The phasing out of R22 refrigerant equipment is a reality, but by looking proactively at alternatives and assessing priorities in terms of costs, benefits and service continuity, organisations can benefit in the long term
The move away from HCFCs is in line with Australia’s commitment to the Montreal Protocol. To help building owners, facilities managers, system operators, and technical service providers to all be on the same page when it comes to phase-out planning, new management guidelines have been produced by the Australian Institute of Refrigeration, Air Conditioning and Heating (AIRAH).
“The continued use of R22 presents a risk to owners or managers of building assets. The ongoing reduction in imports is resulting in reduced availability and an elevated cost for this refrigerant, where obtainable,” said Vince Aherne from AIRAH.
The options available for managing equipment using R22 depend on the type, size, and condition of equipment. R22 is the working fluid for an estimated 30 per cent of all air conditioning and refrigeration equipment in Australia. This ranges from smaller systems such as window-mounted room air conditioners (RACs), up to larger air conditioning systems using water chillers providing hundreds of kilowatts of cooling (e.g. in office buildings). The refrigerant is also common in refrigeration and cool rooms.
Due to the quota reduction, it will progressively become more difficult to maintain R22-charged equipment due to the scarcity and cost of the refrigerant.
Air conditioning and refrigeration equipment can require maintenance for various reasons, but “breakdown maintenance” (i.e. unplanned repairs) involving a leak of some or all of the refrigerant charge is the major concern.
It is estimated that up to eight per cent of all R22 in use across facilities in Australia is lost to the atmosphere each year through equipment failure, thus requiring repair and recharge with new refrigerant.
Business disruptions due to downtime of failed equipment that is not able to be repaired and/or re-charged are a real risk, says AIRAH.
Four management options are available to address the phase-out:
- Retain and manage the R22 plant
- Retrofit the plant with an alternative refrigerant
- Replace the R22 equipment
- Replace and upgrade the system.
While retrofitting equipment to use a different refrigerant is frequently possible, this option has limited application.
AIRAH says the success of retrofitting will depend on a variety of considerations including the refrigerant used, system capacity, seals, valves and component changes, warranty requirements and ongoing parts availability. In many cases, upgrading to new equipment may be the only acceptable solution when an R22 system can no longer be maintained or repaired.
They also warn that there are numerous factors such as funding, procurement method, engineering design and equipment lead-time that can add considerable time and affect the chosen strategy for the management of R22-based assets.
A management strategy needs to consider not only the technical solutions, but also the business priorities and needs of the owner, such as the intended future usage for affected buildings.
The guide encourages building owners and managers to carry out audits of their building assets and develop asset registers of R22-charged equipment. The management strategy adopted for individual R22-based systems can be prioritised based on some key characteristics. These include age of equipment, criticality of the site and other factors, in order to reduce risk and proactively future-proof the adversely affected mechanical services within the building.
“Replacing old R22-based systems has the added benefit of the improved reliability and energy efficiency of next generation refrigerant systems,” Aherne said. “But all stakeholders need to work together to manage this change.”