Natural Refrigerants: OK, Fine

July 18, 2013
The ATMOsphere American 2013 conference brought many refrigeration professionals together who have or will soon jump on the natural refrigerant bus.

I was impressed by the ATMOsphere America conference held recently in Washington, DC. For its second year in the states, the event was very well done. The event has been staged at various European locations since 2009, so they've had good practice. Event owners shecco had all the bases covered, from the team's hospitality to the excellent slate of presenters. I usually judge a show by how much I hate to leave early, and this was true of ATMOsphere.

The ATMOsphere meetings serve to generate additional support for the expansion of natural refrigerants around the world. shecco has North America in its sights as the next part of the world into which it wants to expand carbon dioxide, ammonia, propane, air, and water refrigeration. (Pretty crazy that no American concern though of this.) Canada has a larger number of systems in use at supermarkets, food plants, and ice skating rinks, but major supermarkets have started to install carbon dioxide or hybrid systems using CO2 and hydrocarbons such as R290, R600a, and R411A.

While I don't agree with the global warming or ozone depletion rationale behind natural refrigerants — and am disappointed that science disproving warming has been vigorously and shamefully censored — as I've said before, "green" to me means saving energy. If natural refrigrants can do that, then let's welcome them in and start training technicians on their use and maintenance.

Refrigeration technicians weren't present at the show, but Source Refrigeration, a leader making its own way across the U.S with acqusitions, was on hand to describe their experiences with a variety of alternatives. So, it's clear that technicians can adopt and adapt.

Be aware that if you install and maintain refrigeration systems for supermarkets, you will soon be asked about carbon dioxide and other natural refrigeration systems. The time to move on learning about these products is now. Among the sources you can seek out is the Refrigeration Service Engineers Society, which has developed a new study guide on hydrocarbon refrigerants. RSES chapters have also offered sessions on CO2.

And if you're not a member of RSES, consider joining. It's taking on a bigger role in educating the new generation of technicians, as indicated by its presence at shecco.

My biggest regret is that natural refrigerants are being forced upon the industry by rulings and reduced allocations by the EPA. One ATMOsphere attendee said the current price for R22 was at $23/pound on the east coast. Industry has always operated best when left to expand "naturally," but the scare over global warming and ozone depletion, which again I say are straw men, won't allow this. And while industry can't survive without something new every year, I would have preferred that these technologies be purely industry-driven. Are we supposed to expect Honeywell, Arkema and the other major refrigerant suppliers to eventually fold up those businesses? That would make no sense. Man-made refrigerants will be needed for many years to come.

The best thing contractors can do right now is learn about natural refrigerants, and start considering ways to incorporate it into your business.

You can find more about this event at ATMOsphere Conference Explores Ideas.