While consumers may not pay much attention to refrigerants, they are certainly top of mind in the HVACR industry. With new regulations that govern specific refrigerants being phased out in the United States and strict rules on their use in place in Europe, HVACR contractors, engineers, distributors and equipment manufacturers are keeping a close eye on the range of refrigerants to ensure that they invest in the right products that will meet government regulations, while performing at the highest standards for their customers.
Arkema Inc., a global producer and supplier of refrigerants for the HVACR industry, represents a world-class solution for HVACR distributors. That's "world-class" in every sense of the word. With manufacturing facilities around the globe, a comprehensive research and development division and a sales force that is committed to helping its customers understand the refrigerants for individual markets, Arkema stands above competitors when it comes to the production and distribution of these critical products. "Our core philosophy is to manufacture what we sell," says Mike Brubaker, Arkema's global director of sales and marketing.
Headquartered in France, Arkema runs its North American operations from Philadelphia, PA. It is a global chemical company with three business segments: vinyl products, performance products and industrial chemicals. Arkema is one of the world's largest producers of fluorochemicals — operating facilities in France, Spain, China and the United States — which the company sells under the Forane® refrigerant trademark.
Hydrochlorofluorocarbons, or HCFCs, are being phased out of air-conditioning equipment made after 2009 under provisions of the Montreal Protocol, an international environmental agreement, which is being enforced by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The phaseout of ozone-depleting chlorofluorocarbons, or CFCs, occurred in 1996. As the HCFC phaseout continues, Arkema is at the forefront of bringing new alternatives to the marketplace that are more environmentally sustainable, thus ensuring that its HVACR distributors and their customers have access to replacement refrigerants in the short term.
Forane refrigerants are used wherever cooling or freezing applications are required, including appliances, automotive, construction, food processing, industrial refrigeration and supermarkets. Its products range from Forane 22, or R-22, for residential and commercial uses, to Forane 404A and Forane 507 for freezers, display cases and ice machines. "We supply all the different markets," Brubaker notes.
HCFC-22, also known as R-22, has been the refrigerant of choice for residential heat pump and air-conditioning systems for almost four decades. Arkema is providing more environmentally sustainable hydrofluorocarbon (HFC) refrigerants to the marketplace while continuing its work in the development of low-global-warming potential, or low GWP, products.
Producing and supplying the products give Arkema an edge over its competition, says Brubaker. Not only does Arkema control what goes into its refrigerants, but the company is able to ensure that it will have products available to distributors when and where they are needed. It also helps Arkema remain cost-competitive. "Because we have multiple manufacturing sites, we typically don't run into supply problems like others who may be importing their products from Asia," he says. "Our supply chain is much shorter in getting products to the customer. We control our own destiny."
Brubaker notes that Arkema has redundant manufacturing for many of its products globally, ensuring there will be more than one source of any product at any given time. For HVACR distributors who get frantic calls from contractors whose customers have a broken down industrial freezer or HVACR unit, making sure that the right refrigerant is on hand is essential. "We hear it from distributors that when it comes to Arkema, our supply is never an issue," Brubaker says.
Having its own manufacturing facilities also ensures that its manufacturing processes and quality control are of the highest quality. Not all producers can guarantee this, he says. Brubaker adds that Arkema's plants are state-of-the-art facilities that adhere to strict safety regulations that go above and beyond the standards of the countries where they operate. It is complete management and control of its products, from production to delivery.
Customer service makes up an important part of the Arkema story. It extends from supplying the product to ensuring that distributors and their customers understand what each product does and how regulatory issues may affect what they can and cannot use. It begins with the technical service and marketing teams. They can translate the complicated issues of chemicals into real-world language for HVACR distributors and their customers.
Training takes place at trade shows and conferences, like the HARDI show, as well as at distributors' branch locations. "We'll be with the distributors, who typically bring in their customers, and we'll supply all of the information they need," Brubaker says. They make sure to walk distributors through new products. "We provide literature and guides and talk about the different applications. We try to get to the street level on how to use our products." Arkema stays close to its customers through quarterly newsletters and regular technical, industry and regulatory updates.
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Arkema has a strong distribution network throughout the United States, Brubaker says. Its best distributors are the ones who take the time to not only transmit the information from Arkema to their customers but who get actively involved in educating themselves. When distributors are educated, they can pass that knowledge along to their customers. "Educate your customers on what works and why it works," Brubaker tells distributors. "Typically, our best distributors have very strong staffs, not only on the sales side but on the technical side."
Arkema has a website specifically geared to its Forane refrigerants (www.forane-us.com), which provides an extensive product selection guide, a section dedicated to explaining the EPA phaseout of HCFC-22 refrigerants, and details about special programs. It also includes industry updates, product information and market trends. With so many changes in the industry, the site has become an important resource for HVACR distributors as well as others in the industry. Technical support, including pressure/temperature charts and a broad array of product and technical literature, is also available on the site.
Providing customers with information about refrigerants has never been more important. With the R-22 phaseout, Arkema has embarked on a multilevel approach to meet the long-term and short-term needs of the refrigerant market through the use of HCFC-22 alternatives, an R-22 reclaim program and the development of new products.
Arkema continues to expand its HFC refrigerant line to HVACR customers with retrofits that can take the place of R-22 with Forane 427A, which is used in a wide range of air-conditioning and refrigeration applications, and Forane 407A, which is well-suited for retrofitting supermarket and food storage applications. Both products, Brubaker says, are non-ozone depleting and offer some of the low-global-warming potential properties available among R-22 replacements that are available in the market today.
For HVACR wholesalers, Arkema's Forane Refrigerant Reclaim Program provides an additional supply of recycled R-22 to its customers during the transition away from HCFC-22. Arkema sees this as part of its commitment to providing leadership within the HVACR industry. Not only does it provide an additional supply of recycled R-22 to its customers, there is the environmental benefit of reducing overall ozone-depletion potential emissions. Arkema is an EPA-approved refrigerant reclaimer.
Meanwhile, Arkema continues to invest in manufacturing capacity and developing the next-generation fluorochemicals that will help to minimize greenhouse gas emissions. The company operates two major research and development facilities in France and the United States (King of Prussia, PA). Brubaker says its R&D laboratories play a critically important role in developing new refrigerant components and blends. Developing low-global-warming-potential products to replace those with higher GWP in all of its refrigerant market sectors is underway.
"We're always looking for what, ultimately, will be the next steps," Brubaker says. "How can we stay ahead of the curve?" New regulations, Brubaker says, represent business opportunities for Arkema. Instead of hunkering down, Arkema's team of scientists sees the challenge in developing new low-global-warming-potential products. "That's where the mind-set is for us," he adds. And with its global resources and its focus on the future, the company makes the necessary investments.
Arkema's involvement with HARDI has helped the company expand its network of distributors, while allowing it to educate and inform HARDI members about refrigerants and the regulatory issues that come along with them. "HARDI has really helped to drive a lot of the information," Brubaker says. "We're active participants, and we see HARDI as absolutely critical for the industry in helping its members keep its focus on the end users."
Michael Maynard is a business writer based in Providence, RI. He writes frequently on HVACR, construction and architecture issues. Contact him at [email protected].
Arkema at a Glance
Arkema's Forane® Refrigerant Reclaim Program
Definition and Example: Arkema's R-22 Forane® Refrigerant Reclaim program is an important part of its commitment to provide leadership within the HVACR industry during the transition away from R-22. Reclamation is a process to clean refrigerants back to virgin specification. EPA mandates that contractors reclaim, reuse, recycle or properly dispose of used refrigerant gas. Arkema identified the market need and developed its reclaim program for our wholesalers to collect contractor's used refrigerant gases.
Significance: Arkema's closeness to the market allowed us to identify our customer's sustainability needs. More than 80 percent of the climate impact of most refrigeration and air-conditioning applications relates to the energy consumed. But the other 20 percent can be further reduced by recovering, reclaiming and recycling the applications' refrigerant. Arkema developed a program to efficiently reclaim refrigerants. Hundreds of thousands of pounds of R-22 have been reused since the program's start, saving significant emissions of CO2 equivalent. Since EPA's recent allocation rule provides virgin R-22 below quantities needed for ongoing service demand, reclamation will become even more important.
Benefits: Arkema offers to pay for 'good R-22 gas' refrigerant returned and to dispose of nonrecoverable chemicals at no cost to the recovery chain, except for a small cylinder refurbishment fee. Generally, technicians can return refrigerant to their wholesalers who can then forward it to Arkema for disposition. Since technicians frequently do not know the quality of the refrigerant returned, Arkema maintains quality control. The entire distribution chain is involved, with material flowing back up the chain.
Procedure: Arkema wholesalers, who participate in our Forane® Refrigerant Reclaim Program, are located throughout the United States and are available to take back your used R-22 and most other refrigerants for reclaiming. Contact your local wholesaler for details about their specific reclaim program. Call Arkema Customer Service at 800/245-5858 to find your closest Arkema wholesaler for reclaim. Arkema is an EPA-approved refrigerant reclaimer.
People involved: Wholesalers
Cost: Arkema offers ‘good R-22 gas’ credits to wholesalers.
Contact: Reclaim Hotline at 800/738-7694