Now is the time to replace R-404A and R-507

Peter Dinnage, Technical Director at Climalife, gives his insight to F-Gas phase down and recent price increase. You can read this article in ACR News August issue.

With refrigerant prices escalating at rates never seen before, the market is waking up to the reality of what the F-Gas quota reductions mean.  It remains to be seen if it has grasped the full extent of the first very big reduction in quota coming in 2018. With one major producer announcing they won’t be selling R-404A and R-507 next year and another doubling the price every couple of months, it’s clear that the time has come to stop using R-404A and R-507 and to switch to lower GWP alternatives.

No one predicted the scale and frequency of increases we have seen on HFCs this year and we still have 5 months to go. With each price increase, demand has not decreased but instead increased.  This in turn has fuelled further increases to try and dampen demand but so far, that has not happened. The question now is, do the producers still have enough quota left for supplies for the remainder of the year? It is worth remembering they can sell a lot more of the lower GWP refrigerants than they can those with a higher GWP. With the price of R-404A and R-507 higher than the alternatives and likely to keep going up, a new driver exists to move to lower GWP refrigerants, that of price.

New Equipment doesn’t need to use R-404A

There is no reason why new equipment should still be installed with R-404A or R-507.  All the leading compressor manufacturers approve lower GWP alternatives, and if they don’t, use compressors from those that do.  Those still using R-404A and R-507 in new equipment are using up quota that could otherwise be used for larger quantities of the lower GWP refrigerants, in the case of R-448A and R-449A that’s nearly 3 times as much.
In 2018, when the first big step of the phase down applies, we will see a 32% reduction in CO2 equivalent tonnes available for the market compared to 2017. This is a 37% reduction from the 2015 baseline, but with the pre-charged equipment imports part of the quota, it is closer to a 44% reduction from 2015.

Will you still be able to buy R-404A next year?

Yes, but it may be very difficult to get hold of and the price you will pay will be much higher than it is today. Each producer and quota holder is going to have considerably less quota to sell and they will favour lower GWP refrigerants as they can sell more of them.  Therefore you would assume the only companies using R-404A will be those who have no alternative or those prepared to pay extremely high prices.

Quick Solution

When a system loses some or all of it charge of R-404A don’t top up with R-404A but convert the system to one of the alternatives described below.  The more R-404A that is replaced this year, the less CO2 eq tonnes will be used up next year. Any that is recovered can be reclaimed for future use.

Pressure on other refrigerants

The slow move away from R-404A has also ramped up the pressure on other refrigerants such as R-410A. However, there are no conversion options for existing R-410A systems, therefore the replacement of R-410A in new equipment will be driven by the equipment manufacturers.  The market is already seeing the introduction of R-32 in small charge equipment and this can be expected to grow.  The quota reduction in 2018 is going to need all the help it can get from the new equipment sector.

R-404A Alternatives

There are a whole range of Low GWP alternatives for new equipment; Carbon dioxide for supermarkets, Ammonia for larger industrial systems, Hydrocarbons for very small charge hermetic equipment and A2L refrigerants once compressor approvals are given. All these are for new equipment only and they are not retrofit options for the existing bank of HFC equipment.  The lower GWP HFC and HFO blends are able to be used in new and existing equipment making the use of current design equipment possible.
Two non-flammable products with the lowest GWP are R-448A and R-449A. Both are HFOs containing blends with GWPs just below 1400.  Both have very similar performance characteristics and give reduced energy use compared to R404A. These two refrigerants are going to be the mainstay of the R-404A conversion and replacement programme because of the very nature of the F-Gas quota restrictions. Conversion to either is relatively straight forward although attention needs to be paid to adjusting the expansion device and allowing for glide.  The most likely reason for choosing one or the other is price and availability from your chosen supplier. Case studies exist in a wide range of applications across commercial and industrial applications.

Lincolnshire Co-op running on R-449A

For small hermetic systems R-452A is more likely to be used for both new and existing systems as it is the refrigerant of choice for Tecumseh, Embraco and Danfoss in their hermetic compressors where they need a very close match to R-404A, with discharge temperature almost the same as R-404A. Tecumseh does not approve R-448A and only approves R-449A for some applications.
Due to its GWP being higher than other alternatives the use of R-452A should be restricted to those applications where other lower GWP alternatives cannot be used.
R-407F has been around a lot longer than R-448A and R-449A and has approvals from many semi –hermetic compressor manufacturers. It is more energy efficient than R-404A and is currently lower in price than both R-448A and R-449A, but its GWP is higher and has higher discharge temperatures which may need additional cooling for low temperature applications. It not approved by most of the small hermetic compressor manufacturers mentioned above. With the need to be lower in GWP, R-407F and R-407A may not be the best options for new conversions.
Two other alternatives exist on the market, R-442A and R-407H, but neither are approved by compressor manufacturers and both have discharge temperatures close to R-407F.

Reclaimed R-404A

The final piece in the jigsaw is the use of recovered and reclaimed R-404A, this product is quota free and can be used through to 2030; the only catch is that to get reclaimed R-404A, systems need to be converted or replaced. By converting systems, the R-404A recovered during the conversion process can be sent back for reclamation and re-used elsewhere in systems that are harder to convert or may only need to be kept going before replacement in the next 12-18 months.

With the choice of paying ever increasing prices for R-404A with no guarantee of being able to get product, versus converting to alternatives that are now cheaper than R-404A, both the price and the time is right to get on and make the switch. Meeting 2018 quota restrictions will depend on how successful the industry has been at reducing its need for R-404A and R-507.