R22 REFRIGERANT GAS PHASE OUT

Management Guideline

R22 Refrigerant Gas Phase-Out

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Impacts for Building Owners, Operators and Maintenance Managers

If there is one key message for building owners, operators maintenance managers of R22 equipment it is this: phase-out is a reality. It is happening now and needs to be managed.

Experience in Europe has shown that when organisations address R22 phase-out early and proactively, they benefit in the long term. A plan should be developed to look at alternatives to R22 and assess the priorities in terms of costs, benefits and service continuity.

For existing air conditioning and refrigeration systems using refrigerant R22 there are really only four options, a hierarchy of proactive responses, that can be considered:

  • Retain and maintain your aging R22 system and hope that you won’t have a major breakdown or leakage;
  • Retrofit your system to use an alternative refrigerant, typically a high-GWP HFC;
  • Replace your system with an exact match of new equipment; or
  • Review, redesign and upgrade your system for superior high energy efficiency, and low-cost, low-emissions outcomes.

 

When assessing refrigerant alternatives and replacement systems the focus should be on low-GWP and system life-cycle costing. High-GWP refrigerants are likely to be the subject of increasing future controls. Switching to low-GWP refrigerants where possible may avoid the double-step of moving to a high-GWP HFC refrigerant and then having to switch again at a later date. Replacing old R22-based systems has the added benefit of the improved reliability and energy efficiency of next generation refrigerant systems.

This Guide helps building owners, facilities managers, system operators, and technical service providers to all be on the same page and talk the same language when it comes to planning for R22 phase-out. As well as providing comprehensive background material, the Guide also explains the audit and asset management process and  the technical options available. All stakeholders need to work together to manage this change; the use of this Guide will make that task easier and more manageable. 

 

Guideline Summary

This guideline provides advice relating to the increased scarcity of refrigerant R22, a commonly used refrigerant found within air conditioning and refrigeration systems.

R22 is being phased out in accordance with Australia’s obligation to the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer.

The phase-out is being applied via a reduction in allowable imports of R22 into Australia. In 2014, Australia’s import quota was reduced by 75 per cent compared to that of 2013, and this will be followed by a further reduction in 2016 when imports will remain at a stable minimum level until complete phase-out occurs in 2030.

The continued use of R22 presents a risk to owners or managers of building assets. The ongoing reduction in imports is resulting in reduced availability and an elevated cost for this refrigerant, where obtainable. Availability of the refrigerant is expected to be highly constrained from 2016 onwards, when the import quota reduces to its lowest level.

There are four management options available: retain and manage the R22 plant, retrofit the plant with an alternative refrigerant, replace the R22 equipment, or replace and upgrade the system.

While retrofitting equipment to use a different refrigerant is frequently possible, this option has limited application. The success of retrofitting will depend on a variety of considerations including the refrigerant used, system capacity, seals, valves and component changes, warranty requirements and ongoing parts availability. In many cases upgrading to new equipment may be the only acceptable solution when an R22 system can no longer be maintained or repaired.

There are numerous factors such as funding, procurement method, engineering design and equipment lead-time that can add considerable time and affect the chosen strategy for the management of R22-based assets. A management strategy needs to consider not only the technical solutions, but also the business priorities and needs of the owner, such as the intended future usage for affected buildings. Building owners and managers are encouraged to carry out audits of their building assets and develop asset registers of R22-charged equipment.

The management strategy adopted for individual R22-based systems can be prioritised based on some key characteristics. These include age of equipment, criticality of the site and other factors, in order to reduce risk and proactively future-proof the adversely affected mechanical services within your buildings.

 

Purpose of this Guideline

The aim of this guideline is to provide advice to building owners, operators and maintainers about the issues associated with the continued use of refrigerant R22 in air conditioning and refrigeration equipment, and to encourage the development of strategies for the planned management, recovery, reclamation or safe destruction of this ozone-depleting substance.

 

Who should use this Guideline?

Owners, operators and facilities managers of buildings and facilities containing air conditioning or refrigeration equipment that operates using R22. Technical service providers conducting technical audits, system maintenance and new system installation activities.

 

Scope

This guideline provides background information and a series of recommendations to help building owners and facility managers develop audit procedures and management strategies to help them decide whether to:

  1. Retain and manage R22 assets; or
  2. Retrofit R22 assets with an alternative refrigerant; or
  3. Replace R22 assets; or
  4. Upgrade R22 assets.

This guideline applies to vapour-compression-cycle refrigeration and air conditioning systems — such as window-mounted room air conditioners, split-systems, package units and chilled-water production machines (chillers), as well as commercial and industrial refrigeration systems including storage cases and cool rooms — that operate with R22 refrigerant.

This guideline does not cover equipment operating on an absorption refrigeration cycle.

 

What is R22

R22 is a manufactured fluorocarbon compound designed for use as the working fluid in refrigerative systems. R22 is a commonly used refrigerant gas contained within many air conditioning and refrigeration systems manufactured prior to 2005.

The R22 gas is contained inside the sealed refrigeration system. The R22 “charge” makes the cooling process possible for air conditioning (in summer), and can also enable heating (in winter) for some air conditioners.

It is also used in commercial and industrial refrigeration. R22 is a hydrochlorofluorocarbon (HCFC). It is one of a number of ozone-depleting substances (ODS) identified by the international community as harmful to the environment. R22 is also known as HCFC-22.

 

Phase Out of R22

The Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer (Montreal Protocol) is a protocol to the Vienna Convention for the Protection of the Ozone Layer. It is an international treaty designed to protect the ozone layer by progressively phasing out the production and use of numerous substances responsible for ozone depletion.

R22 and other HCFCs such as R123 are being phased out from use under the Montreal Protocol. Australia is a signatory to the Montreal Protocol, as is essentially every other developed country in the world (197 signatories in total), and therefore is required to abide by the Protocol’s requirements.

 

Legislative Requirements

Australia has adopted an advanced phase-out schedule for ozone depleting substances (ODS) including HCFCs.

The phase-out schedule is specified in the Commonwealth Government’s Ozone Protection and Synthetic Greenhouse Gas Management Act 1989 (The Act).

The Act is the legislative mechanism under which Australia meets its obligations to phase-out ODS under the Montreal Protocol, and limits greenhouse gas emissions by controlling the use of synthetic greenhouse gases under the Kyoto Protocol to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. The Act controls the import, export, manufacture,  acquisition, use, storage, handling and disposal of these substances.

The Act specifies the limit of HCFC imports allowable for each calendar year.

In 2012 and 2013 the phase-out schedule reduced imports to only 16 per cent of pre-phase-out importation levels.

In 2014 and 2015 the quota was cut a further 75 per cent, down to 4 per cent of pre-phase-out imports by 2016 (2.5 ODP tonnes). The import quota from 2016 to 2030 will be stable at 2.5 ODP tonnes until final phase-out in 2030. From 2030 there will be no allowable imports  of the refrigerant. Refer to Appendix A for full phase-out details and what these percentages mean in terms of future low quantities of R22 available to the market.

Preventable emissions of R22 are prohibited. The Australian Refrigeration Council Ltd (ARC) administers refrigerant handling licences and refrigerant trading authorisations under the ARCtick licensing scheme. Any person handling R22 must hold the correct and current ARCtick licence.

 

Potential risks for Building Owners, Operators and Maintenance Managers

R22 is the working fluid for an estimated 30 per cent of all air conditioning and refrigeration equipment in Australia, so the import quota reduction occurring now creates certain risks for building owners, operators and maintainers.

Due to the quota reduction many suppliers have advised that the sale of R22 to new customers has substantially reduced from January 2014. As a consequence, it will progressively become more difficult to maintain R22-charged equipment due to the scarcity and cost of the refrigerant.

The purchase price of R22 has substantially increased in the last few years and is likely to continue to rise. Current market prices depend on commercial arrangements with suppliers and the quantity purchased. It is important to note that R22 prices will continue increasing as import quotas are reduced and the market supply is further restricted.

Air conditioning and refrigeration equipment can require maintenance for various reasons, however “breakdown maintenance” (i.e. unplanned repairs) involving a leak of some or all of the refrigerant charge is the major concern.

It is estimated that up to 8 per cent of all R22 in use across facilities in Australia is lost to the atmosphere each year through equipment failure, thus requiring repair and recharge with new refrigerant. This could be a system developing a small leak and requiring repair and top-up of R22, or a system could suffer a catastrophic fracture of a component thus requiring repair and full restoration of the refrigerant charge. Older equipment is more prone to fatigue failure and loss of charge.

Some of the key risks that owners, operators and maintainers face moving forward are:

  1. Aging R22-charged equipment  experiencing more frequent maintenance issues and/or failures
  2. Scarcity of R22 resulting in exorbitant maintenance costs when refrigerant purchase is required;
  3. Scarcity of parts for R22 systems increasing, making maintenance more difficult;
  4. Possible unavailability of R22 (especially in remote areas) leading to an inability to repair equipment;
  5. and Business disruptions due to downtime of failed equipment that is not able to be repaired and/or re-charged.

 

Technical Options for Managing R22 Equipment

The options available for managing equipment using R22 depend on the type, size, and condition of equipment. R22 can be found in smaller systems such as “window-mounted” room air conditioners (RACs), up to larger air conditioning systems using water chillers providing hundreds of kilowatts of cooling (e.g. in office buildings). The refrigerant is also common in refrigeration and cool rooms.

The age, size and complexity of the system dictates which technical options are available for managing the risks associated with continuing to operate R22-charged equipment. There are four options available:

  1. Retain and manage the R22 plant; or
  2. Retrofit R22 equipment with an alternative refrigerant; or
  3. Replace R22 equipment; or
  4. Replace and upgrade R22 systems.

Table 1 provides a description of the four suggested management options which should be selected based on the type, age and condition of equipment, and the cost-effectiveness of the option.

 

Table 1: Technical options for addressing R22-charged equipment

 

Issues for Consideration

Management Options

Typical application

 

System Type

 

 

System complexity

 

 

System Age

 

 

Plant Condition

 

 

Criticality of Function

 

 

Cost of Options

Option 1

Retain and manage existing systems using enhanced maintenance procedures and updated leak- prevention practices, until failure occurs.

Systems that are not critical, are in good condition and have significant remaining economic life.

Option 2

 

Retrofit existing system with

an alternate, non-ozone-depleting, non-flammable refrigerant

(e.g. blended HFC refrigerants).

Systems that are in good condition, have significant remaining economic life, and are cost-effective

to retrofit.

Option 3

 

Replace with new equipment which uses non-ozone-depleting refrigerant (i.e. like-for-like in capacity replacement, future-proof refrigerant where available).

Small or simple systems that are old, in poor condition, and whose function has not changed since the original design and installation.

 

Option 4

 

Upgrade to new equipment which uses non-ozone-depleting refrigerant, taking into account additional considerations (i.e. an engineered upgrade, future-proof refrigerant where available).

Larger or complex systems that are old, in poor condition, and whose function has changed since the original design and installation.

 

 

Retain and Manage Existing R22 Systems

One option, and the most passive management approach, is to continue to run and maintain the R22-based system until eventual failure occurs, and then replace it. This is not a long-term solution but can be used as an interim solution to provide time to plan and/or fund a more proactive management solution.

The retain and manage approach means reviewing the existing maintenance regime to ensure it includes maintenance for energy-efficiency tasks and regular leak checks, with a maintenance leak-prevention focus on high- risk components where leaks might occur.

This is the highest risk strategy in terms of the exposure of system owners and operators to high ongoing operating costs, maintenance costs, refrigerant leakage costs, potential environmental harm, and provision of service or risk of business disruption. As systems continue to age the risk of catastrophic failure increases. When this strategy is adopted, the true cost of system failure should be carefully considered. For example, this strategy is generally not recommended for refrigeration applications where loss of service or a disruption to the continuity of service results in loss of product (frozen food, blood storage, etc.).

Adopting this management approach may reduce the need to retrofit to a high-GWP HFC refrigerant or invest in new or upgraded systems. Large commercial and industrial systems can have economic lives far longer than the 7–12 years common for small systems, and keeping them operating on R22 is a valid and important potential management strategy in the short-to-medium term. This strategy is best applied as a precursor/risk reduction strategy before the planned retrofit or replacement of the R22-based system.

 

Stock Piling

Where the decision to retain and manage R22-based systems is made, owners and operators may need to consider some strategies to help secure or guarantee a future supply of R22 to meet their service and maintenance needs. Stockpiling recovered reclaimed refrigerant or stockpiling virgin refrigerant may be worth considering or requesting a service company to secure an on-going supply on your behalf. Legislative requirements must be met when stockpiling refrigerant.

 

Environmental Considerations

From an environmental perspective, the stockpiling of R22 from decommissioned units for subsequent reuse in existing, still operating equipment is not a preferred option. Re-use of R22 is contrary to the intent of Australia’s commitment to the Montreal Protocol, specifically that R22 is internationally recognised as an environmentally harmful substance that should not be permitted for widespread  use. Systems using R22 are typically older and more prone to failure and leakage, recycling R22 back into equipment in such systems increases the risk of environmental harm due to eventual atmospheric release.

 

Retrofit with Non-Ozone Depleting Refrigerant

Where the existing R22-based system is in good condition, a short-to-medium term potential solution is to retrofit the existing equipment to operate on a HFC-based refrigerant specifically designed as a replacement for R22. These retrofits can be very cost-effective for systems where the replacement cost of the unit is far higher than the cost to retrofit. Retrofitting enables the owner to get the full working life out of the installed equipment.

The cost of the retrofit, and the extent of modifications required for the process, will depend on the condition and age of the system and the retrofit refrigerant chosen for the application. Plant condition, refrigerant glide limitations, material compatibility, oil, cooling capacity, power, leakage, system pressure and system downtime are just a few of the issues to look into when assessing whether to change refrigerant. Retrofitted plant will not normally be provided with an equipment warranty although there may be some limited warranty for the retrofit works. Retrofitted old plant will still be subject to potential parts availability and support issues, as it continues to age.

Some of the tasks required to undertake a retrofit include: recovering R22 and the charge of mineral oil from the system; renewing the filter-dryer; adjusting or replacing the refrigerant metering device (thermostatic valve if present); adding a suction filter; leak testing; recharging; and verifying correct operation. Any worn or damaged components also need to be replaced.

It is important to note that system capacity may be reduced with some retrofit refrigerants. This may mean the building cooling load demand is not able to  be met on hot days and equipment may need to run   for longer periods of time. Where the system coefficient of performance is less that that achieved with R22 this may cause increased system energy use.

Generally the older the system the higher the probability that leaks will be observed after a retrofit. Leaking of HFC blends can lead to the requirement for a full recharge of refrigerant gas in some circumstances. Refer to Appendix B for more technical detail on the retrofit option and a summary of common retrofit refrigerants.

 

Converting to a different Refrigerant Classification

When converting an existing HCFC-based system – which is an A1 refrigerant – to operate using an alternative refrigerant with an A2, A2L or A3 classification, a significant conversion process is required. In most cases this is not a recommended or cost-effective strategy. Refer to AIRAH’s Flammable Refrigerant Safety Guide for a comprehensive list of the standards, regulations, and procedures that need to be considered when converting systems to use flammable refrigerants.

 

Replace or Upgrade to New Equipment

A long-term strategy is to replace R22-based systems and upgrade to a new energy-efficient low-GWP plant and equipment. Systems that are old, that are in poor condition, that are uneconomical to retrofit, and that serve critical functions should be upgraded.

Upgrading the equipment is a proactive management approach, with the two choices being:

  1. A like-for-like replacement i.e. with no assessment of the actual cooling demand, or
  2. An engineered upgrade i.e. which includes a design assessment of actual and future cooling demand.

One of the major and immediate benefits of the new equipment option is the built-in energy-efficiency uplift that can be as high as 40 per cent, depending on the system being replaced and the level of engineering applied in the replacement process. Refer to section 3.3 for further information on the benefits of upgrading to an engineered solution with a future-proof refrigerant.

 

Management Impacts

There are many factors to be taken into account when developing a strategy to address the risks presented by the R22 phase-out. Although this subject is largely a technical one, management decisions for the implementation of such a strategy will be required, taking into consideration factors such as:

  • Impact of business interruptions. For example, a retain and manage (to failure) strategy for an air conditioning system may carry the risk of an occupied space being without air conditioning for the time it takes to repair or obtain new air conditioning – which may mean the space is temporarily unsuitable for occupancy, or a critical function cannot be served.
  • Allowing enough time for professional engineering design and documentation to be prepared (particularly for complex sites with chillers). This may include assessment for potential energy savings due to upgraded equipment being more efficient

(note: energy savings can offset the cost of installation in the longer term, allowing funding to be directed to further R22 upgrade works).

  • Allowing sufficient time for tendering and procurement processes.
  • Allowing for equipment delivery  lead  time. For example, new chillers can sometimes have a lead time of four months.
  • Management of asbestos and other workplace hazards. For example, if penetrations through walls are required to install new equipment, professional asbestos removal may need to take place first.
  • Technical assessment of brand and product selection. For example, the capital cost of equipment, its reliability, spare parts availability, after-sales service, energy efficiency and network  compatibility  should all be considered when selecting new equipment.
  • Logistical efficiencies. For example, it may be more cost-effective to group works occurring in similar geographical areas together, especially in more remote locations.
  • Additional requirements for new equipment installations. For example, requirements in the National Construction Code and some current Australian Standards will need to be complied with.

Importantly, consideration needs to be given to funding proposed equipment upgrades and/or retrofit projects. Where costs are prohibitive or available funding is constrained, it may be useful to develop costed work programs and include them into annual financial budgetary cycles over a number of years. Such works should form part of, or be co-ordinated in with, capital works, minor works or maintenance works programs.

All plant is eventually replaced or becomes redundant.

A good organisational strategy is to have a managed asset approach that recognises life cycles, duty/application and asset condition, and applies a staged replacement plan. R22 phase-out replacement is often an accelerated component of such a plan, i.e. bringing forward the inevitable ¬– but with benefits. The potential benefits of an accelerated replacement program can include bulk-buy savings on plant, engineering and installation, streamlined logistics, plus a guaranteed ongoing energy and cost saving from the replaced plant.

 

New Systems

The long-term alternative is to replace the existing R22-based system with new equipment. While this does represent a higher and immediate capital investment, overall costs should be offset to some extent by the  new equipment being more energy efficient. Replacing systems in a planned and managed manner before a major equipment failure occurs:

  • Minimises system down-time;
  • Reduces unplanned capital expenditure;
  • Reduces maintenance cost exposure; and
  • Better controls the risks to business operations.

In general for new systems, the more efficient the unit, the more it will cost initially. However, more efficient equipment will actually save money over time as it requires less energy to operate. One thing that is required to ensure a long lifespan, and an energy-efficient system, is good regular maintenance.

 

Refrigerant Type

Refrigerant selection is an important issue to consider when upgrading systems and equipment. All refrigerants have benefits and costs, advantages and disadvantages, and there is no single simple answer to the question, “Which is the best refrigerant to use?”. The current global trend is towards the use of lower GWP refrigerants. There is, therefore, a strong case for owners of R22 systems to move to a new low-GWP solution rather than retrofitting or moving to a new high-GWP system that may be affected  by new controls in future. There is a real danger that system owners who do a retrofit or buy new equipment  may, in the not-too-distant future, be in a position where they need to retrofit again due to GWP rather than ODP issues. Existing and emerging low-GWP solutions are discussed in Appendix C.

 

Staged Implementation

Often organisations don’t manage the move away from  R22 in one step. An intermediate option for building  owners is where they retrofit and/or upgrade priority systems and then leverage legitimate recycling options to clean the reclaimed R22 and use it to run their less-critical lower priority systems, while they stage their transition and upgrade program.

 

Trial Retrofit Implementation

Where building owners have several similar systems, and make the decision to retrofit, a good strategy is to retrofit one system as a test case, analyse the performance and any complications or implementation issues, and then retrofit the rest of the equipment, applying any lessons learned.

 

Audit or Assets

Risk management of R22-charged equipment is centred on knowing the extent of such equipment (i.e. having an accurate R22 register/asset list) and prioritising response strategies, including those technical options involving the recovery and reclamation of R22 from that equipment. A flowchart is provided in Figure 1 outlining a recommended process to assist building owners and managers to develop and implement their risk-management response strategies.

 

Desktop Audit

Initially a desktop audit should be carried out to identify those sites and/or buildings suspected or known to be using air conditioning and refrigeration equipment containing R22. Contributing information can be obtained from sources such as:

  • Building asset registers;
  • Plant and equipment registers;
  • Operation and maintenance (O&M) manuals;
  • Servicing and maintenance contract agreements;
  • Servicing and maintenance records or log books;
  • Manufacturers’ literature;
  • Project specifications or commissioning documentation; and
  • Tender, workshop or as-installed drawings and other technical documentation.

Valuable information can also be gained from operational personnel such as on-site managers, facilities managers, or maintenance staff.

 

Detailed Audit

The desktop audit can assist to conditionally prioritise sites for further evaluations. There will be many unknowns however, and ultimately a detailed audit may be required to clarify and confirm the presence of R22 in each item of equipment. In many cases this will include a site visit or contact with someone at the site to visually confirm the type of refrigerant in use.

Air conditioning and refrigeration equipment is generally required to clearly state and display the type of refrigerant it uses. It can often be found marked on the compressor  or on the name plate. Some manufacturers design and rate compressors for a range of HFC and HCFC refrigerants in which case the compressor manufacture will not state the specific refrigerant on the nameplate.

Where the identity of the refrigerant in use in a system is unclear, a refrigerant analysis can be carried out.

A refrigerant sample can be taken and analysed and the gas type/composition scientifically identified.

Key items of additional information that should be collected during the detailed audit are:

  • Details of the equipment – make and model, cooling capacity;
  • Function served – description of the area and function served by the system (e.g. office, workshop, refrigeration store or cold room) and an assessment of its importance (i.e. a critical function or not?);
  • Type of equipment – air conditioning or refrigeration, air or water-cooled, chiller, package, split package, split-system, room air conditioner or other;
  • Age of the equipment and date of installation;
  • Kilograms of refrigerant charge inside the system;
  • Safety issues – these may have changed since the original installation;
  • Location of equipment and ease of access – e.g. rooftop-mounted, wall-mounted;
  • Any requirement for access equipment to facilitate  an upgrade or ongoing maintenance (such as cranes, ladders, safety harness attachment points);
  • Performance of the equipment (e.g. reliability, capacity problems, energy consumption).

Ideally, this process will produce an R22 inventory that can assist future management, irrespective of the management strategy, or mix of strategies, applied. Often organisations don’t move away from R22 in one step; management of R22 phase-out generally takes time and the R22 inventory is a useful management tool to assist this process.

 

Prioritisation of Equipment for Upgrade

The detailed audit can assist with firm prioritisation of upgrade work that may need to occur sooner rather than later. Some equipment may need to be given a priority over other equipment, depending on factors such as:

  • The age of the equipment – older equipment is more likely to fail, has a limited supply of spare parts, and may be at the end of its economic life.
  • Amount of refrigerant charge (kilograms) in the system – larger refrigerant charges carry more risk regarding damaging the ozone layer, while also exposing building owners to high refrigerant replacement costs.
  • Critical sites – sites that require constant provision and precise control of space conditions (e.g. archives, laboratories) usually need to maintain spare cooling capacity at all times. This may elevate the need to proactively manage the R22 equipment at these sites.
  • Location – remote areas may have more difficulty in obtaining R22 and, therefore, it may be more important to contend with these sites first.

 

Additional Considerations for New Plant and Equipment:

Meeting Current Standards

Installation of new equipment should adhere to the current technical and performance requirements as outlined in the National Construction Code and various applicable Australian Standards.

As an example, equipment that is currently roof-mounted and needs full replacement may now require roof walkways, handrails, safe access ladders and harness attachment points, which could potentially add substantial cost to the upgrade of a roof-mounted system. In such situations, a redesign of the system to accommodate ground or plantroom-mounted equipment may be beneficial.

The potential benefits or opportunities arising from any replacement and upgrade works required to manage the phase-out of R22 include:

  • Significant energy-efficiency improvements for new plant;
  • New five-year warranty for replaced equipment;
  • Lower operation and maintenance costs for the system;
  • Improved reliability; and
  • Improved performance for engineered systems.

 

Engineered Upgrades

An “engineered” upgrade (as opposed to a like-for-like replacement) takes into consideration the variables of the conditioned space that determine the calculated cooling capacity of the new equipment. For example, in an air conditioned space some factors may have changed since the air conditioning equipment was originally installed. Changes that can be accommodated in an engineered design and selection process include:

  • Greater use of computers and servers may mean the heat load has increased (existing air conditioning might not be coping in summer, therefore a like-for-like replacement will not cope either).
  • Passive design changes or building modifications such as window shades and extra roof insulation may in fact result in a reduced heat load, thus enabling installation of a smaller (i.e. lower capacity) air conditioning system.
  • The building may have been modified – e.g. rooms added, areas demolished, layout altered, functional usage changes, walls added or removed, etc.
  • The occupancy volume may have changed – more or less people in the same space means different loads on the air conditioning due to a change in outdoor air requirements under Australian Standard 1668.2-2012.
  • Technological changes in the types of equipment available – some equipment selections and system configurations may change due to advances in equipment designs and capabilities. This may have impacts on the need (or not) for plantroom space, access, services etc. Some older system designs may no longer be suitable and may require substantial re-engineering.

 

The Retrofit Option

Retrofitting existing R22-based systems with alternative refrigerants specifically designed for the purpose can be very cost-effective where the replacement cost of the unit is higher than the cost to retrofit. Retrofitting enables owners to get the full working life out of the installed equipment.

R22 can be removed from a vapour-compression system and an alternative retrofit refrigerant used in its place, however, these refrigerants are not simple “drop-in” replacements. A drop-in replacement implies no system changes, whereas using R22 “retrofit refrigerants” usually requires system changes such as adjusting the superheat setting, changing the filter-dryer, resetting or renewing the thermal expansion valve, and recovering and renewing the oil. In some cases it may be necessary to add a suction filter to trap the dirt due to cleaning ability of the replacement refrigerant and oil combination. In addition, new oils may need to be used, elastomeric seals replaced, system components and fittings assessed for possible leakage, and the capacity of the equipment operating on the new refrigerant checked for suitability.

Retrofitting may not be worthwhile for smaller equipment that is likely to be more than six years old and may have an economic life of only seven to 12 years (dependingon location and servicing). As a consequence, options for managing this type of equipment can be limited and these should also be considered for replacement or upgrade.

Note: Retrofitting smaller systems could be cost-effective in the circumstances where the system has already lost its charge, and (after the system is repaired) charging with a retrofit refrigerant and implementing the associated system modifications, is less expensive than recharging with R22 or replacing the system.

 

Reclaim or Destruction of R22

As a guiding rule, recovered R22 should not remain with the mechanic or contractor for re-use in subsequent R22 system repairs. Recovered R22 must be either destroyed, or reclaimed (to the ‘as new’ standard) and recycled. Recovered refrigerant should always be reclaimed or destroyed by an approved processor.

 

Reclaim and Recycling

Alternatively, recovered R22 can be reclaimed and recycled.

The destruction of recovered R22 is an energy-intensive process that produces CO2 both at the power station and as a by-product of the refrigerant degradation (the recovery and destruction process has a GWP< 10, compared to GWP for emitted R22 of 1810). Manufacture of new synthetic refrigerants is also energy intensive  and relies on the mining of fluorspar (the natural ore containing fluorine).

The recovery, reclamation, and recycling of R22, although it could cause some ozone depletion through reuse and subsequent emission, should be balanced against the environmental downsides of destruction. (R22 emission results in ozone depletion and a global warming impact around 180 times greater than R22 destruction). The use of reclaimed R22, cleaned to a recognised standard was embraced in Europe as part of their phase-out strategy. The use of legitimate refrigerant recycling can allow building owners to make the best use of their R22 resource and insulate them against the impact of shortages due to the phase-out.

However, it should be noted that this practice increases the possibility of atmospheric release at some point in the future, and is at odds with the intent of the Montreal

Protocol. Also, it cannot be guaranteed that the refrigerant that is recovered from the system does not contain contaminants, e.g. high levels of moisture could cause corrosion in the new system.

Recovered refrigerant must be reclaimed prior to re-use or recycling.

 

Refrigerant Recycling

Legitimate recycling means R22 that is reclaimed (cleaned) to a recognised standard such as AHRI 700 Standard for Specifications for Fluorocarbon Refrigerants.

Where refrigerant is recovered it should either be destroyed or reclaimed. The re-use of recovered refrigerant that has not been reclaimed (cleaned) can be detrimental to a refrigerant system. Recovered refrigerant can contain moisture, oils, acidity, particulates and non-condensable gasses. Re-using this refrigerant may cause corrosion to copper and aluminium components, shortening the life of heat transfer coils and compressors.

Recovered refrigerant must be reclaimed prior to re-use. Reclaimed refrigerant should be treated and processed so that it conforms to the AHRI 700 standard. Using recovered refrigerant that has not been reclaimed may void equipment warranty and seriously damage the system.


HCFCs and the Montreal Protocol

The Montreal Protocol addresses HCFCs in Annex C Group I and II for production and consumption control measures. The production and consumption base level

tonnages and reduction schedules are different (allowable production levels are higher) because a signatory to the Montreal Protocol may be manufacturing and exporting HCFCs to other countries to allow them to use their consumption quotas.

The Ozone Protection and Synthetic Greenhouse Gas Management Act 1989Part IV — HCFC quotas, Section 24 outlines the HCFC industry limits in Australia as shown in the following Table:

Calendar year

HCFC import limit

Quantity of HCFCs in ODP tonnes per year:

1996–1999

250

(pre phase-out usage)

2000–2011

(continued reduction, not shown/relevant)

2012–2013

40

2014–2015

10 (current year)

2016–2029

2.5

2030

0