It will be business as usual – meaning lots of change – in 2017
LAS VEGAS — The refrigerant industry is no stranger to change, and the changes will keep coming in 2017.
The continuing phaseout of R-22, the impact of the Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol, the phasedown of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), the updated Significant New Alternatives Policy (SNAP) program delistings and Section 608 refrigerant management guidelines from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the unknowns associated with the new administration in Washington all ensure that this will be another — to use a charitable word — dynamic year in the world of refrigerants.
Front and center among the changes will be R-22, said Taylor Ferranti, vice president of refrigerants, A-Gas Americas. Virgin R-22 allocations will be reduced from 17.6 million pounds in 2016 to 13.2 million pounds in 2017.
“This illustrates the importance of proper recovery and reclamation,” Ferranti said. “A-Gas Americas is committed to ensuring our partners’ supply through recovery, separation, and reclamation.”
HERE WE GO AGAIN
The trends in 2017 will revolve around reclamation, product shortages, rising prices, and phaseouts. That’s the word from Jay Kestenbaum, senior vice president, sales and purchasing, Airgas Refrigerants Inc.
Kestenbaum noted that the 13.2 million pounds of U.S. R-22 production in 2017 represents an 87 percent reduction from 2011. Prices for a 30-pound cylinder of R-22 have doubled in a year, with significant shortages already occurring, and those shortages are going to get worse. Why? “Because we are nowhere near the EPA estimate of 25 million-plus pounds of reclaimed R-22 a year,” Kestenbaum said. “Industry estimates put reclamation at less than half of that. Customers who return more recovered product have the clout to demand that they should be able to purchase more R-22. That incentive should be front and center.”
In addition to the R-22 numbers, the anti-dumping petition against R-134a imported from China will be decided before summer with preliminary anti-dumping duties of 232 percent, and the Kigali Amendment calls for a 2019 HFC cutback of 10 percent.
“All of this will increase the pressure on phasing out HFCs and spur interest in the lower GWP [global warming potential] new alternatives we’re selling, such as R-448A, R-449A, R-450A, and R-513A,” Kestenbaum said. “Phaseouts are not new in our industry. It’s here-we-go-again time.”
A SENSE OF URGENCY
Stefanie Kopchick, North America marketing manager, refrigerants, The Chemours Co., said she expects contractors working in commercial refrigeration to feel an urgency to reduce their dependence on R-22 and continue transitioning customers to solutions that not only help them incrementally get past the regulations but also provide longer-term, low-GWP, and energy-efficient solutions.
Technicians working in comfort cooling should also expect to see the pressure of a decreasing R-22 supply, Kopchick said.
“If they haven’t already, [contractors and technicians] should develop a plan for retrofitting equipment to field-proven and cost-effective solutions, such as Freon™ MO99 (R-438A), or converting to a new R-410A system if the equipment has passed its useful life,” Kopchick told The NEWS.
She added that since the 2016 AHR Expo, Chemours has seen a large increase in the demand for Opteon™ XP40 (R-449A) in the U.S. and abroad, as contractors and supermarket retailers in the commercial refrigeration sector look for a nonflammable, energy-efficient, low-GWP solution to replace both R-22 and R-404A in their existing equipment.
“XP40 allows end users to achieve the lowest level of GWP attainable (approximately 67 percent lower than R-404A) while remaining nonflammable and closely matching the performance characteristics of R-404A and R-22,” Kopchick said. “Retailers have also experienced up to 12 percent energy-efficiency gains when converting their existing systems over to XP40.”
She added that to support the growth of the low-GWP Opteon portfolio of refrigerants, Chemours is investing $230 million into an R-1234yf manufacturing facility in Ingleside, Texas, which is expected to start up in the third quarter of 2018.
NEW ALTERNATIVES GAIN POPULARITY
Changes in 2017 will range from the types of refrigerants used to how they are managed in existing equipment, said Matt Ritter, global business director, fluorochemicals, Arkema Inc.
“Much of the change in 2017 is due to domestic regulatory actions that restrict R-404A and R-507A in new supermarket installations and limits remote condensing units in 2018,” Ritter said. “So, the use of these materials in new equipment will decline.”
He added that Forane® 407A refrigerant, Arkema’s alternative to R-404A, R-507A, and R-22 in refrigeration applications, can continue to be used in supermarket systems and remote condensing units for both new equipment and retrofits. He also noted that within all these applications, installed systems can continue to be serviced with their existing refrigerants, even R-404A or R-507A.
Ritter said Arkema continues to be committed to developing sustainable and efficient refrigerants for the future. The company’s efforts include the following:
• Over the next several years, Arkema’s global refrigerant solutions will move to very low-GWP products across all refrigeration and HVAC markets. According to Ritter, Forane 457A refrigerant has a very low GWP (less than 150) and is capable of offering higher efficiency when replacing R-404A or R-22 in HVACR applications;
• Forane ARM-42 refrigerant is designed to replace R-134a. According to Ritter, RM-42 has a GWP of 131, near zero glide, and is compatible with R-134a equipment with nearly the same efficiency and capacity; and
• For R-410A replacements, Forane 459A (ARM-71) is compatible with existing equipment, has a GWP of 461, and delivers better efficiency than R-410A, including at high ambient, Ritter said. ARM-20b, which has an even lower GWP (approximately 250), has been demonstrated in industry testing as an alternative to R-22 in air conditioning, Ritter said.
LOW GWP AND ENERGY EFFICIENCY
David Cooper, global business director, Honeywell Refrigerants, said he sees supermarkets accelerating conversion to refrigerants with lower GWPs to achieve global greenhouse gas reduction targets and benefit from improved energy efficiency. As a result, the company has seen wide adoption of its Solstice® N40 (R-448A) as an HFC and hydrochlorofluorocarbon (HCFC) retrofit refrigerant solution.
“More than 2,000 supermarket installations have been completed with Solstice N40,” Cooper said. “And, as a result of customer demand for this solution, we project that use of Solstice N40 will more than double over the next year.”
In commercial buildings, the increasing cost of energy usage has customers looking at their chillers as a new opportunity to reduce costs, added Cooper.
“A growing number of global companies are adopting Solstice refrigerants for use in low- and medium-pressure chillers, and more than 15 chiller OEMs have launched models based on Solstice refrigerants,” he said.
SHORT- AND LONG-TERM CHANGES
The industry will have to deal with both short- and long-term trends in 2017, according to Steve Mella, CEO, ComStar Intl. Inc. Mella said a longer-term trend will be equipment OEMs continuing to work on equipment design and building code changes for the natural refrigerants — hydrocarbons (HCs), ammonia, and CO2 — that eventually will create new challenges for the HVACR service community. The more immediate trend for the HVACR service community will be an urgent rush away from existing R-22 systems of all kinds.
“With the high prices and tight supply of R-22 kicking in during 2016, companies that manufacture R-22 alternatives saw the beginning of the swing away from R-22 in 2016,” Mella said. “In 2017, it will be a stampede.”
WHICH WAY WILL WASHINGTON GO?
Brad Kivlan, vice president of operations, Dynatemp Intl. Inc., said the transition of power in Washington has raised the level of uncertainty with regards to EPA policy. At question now is the U.S. level of commitment to phasing out HFCs in adherence to the schedule expressed in the Kigali Amendment.
“Transition within the EPA and Congress will likely delay both the ratification of the Kigali Amendment and the EPA rulemaking that determines the mechanism(s) used by the EPA to ensure the phaseout meets predetermined milestones,” Kivlan said. “These mechanisms often have the greatest impact on supply and pricing in our marketplace.”
He added that since the election, it appears the Trump administration is edging toward the center and becoming more amenable to the prospects of supporting climate change regulations that were gaining momentum prior to the election.
Gordon McKinney, vice president and COO, Icor Intl., noted that 2016 was a busy year for the EPA, as the agency — acting on President Obama’s Climate Action Plan — rushed through several regulatory changes focused on reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
“It appeared as if the phasedown of HFC refrigerants was inevitable, and even on a fast track,” McKinney said.
He added, however, that “elections have consequences,” and noted that President Donald Trump is filling his administration with opponents of the man-made climate change movement.
“Trump’s nomination of Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, a highly vocal climate change critic, to head up the EPA, puts all previous and future actions to phasedown HFCs in serious question,” McKinney said.
A WISH FOR SOME CERTAINTY
Maureen Beatty, executive vice president, National Refrigerants Inc., expressed hope that 2017 will be devoid of any new regulations, so the industry can focus on compliance with the SNAP and Section 608 regulations that went into effect Jan. 1. She added that the industry must prepare for the additional Section 608 regulations scheduled to take effect in 2018 and 2019.
Beatty expects to see a significant increase in R-22 retrofit activity as the supply continues to dwindle and prices increase. She hopes this will result in an increased amount of R-22 returned to EPA-certified reclaimers. Subsequently, reclaimers should expect to see more recovered HFCs returned for reclamation.
“As an industry, we will see the continued development and introduction of lower-GWP refrigerants,” Beatty added. “And while a new administration in Washington brings a bit of uncertainty to the regulatory landscape, as an industry, we are hopeful the advances we have made to secure some certainty in regard to the continued supply of HFCs will be maintained.”