For decades R-22 was the dominant refrigerant gas for stationery air conditioning. However, despite being a highly efficient refrigerant, as an HCFC (hydrochlorofluorocarbon) R-22 was deemed harmful to the ozone layer and its global phase-out scheduled under the auspices of the Montreal Protocol.
The timetable for phase-out has varied regionally with Europe having completely phased out use of new and reclaimed HCFCs by the start of 2015, whilst the USA has a target to reduce its consumption of new HCFCs by 99.5% before 2021.
Countries coming under Article 5 of the Montreal Protocol, including those in the Middle East, have a longer timeframe for transition from use of HCFCs including R-22.
For example by 2030 all Article 5 countries are required to have stopped use of virgin HCFCs, and by 2040 all use of reclaimed R-22 must cease.
Individual countries and regions can adopt their own implementation mechanisms. Saudi Arabia for example has intended to introduce a ban for some time, with the latest date discussed as the start of 2018. Other countries in the region are likely to follow, so the air conditioning industry needs to understand the implications of a ban both in terms of production and aftermarket servicing.
In hot countries it is difficult to reproduce the performance of R-22 using existing technology and equipment designs. As a result, manufacturers must look at alternative technology that makes effective use of non-ozone depleting refrigerants.
They must also consider the best way to manage existing production processes and technology without having R-22 available.
The key trend is the drive to adopt solutions that not only have zero ozone depletion potential, but also offer the lowest possible global warming potential (GWP), high energy efficiency and good product safety in use.
Whilst some ‘natural’ refrigerants, including hydrocarbons, are a potential option here, they require a very high level of training in safe handling and use due to either high pressure (CO2) or high flammability (hydrocarbons). Further, some of the technologies to use these refrigerants are at a relatively early stage of development and may not be suitable for the high ambient climates of the Middle East.
The HFC (hydrofluorocarbon) product R-407C has been specifically developed for this application – providing an effective replacement for R-22 in broadly existing system designs requiring relatively little work to adapt the technology. This allows manufacturers to continue selling R-22 technology without having to make significant and expensive changes to the technology or their production equipment.
Another option is HFO products, including R-1234yf and R-1234ze, a subset of HFCs which have been developed with lower GWP than many existing HFC products. The automotive air conditioning sector has already reached broad consensus on the use of R-1234yf as an alternative to R-134a in Europe and in the US and Japan to meet regulatory targets.
Whilst these HFOs are likely to have an important role in the stationary sector in the future, at present they are costly, not widely available and both are mildly flammable.
If instead of remaining with equipment designed for R-22 system manufacturers are willing to modify their designs then it would be possible to adopt the use of R-410A.
in the Middle East. R-410A is a high-efficiency HFC and commonly used for stationary air conditioning in other parts of the world. It is widely available and widely supported by the major compressor and component suppliers and is significantly less expensive than HFO-based alternatives.
Whilst the GWP of R-410A (2088) is slightly higher than that of R-22, some companies are looking to adopt R-32 as a reduced GWP alternative to R-410A. With less than half the GWP of R-410A and with equal or superior energy efficiency and a reduced charge size for a given system capacity, R-32 is an attractive option for a number of application scenarios. However, like R-1234yf and R-1234ze, R-32 is marginally flammable (ASHRAE 2L) which may limit its utility in some application sectors. R-32 also creates high compressor discharge temperatures which may need to be taken into consideration in equipment design. Blends of R-32 with HFOs and other fluids are being developed by Mexichem and others to investigate the degree to which these matters can be addressed whilst maintaining or improving performance.
So what does all this mean for air conditioning professionals in the Middle East?
First and foremost, they need to understand exactly when an R-22 ban will come into force in their country and from there assess which products are likely to meet their needs for original equipment and for servicing in the short, medium and long term across the range of application sectors.
From the point of view of equipment manufacturers, this should include considering which products are able to combine commercial and technological realities with the best possible environmental performance. Of particular interest are the leading candidate HFCs including R-407C, R-410A and R-32 but with an eye to the future keep in mind the development and commercialisation of HFO-based products.
Mexichem is the world's largest company of its kind involved in the process from raw material to delivery. Mexichem has 70 years in the business of manufacturing refrigerant gases and part of its attendance at the huge Jeddah show was to talk about the future ban of R22, and to offer an alternative.