By Benjamin Brits
Since 1980, FRIGAIR has been a leading influence in the HERVAC sector’s most relevant topics. The 2022 event will carry this forward as the world makes quick moves towards better choices in environmental impacts and the drive to mitigate climate change.
South Africa, as a signee to the Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol is legally bound to the forced phasedown of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs). HFCs are commonly used alternatives to ozone depleting substances (ODS) used in the past. While not ozone depleting substances themselves, HFCs are greenhouse gases which can have very high global warming potentials (GWPs).
Hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs) were developed as transitional substitutes for the high ODS and GWP refrigerants and will also be subject to a phaseout schedule in the near future. The theme selection of FRIGAIR 2022 was therefore simple as natural refrigerants will be the norm of the future and are in fact already here as replacement refrigerants have to be implemented.
Natural refrigerants have zero ODS and zero to extremely low GWP figures, and therefore are aligned to mitigate the challenges of environmental effects in the HVAC&R sectors. Natural refrigerants include hydrocarbons (HCs), hydrofluoroolefins (HFOs), ammonia (NH₃/R717), carbon dioxide (CO₂/R744) and water – which is not very well developed as a refrigerant at this point in time.
These natural refrigerants are seen as the most sustainable replacements for existing options as they are able to reach the temperature requirements of the end user, they meet legislative and legal aspects, they meet environmental requirements and are also reasonably priced. These refrigerant solutions are also highly efficient in operation – so essentially tick all the boxes.
HFC phase-down schedules for developed and developing countries. (For developing countries such as South Africa the schedule to follow is highlighted).
Table credit: Department of Forestry Fisheries and the Environment
Globally, trends have been moving towards natural refrigerants for quite some time with CO₂ systems gaining a lot of traction and being known currently as a specialised field for engineers and technicians alike and are therefore still relatively ‘unfamiliar’ on a larger scale in South Africa. Their deployment and associated training has seen only selected participation in the industry. Until now, CO₂ systems have also been considered suitable for cooler regions due to the high pressures required in system operation.
Ammonia as another popular choice has in fact been around for more than a hundred years and has an established and stable market, particularly in the industrial space. Due to the fast adaptation of produce development, ammonia could soon be found in commercial air conditioning applications as well.
On the domestic market, hydrocarbon R600a (isobutane) has already been used for several years and in the retail sector R290 (propane) has seen large adoption too – specifically in display fridges. R290 is already being used in other countries for unitary air conditioning products and it is just a matter of time that these will find their way to the local market. R290 further has the scope to be used in commercial and industrial air conditioning applications as well as the greater refrigeration market.
As with all refrigerants, natural refrigerants are also subject to concerns around certain safety aspects. With the correct design and mitigation of potential risks these concerns are easy to resolve or avoid. The limit of a system charge being smaller has also reduced risk significantly.
This then opens the conversation around training which has seen considerable review and development recently. The new national safe handling of refrigerants framework is but one example. Local training centres are equipped with many resources already to be able to offer required training in natural refrigerants and updating of certain elements of that training is ongoing.
Resistance to change forces companies and individuals to become ignorant (to the inevitable in this case) and in so doing the usual response is to be apprehensive or unwilling to change their mindset – while natural refrigerants, when handled correctly, don’t pose any more danger than older refrigerant choices.
One of the South African Institute for Refrigeration and Air Conditioning’s (SAIRAC) premier events, the FRIGAIR expo is the largest dedicated HERVAC trade exhibition in Africa. Dates are set for 01 – 03 June 2022 and will be held at the Gallagher Convention Centre in Midrand. This event is brought together by SAIRAC partners Interact Media Defined and Specialised Exhibitions – a division of the Montgomery Group.
All of these aspects in natural refrigerants will be covered at FRIGAIR 2022 through the SAIRAC workshops and SAIRAC arranged ASHRAE seminars.