Bill Katz on Hydrocarbon Refrigerants

Benefits would include improved efficiency and reduced energy consumption.

I called on Bill Katz of Hill PHOENIX to get his take on the potential for hydrocarbon refrigeration in commercial refrigeration systems. The EPA recently has allowed for hydrocarbons — R290 (propane); R600a (isobutene); and R441A (a hydrocarbon blend also known as HCR188C) — to be used in small home appliances and small commercial units. Katz — as well as his Hill PHOENIX colleague, Rusty Walker — has written extensively for Contracting, most recently here.

While the use of hydrocarbons for large commercial systems is still a ways down the road, I think contractors would like to hear his views.

Q: The EPA has approved of three hydrocarbons as acceptable alternatives in household and small commercial refrigerators and freezers through EPA's Significant New Alternatives Policy (SNAP) program Do you believe it to be a wise decision?
A: Yes. Use of hydrocarbons in small, low-charge systems has been proven in Europe and other parts of the world for many years so it’s no surprise that this technology is finally gaining interest in the U.S. Using HCs in these applications is one of the ways we can reduce emissions of refrigerants that are linked to climate change.

Q: What are hydrocarbons’ key benefits if applied to commercial systems?
A: Hydrocarbons, if properly and safely applied in smaller self-contained equipment, are excellent refrigerants and can result in more efficient equipment operation and reduced energy consumption compared to traditional refrigerants. These fluids are also inexpensive compared to HFCs, and being natural refrigerants with very low global warming potentials. They are essentially harmless to the environment.

Q: What do you think this means for a timetable for R&D at manufacturers, to graduate to larger commercial refrigeration systems? Any way of knowing how long the EPA would wait until allowing larger applications?
A: Although the recent SNAP ruling from the EPA paves the way for applications in small appliances, larger equipment is not yet allowed. The EPA is waiting for someone from industry to submit an application for larger systems, but as yet, this has not been done, so it’s unclear what a timetable might look like. Obtaining SNAP approval for new applications can take a year or more, and there are significant safety concerns that must be addressed with larger-charge hydrocarbon systems. There are as already noted, however, examples of these applications being successfully used in other countries so these challenges should not be insurmountable.

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