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Refrigerant Transition - Follow the Leaders

Posted November 23, 2011 8:56 AM by geanorm

Editor's Note: CR4 would like to thank Duane Lom for contributing this fifth installment in GEA Consulting's Refrigerant series. Click here for Part 4.

When it comes to a major design change like using a new refrigerant in a system, knowing what the industry leaders are doing can offer many insights. Whatever approach a leader is using, it's a good bet that he has done his homework.

  • The HVAC industry leaders are well known for their capabilities in analysis and testing of new designs before they bring them to market. If your product operates in the same environment and application as a leader's product, you can use that as a basic starting point for your product. This does not mean you can shortcut the due diligence process in product design; it only means that you have some assurance that you can avoid a false start in selecting a suitable refrigerant.

  • Components should be readily available both for new production and service parts. The leaders, with their large sales volumes, will naturally spur a good supply of components suitably applicable to the new refrigerant.

  • The refrigerant itself should be in good supply and at an affordable price. Again the large volume usage by an industry leader will spur a good supply of the new refrigerant at an affordable price.

  • The installation and service industry should be prepared to handle the new refrigerant and have the appropriate tools for the job. A new refrigerant means the right service tools and adequate training for installation and service personnel is required. Following a leader should assure the installation and service industry is ready to handle your product.

  • Following a leader should provide insights into all the aspects of applying a particular refrigerant. Safety issues (toxicity and flammability, for example), performance issues (pressure levels and heat transfer properties, for example), economics, regulation issues, environmental issues and the list goes on.

The flip side of this is that the leaders do not know everything or there may be no leaders to follow. There are many examples of companies that successfully implemented alternative refrigerants without the aid of industry leaders. In the early 1990's, a number of European companies successfully introduced R407C based products. Another company, without the advantages of having a leader to follow, introduced hydrocarbons as a refrigerant in domestic refrigerators. So if you do have a good reason not to follow the leaders or the leaders don't exist, be prepared to face the risks and hurdles of refrigerant and component availability and cost, having a trained workforce to install and service your product, and developing the knowledge base for the new refrigerant with regards to safety, performance, economics, regulation and the environmental impact.

Another word of caution on following a leader. Recognize that the leader's design work was done years before and current conditions may make that refrigerant choice obsolete. In particular, be sure to use current information regarding safety, environmental issues and regional regulations. To again emphasize a key point made by Rajan Rajendran, Engineering Director, Emerson Climate Technologies in his webcast on Refrigerant Evaluation and Selection - "Future refrigerants may differ by application and region, more than today's".

Following a leader or not, either way you have to do your homework.

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