we can predict, though, is that change is inevitable and through adoption of safety standards, improving education programmes and embracing new technologies, we can continue to operate effectively to promote our mission, protect our environment and catapult operations into the future. IIAR will continue to advocate for best engineering practices, regulations and standards that are fair to our members and that offer greater safety for our industry.
In closing, the one factor that remains certain is that the refrigeration industry will continue to see dramatic change over the next several years in response to a new regulation, improved engineering methods and new equipment technologies. The growing need to address environmental issues will drive the search for refrigerants that will achieve regulatory compliance and safety standards moving into the future. Through the implementation of consensus-based safety standards and technological advances, natural refrigerants will continue to offer solutions to address regulatory compliance and safety issues for a broad sector of our industry worldwide.
Dave Rule, President of IIAR