Refrigeration experts have cautioned that current efforts to push through revised standards on the use of flammable refrigerants in room air conditioning need to take account of the often lengthy safety processes that need to follow.
The new safety standard currently proposed by an International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) working group would allow propane and other hydrocarbons to be used in room air conditioning.
The Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) lobby group has this week called for national representatives on the IEC’s working group to support the proposals that would amend the IEC 60335-2-40 international air conditioning standard. The EIA believes that a swift decision to allow the expanded use of hydrocarbons for air conditioning will help reduce the impact of HFCs on overall emissions.
But, even if the proposals are passed, adopting the new standards at national level could still take significant amounts of time and wrangling, according to some organisations involved in steering core refrigerant and technical standards.
Martyn Cooper, commercial manager of industry body FETA, said that the issue of refrigerant standards, particularly concerning flammability, was a highly complex issue that has to consider a range of operational and safety factors.
He said, “We know the review processes of several standards are looking at how the charge size for A3 refrigerants can be increased, with the watchword being safety.”
“However much the EIA wish for the standards to change, this won't happen unless safety can be proven. There may well be a ‘climate win’ from using propane in AC, but it is totally irrelevant if the systems are not safe in use.”
At present, systems using A2L refrigerants such as R32, which are designated as having a lower level of flammability, are commercially available for use in room air conditioning.
However, it is understood that the European Commission is pushing standards bodies in the region to support the wider use of A3 - higher flammability - refrigerant such as propane.
In April this year, European manufacturers' group EPEE and the Japan Business Council in Europe (JBCE) said there was “no solid justification” to support claims from the EC's commissioned research agency Oko Recherche about the cost, technical feasibility and reliability benefits to make use of propane in smaller split AC systems under 7 kW capacity.
Both EPEE and the JBCE said that the existing F-Gas regulation that sets targets on the amount of product with certain GWP levels on the market has seen a decrease in harmful emissions since 2014.
They said they therefore backed tackling existing barriers to expanding use of currently available lower GWP products, as opposed to amending the flammability standards for smaller split systems. These barriers include addressing building and fire safety codes, as well as rethinking industry training,
The organisations said, “It's not only about training, but also about a formalised qualification, certification and registration structure scheme. The EU F-Gas Regulation already includes a mandatory certification scheme for handling of HFC refrigerants including training on possible alternatives, but there is no EU mandatory certification scheme for using non-HFC refrigerants such as propane.”
“This poses a particular safety and liability risk for split air-conditioners: although safety standards require equipment manufacturers to provide installation and operation instructions, in many cases manufacturers have no direct access to the companies that are installing or servicing the equipment.”