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Industry Insight
10 September 2020

Why Refrigerants Are Changing

A-Gas Regional Managing Director EMEA and Asia Pacific, Ian Podmore, explains how choosing the right refrigerant can boost your business and make a real difference in protecting the planet from carbon emissions.

For more than 25 years, A-Gas has supplied gases to the refrigeration, air conditioning and fire suppressant industries across the globe. These largely unseen industries are essential to a functioning, modern society. Demand for refrigerants has accelerated at an extraordinary rate and A-Gas has grown rapidly in response to this.

Refrigerants are an essential part of modern life and take a critical role in various industries such as healthcare, fire protection, food production and supply, and transport. Without refrigerant, food supplies in cities would run out in a week. This acceleration is happening at a time when the world is facing a huge environmental challenge. Global average temperatures are rising and if they continue at the current rate it could drastically affect infrastructure and ecosystems.

Experts believe that by slowing global warming to below 1.5°C by the end of the century climate risks can be reduced significantly. Low carbon heating and cooling will play a key role in this, and by promoting energy-efficient technologies and reducing the use of high global warming (GWP) gases in refrigeration and air conditioning a real difference can be made.

There has been a growth in environmental legislation too. The Montreal Protocol (the international treaty set up to protect the planet), along with regional regulatory pressures, has driven industry activity. This legislation is central to what we do at A-Gas.

As each new piece of legislation is adopted in countries around the globe, A-Gas is becoming a go-to supplier for next-generation virgin, low GWP refrigerant products. Besides this, A-Gas also supplies reclaimed refrigerant (where permitted) to customers who have not yet upgraded their equipment to move towards the use of new low GWP gases.

Reclaimed refrigerant is playing an increasingly important role. A-Gas uses bespoke, in-house designed technology to capture, separate and clean refrigerant recovered from end of life systems or retrofit projects. Such product is reclaimed for re-use and forms part of what is known as the circular economy.

The circular economy is a business model which is having far-reaching effects on the refrigeration and air conditioning industry. It requires us all to take a different approach to how we run our businesses. We are forced to rethink how we use our equipment and raw materials; how we minimise waste and maximise resources.

It is the opposite to the take, make and dispose business model and forces us to seek greater efficiencies and make better use of what we have already. The circular economy helps people move to more environmentally friendly technologies, lowers GWP across the world, reduces energy consumption, assists in managing the phase out of old refrigerants and crucially helps the world to decarbonise.

The importance of conserving every kilogram of refrigerant should not be underestimated. This is where refrigerant recovery has such a vital role. In recent years, refrigerant recovery techniques and processes have come on leaps and bounds. A clear example of this is the success of A-Gas Rapid Recovery.

With teams of engineers in Europe, Australia, the US and South Africa, A-Gas Rapid Recovery is fully equipped to go on-site at short notice to undertake recovery projects of all sizes. The equipment can recover refrigerants up to ten times faster than conventional recovery methods and the team takes responsibility for all aspects of the recovery work.

Over the past three years, A-Gas has invested heavily in equipment and technology to offer contractors the opportunity to have their unwanted refrigerant reclaimed for future use. We recently expanded our expertise into Asia, through Singapore-based VEMAC Services, to provide recovery and reclamation to this part of the world. 

This is working well and the industry’s reliance on high GWP virgin refrigerants is beginning to decline. This means that the quantities of virgin refrigerants manufactured are no longer at the same historic high levels.

In Europe, the F-Gas Regulation and its reductions in the availability of virgin refrigerants is changing the way the industry operates. Customers are taking a long, hard look at how they manage their refrigeration and air conditioning systems; they are looking to future-proof their businesses by investing in new technologies which are energy efficient and help protect the planet.

Choosing the right refrigerant to help reduce global warming should, on the face of it, be a straightforward decision. It seems that all you need to do is to replace a high GWP refrigerant with a low GWP alternative. In turn, CO2 emissions will be reduced and you can then move on to the next job, leaving the customer knowing you have made the right choice for them.

No one disputes that the measure of a refrigerant’s global warming potential is important in selecting the most suitable gas for a system, but there is much more to it than that.

You can view COemissions as two distinct areas – direct and indirect. In simple terms, the former relates to global warming potential and the latter refers to system performance and energy efficiency.

Experts agree that indirect emissions created by electrical consumption are a greater contributor to climate change than refrigerant leaks. That is why it is always important to weigh-up system performance and energy efficiency before making a decision on choosing a refrigerant.

One way to ensure that you avoid a hard fall on system performance is to choose a new generation A2L refrigerant. Major supermarket chains across the world have shown that mildly flammable A2Ls with a GWP around 150 can strike the right balance between low GWP and energy efficiency.

The supermarkets understand that making the switch to low refrigerants makes business sense, as customers demand that their goods and services be produced and delivered in less wasteful ways.

A2Ls can be superb alternatives to high GWP refrigerants in different climates. Running costs are lower, there is significantly less impact on the climate and energy bills are also reduced. These mildly flammable products have been designed to be energy efficient and trials have shown that they can have a better performance than systems running on hydrocarbons or natural refrigerants.

They have been blended to have the optimum balance of low GWP and energy efficiency. This means that A2Ls can be designed to offer the best performance in a commercial refrigeration situation.

So, take care if you base your choice of refrigerant on GWP alone. Refrigerants are different and each will have its own pros and cons, but by also taking into consideration energy efficiency and good system performance your choice will ultimately be the right one.

For further advice, support or information please contact your local A-Gas team directly.