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R-22 refrigerant phase-out and its repercussions



Most businesses, organisations and homes use refrigerants for air-conditioning, heat pumps and refrigerators. If your organisation employs the use of any of these technologies then you are likely using R-22. R-22, also called HCFC-22, is a banned substance in most of the developed world due to its ozone depleting potential (ODP). 

In South Africa most companies use a refrigerant called R-22 (or HCFC-22), mainly because it’s cheap, effective and widely available. However, due to its high ODP, R22 has already been banned in much of the developed world and a limit to importation will be implemented after 2015 in South Africa, until a total ban in 2030.

This article highlights what impact the international ban is already having in South Africa as well as what it means for users of R22 in South Africa.

R-22/HCFC-22 Phase-out in the developing world

One of the main users of refrigerants are air-conditioners but also other cooling and heating processes used by industry. Hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs) are a subclass of CFCs, which although not as damaging as CFCs still contain ozone-destroying chlorine. R-22 or HCFC-22 has been the refrigerant of choice in the 1990s as it was seen as an alternative to the banned CFCs. Since the late 1990s HCFCs have come under scrutiny through revisions of the Montreal Protocol, the international treaty controlling the use of ozone depleting substances.  R-22 has come under the spot light because of its harmful impact on the ozone layer but also because it is classified as a greenhouse gas (GHG) which contributes to climate change.  The manufacture of R-22 results in a by-product, called HFC23, which contributes significantly to global warming. In addition, the release of R22 through leaks in systems that use them also contributes to ozone damage.

In the case of EU countries, the Montreal Protocol has prompted the phasing out of R-22 according to the following timeline:

  1. 1 January 2010: use of virgin R-22 and R123 will be prohibited in the maintenance and servicing of refrigeration and air-conditioning systems in Europe
  2. From 2010 to 2015 only reclaimed R22 and R123 can be used for service.
  3. All HCFC top up will be prohibited from 1 January 2015 in Europe

The USA and other developed countries have the same or similar dates for phasing out the HCFC substances.

How will R22 phase-out impact your business?

According to the Montreal Protocol, South Africa is defined as a developing country, meaning that legislation is slightly different. National legislation will control the limited import of HCFCs until 2015.

This means that a ban will be implemented for all South African companies who import R-22 from 2015 with the importation rate decreasing each year until 2030. This means that that stocks of R-22 will dwindle in the country forcing companies to use only recycled HCFCs or change their air-conditioning/refrigeration/heat pump systems altogether.

Given the ban only comes into effect in 2015, products for the local market will not be affected for the next year and a half. Manufacturers exporting or contemplating entering export markets in the near future will have to implement one or other of the new alternatives quite quickly.

As production of R-22 decreases, it will become more difficult to obtain and prices will therefore escalate as was the case of European and American industry prior to the phase out of R-22. Unfortunately, alternatives in South Africa will be difficult to find before that period.

Organisations and businesses in particular who extensively use refrigerants for their productions processes will have to start planning in advance or face escalating costs for retrofitting and recycling in the near future.

Where do I start?

There are a few things to consider before deciding whether to start phasing out your use of R-22. These are as follows:

  1. Do you rely heavily on R22 in your production process? Generally the more you rely on refrigerants the higher your costs of refilling will become once the ban is in place.
  2. Is your system faulty, is there refrigerant leakage? Leakage is one of the main ways in which R-22 damages the environment.
  3. Does your business have the money to invest in cleaner units before the older ones are phased out?
  4. Is your business seeking to be more environmentally friendly?
  5. Is your business or organisation a subsidiary of a European country and will they start requesting that you stop using R-22?

If you answered yes to any of these questions it might be worth investing in a new system that has the capacity to be refilled by a more environmentally friendly refrigerant (assuming that it does not already have the capacity). Once you have done this, you can start using refrigerants that are not banned by the Montreal Protocol and less harmful to the environment.

What are my options?

In summary, you have three options before 2015 when the ban comes into effect, before refrigerant prices start increasing due to limited supply:

  1. Buy a new unit that uses substitutes for R-22 – this is the most expensive but simplest option
  2. Retrofit your old unit – this will allow your unit to use R-22 substitutes after you have removed the R-22 refrigerant from the unit. This can be expensive but the R-22 refrigerant will also become expensive once the ban is in place so this decision will depend on the size of the plant and cooling unit.
  3. Use the same unit –if you choose this option, you will find it difficult to obtain R-22 in South Africa and will be forced to recycle and purify your used R-22 at  a high cost.

As R-22 becomes less common in SA after 2015, the industry will soon be inundated with different substitutes. It is wise to start thinking about the phasing out of this refrigerant and plan for the near future when a ban will be put in place.

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* Article from www.urbanearth.co.za


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