by George Koutsaftes, President, Honeywell Advanced Materials
New and innovative technologies making society more productive and energy efficient are leading to changes around the world, helping emerging regions to advance, and in turn are helping to advance new energy and climate policies and regulations across many sectors; the refrigeration industry is not lost in this evolution. The world will undoubtedly remain focused and committed to transitioning to environmentally preferable and energy-efficient technologies across the board as we look to the future. It should come as no surprise that this is a particularly hot topic in the refrigeration and air-conditioning industry and one that the industry as a whole will need to remain committed to for years to come.
The evolution of refrigerants has been continuous. In the 1930s, the industry moved away from industrial gases/chemicals due to their toxicity, flammability and corrosiveness when fluorinated refrigerants offered a safer alternative. This development allowed the commercial refrigeration and air conditioning segments to flourish.
Hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), which were introduced in the late 1990s, are now used throughout the world as refrigerants in air conditioning to cool cars, homes and buildings, in home and commercial refrigeration, in foam insulation, and as aerosol propellants and solvents. However, when released into the atmosphere, the resulting global warming emissions can take years, sometimes decades to break down. Therefore, the international community has come together to phase down the use of HFCs across the globe.
With numerous regulations in place and others progressing in developed countries requiring the phase down of high-global-warming-potential (GWP) products, including Europe’s F-Gas regulation, it’s clear that regulation will continue to have an impact on the HVAC industry.
In the U.S., led by the legislative momentum in California, states like New York, Connecticut, Maryland, Vermont, and Washington have also announced their intention to take actions that require the phaseout of high-GWP HFCs. Today, HFC refrigerants are some of the most popular refrigerants and include R-410A, which is widely used around the world as a refrigerant in residential and light commercial air conditioning applications.
The industry has been exploring how to best replace R-410A with an environmentally preferable solution with a similar or better performance.
That’s why, for the past decade, Honeywell decided to make a significant investment in research and development to design and bring to market the industry’s first non-flammable, R-410A replacement solution for stationary air-conditioning applications.
Announced in June of 2018, and with a GWP that is 65 percent lower than R-410A, Honeywell’s Solstice N41 (R-466A*) is the first replacement refrigerant that provides the same level of safety to contractors and customers as R-410A as it is also nonflammable, while not compromising at all on performance. Solstice N41 is designed to match R-410 in all key performance factors. In fact, in high-ambient regions around the world Solstice N41 has an energy efficiency benefit. Solstice N41 provides the industry with a turn-key solution to meet upcoming HFC phase-out requirements, with safety to consumers and contractors at its core -- building code changes are not required, equipment manufacturers do not need to invest in extensive plant changes, technicians do not need to be retrained, and there is no safety risk to homeowners. Solstice N41 has been extensively tested by 15+ equipment manufacturers and 5 large compressor manufacturers in 5+ different applications (VRF, Rooftop, Unitary Residential, Chillers) and has logged over 10,000 hours in different systems. Given that Solstice N41 can be used in the replacement market (installed base), it is a much better overall solution to meet high-GWP phasedown commitments.
All other R-410A replacements proposed to date are flammable. Using a flammable solution in stationary air-conditioning applications will require the design and incorporation of sensors, valves and other risk mitigation equipment to minimize flammability risk. It will also require significant specialized training of contractors to manage the flammability risks that homeowners and contractors will be exposed to – not a trivial issue today when the industry is struggling to recruit and retain enough contractors. In addition, it will raise the total cost of ownership to the end consumer as they will need to pay to have contractors make regulator maintenance to ensure the specialized sensors and valves are performing. Further, this will also raise the liability risk to contractors for faulty performance of this equipment if they are not maintained well. Discussions are now underway to address the concerns of contractors and technicians on safe practices in the installation and servicing of HVAC equipment that use flammable refrigerants.
As the industry continues to evolve and further its focus on energy-efficient technologies with minimal environmental impact, we look forward to bringing safe, innovative and environmentally preferable technologies to our customers around the globe.