$5.1 Million Research Effort to Provide Guidance on Safe Application of Low GWP Refrigerants
A major research initiative launched by two leading built environment organizations and the U.S. government will provide a more robust fact base about the properties and the safe use of flammable refrigerants.
This information will be vital to designers and manufacturers of appliances in providing guidance on how to more safely use these types of refrigerants, such as A2L (lower toxicity – lower flammability designation per ANSI/ASHRAE Standard 34).
ASHRAE, the Air-Conditioning, Heating, and Refrigeration Institute (AHRI) and the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) are collaborating on the $5.2 million research program, which is part of an ongoing global effort to phase down the use of high-global warming potential (GWP) refrigerants and identify appropriate climate-friendly alternatives. Of the total, DOE is contributing $3 million, ASHRAE $1.2 million, and AHRI $1 million.
While the demand for global warming potential refrigerants is increasing, the current standard revisions and code adoption processes are relatively slow. This is due, in part, because of a lack of publicly available knowledge about the safe use of these refrigerants.
In anticipation of a global plan to phase down high-GWP refrigerants, the industry has spent the past five years researching potential alternatives. Through that effort, several promising refrigerants were identified, many of which are low toxicity but are classified as mildly flammable (A2L) or flammable. This new research program will provide the technical knowledge needed to facilitate and accelerate the safe use of these refrigerants. It will focus primarily on refrigerant leak and ignition testing under real life conditions to demonstrate the behavior and consequence of mildly flammable refrigerants leaked from HVAC&R products. The findings will provide immediate technical grounds to facilitate the process that produces many safety standards.
In the United States, several critical steps are needed to use flammable refrigerants in the field. They will need the approval of the U.S. Environmental Agency’s Significant New Alternatives Policy (SNAP) program for each application in which the refrigerants will be used. The SNAP approval process requires that the refrigerant meet all safety requirements from ANSI/ASHRAE Standard 15-2013, Safety Standard for Refrigeration Systems, and that the equipment using these refrigerants meet all requirements of relevant safety standards.
Six research projects will be funded as part of the program, with two of those overseen by ASHRAE. Work on this research began at the recent ASHRAE 2016 Annual Conference. These are:
- Flammable Refrigerants Post Ignition Risk Assessment, which will help with better understanding of the risk/consequence after a refrigerant is ignited, establish quantified risk tolerance limits for probability vs. severity, investigate the oil effect on flammability change and develop predictive tools for flammability risk. The findings will help establish quantified risk tolerance limits for probability versus severity, and an acceptable risk level.
- Development of a Guide to A2L Refrigerant Handling and System Installation and Servicing. This will fill a need for refrigerant handling and system installation and servicing information.
ASHRAE plans to have its projects completed by December 2017.
The results of this overall research will immediately be transmitted to the committees responsible for Standard 15, Safety Standard for Refrigeration Systems, and ANSI/ASHRAE Standard 34-2013, Designation and Safety Classification of Refrigerants, with a goal of using the results to update the standards as soon as possible, subject to full compliance with the ANSI consensus process.
The International Code Council (ICC) has stated that these revised ASHRAE standards will be eligible to be fast-tracked into the international codes, in accordance with ICC procedures.
Our ultimate goal is to produce publicity available and technically sound references to support code and standard activities adopting environmentally friendly refrigerants. This will allow the designers and manufacturers of refrigerants and equipment to continue in their work but in an even more environmentally friendly way.