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HyChill general manager, Mario Balen, provides an overview of the current state of the nation for natural refrigerants in Australia.

Those who, five years ago, regarded the HVACR industry as being in an utter state of confusion and uncertainty must be scratching their heads in total disbelief. The situation today is more complex and less certain.

Consider this: another generation of synthetic refrigerants are on the skids. With the previous generation such as R22 still living out its final days in many systems, HFCs (from R134a to R404 and others) are now in a phasedown mode too.

R32 systems have barely hit the market, yet the talk is already adrift that it is only a transitional and temporary solution. The newest stuff we are seeing now, such as the widely trumpeted HFOs, have largely unknown performance characteristics, uncertain pricing structures and their application and retrofitting abilities are still untested.

Selecting the “right” refrigerants is stuff that nightmares are made of – there are literally hundreds of varieties on the market!

The government is doing its own usual best to muddle the issue even more. With no clear phasedown policy, uncertain dates and rubber-elastic announcements, it provides little guidance and help to the industry.

Flammability and toxicity of both refrigerants and lubricants are now factors we need to learn to live with. Not only do we have hydrocarbon refrigerants and ammonia, now many of the new HFOs are flammable or even extremely toxic under certain conditions as well. Yes, of course, we are being told that their flammability is somehow different than the rest but flammable they are!

When transported, stored and handled HFOs (and R32 too) are classed as 2.1 (Flammable) under the Dangerous Goods Act, yet somehow, as if by magic, once they are decanted into an air con or a chiller, they are re-born as A2L (Mildly Flammable category under the ASHRAE classification).

If you happen to come from the synthetic refrigerants communit, such wizardry makes perfect (commercial) sense. If you belong to the ‘naturals’ camp – it sounds hilarious – like being half-pregnant.

Training

Then we come to training and education. Not a single Australian educational institution is presently capable of producing a HVACR graduate engineer. Moreover, the industry is utterly unable to agree on the minimum trade training standards and qualifications.

Various industry organisations are at odds over whether Certificate II qualification should restrict its holder to perform only the installation of split systems or allow them to conduct maintenance as well.

When it comes to refrigeration, there is no qualification mandate at all.

Although the Australian Skills Quality Authority (ASQA) has mandated that hydrocarbons should be covered within the core HVACR curriculum, many training organisations have not complied and risk losing their RTO status.

The current licensing regime is operated by the Australian Refrigeration Council (ARC) under the auspices of the Federal Department of the Environment and the Montreal Protocol.

Its basic intent is to control sales and application of synthetic refrigerants which are listed under the Protocol. Yet, it has been consistently overreaching its role trying to present itself as a “qualification-based” licensing scheme, to the almost universal annoyance of technicians, installers, designers and mechanics.

Recently, the ARC launched a voluntary licensing scheme for natural refrigerants despite having no real expertise in this area.

The solution to so many problems the industry is facing has been staring us all in the face since the very beginning, and that is, natural refrigerants.

Ammonia, hydrocarbons and CO2 offer superior efficiency, vast application suitability, ready availability and excellent cost performance – between them they cover just about every possible HVACR application now and in the future.

Once adopted and engineered in the system, they guarantee a stable and predictable future without twists and turns every 10 years. No obsolescence and phaseouts, no environmental degradation or sudden (albeit entirely predictable) “surprises” about ozone depletion, global warming impact or thermal decomposition resulting in toxic by-products.

No dependence on whims of manufacturers with restricted, patent-protected complex chemical compounds that cost a fortune.

A significant part of the industry has already changed or is in the process of doing it - domestic and light commercial refrigeration, medium size commercial and industrial refrigeration and air conditioning are all cases in point.

Isn’t it time to accept that the future is natural?

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