While hydrocarbons are already widely used for HVAC&R applications in Europe and Japan, uptake of the technology has typically been slower in the United States. But manufacturers like True, Embraco and Galileo T.P. are working hard to raise awareness of the benefits of hydrocarbon technologies and educate customers regarding their safe handling, heard participants in last month’s ATMOsphere America conference in Chicago.
Now in its 5th edition, this year's ATMOsphere America – held at the Westin Michigan Avenue on June 16-17 – was the biggest ever, attracting 340 participants from over 140 companies.
True pushing the agenda
Noting that Europe was heading towards widespread adoption of hydrocarbon technologies, True Manufacturing’s hydrocarbons journey began with R&D in 2007 and the submission of an approval request under the US Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Significant New Alternatives Policy (SNAP) programme in 2009.
Charles Hon, the company’s engineering manager, told the ATMOsphere event that True had decided to focus their efforts on propane, “because it’s fairly safe to work with and works very well once you’ve got the correct processes in place”.
In 2012, R290 was approved for commercial refrigeration in the US, followed by R600a in 2014. Since then, the company has won 42 awards for its R290 products.
“If you’re talking about safety, then you have to know your product and what it means to handle a flammable refrigerant,” said Hon, going on to stress the importance of adequately training technicians to service R290 equipment in order to overcome persisting safety concerns regarding flammability.
“We’ve worked with all of our major contract service agents to make sure that they are trained to work with flammable refrigerants,” he added.
Training technicians holds key to overcoming safety concerns
“As hydrocarbons are flammable refrigerants, it is essential to evaluate the acceptable level of risk by assessing the probability of an incident,” said Johari Gregorio, senior technical support specialist at Embraco, adding: “Safety concerns in using hydrocarbons can be mitigated by carefully measuring the refrigerant charge and ensuring that only original spare parts are used to replace components.”
Gregorio pointed out that if service technicians are properly trained to handle hydrocarbons, then the probability of problems like refrigerant leakage is greatly reduced.
Safety can be assured by always conducting risk assessments, creating safe zones free of sources of ignition, installing fire extinguishers, monitoring the area with hydrocarbon detectors, and ensuring that service technicians always use recovery machines specifically designed for hydrocarbons, he said.
“The technicians handling R290 have the responsibility to keep themselves informed of the risks involved and the necessary precautions to take,” said Arthur Miller, Region 2 Director at RSES, a leading education, training and certification preparation organisation for HVAC&R professionals.
He stressed the importance for users to read and re-read information to ensure that they are educated in the safe use of their equipment. Meanwhile the EPA states that “only technicians specifically trained in handling flammable refrigerants should service these systems”.
Miller stressed the importance of safe handling and storage, particularly the respect of maximum storage temperatures. “Safety control measures for R290 include ventilation, ignition sources, and bonding and earthing. It’s about getting informed and staying informed,” he said, adding that RSES is currently the only independent organisation to offer a hydrocarbon training programme.
“Is pumping gas into your car safe? Is cooking with propane under your camping grill safe?” Miller asked rhetorically. “The answer is of course yes, if you keep yourself informed. It is also safe to service and use hydrocarbon equipment.”
Understanding the ignition triangle
Accidents can be avoided by understanding the so-called ignition triangle: keep heat, oxygen and fuel separate from one another, said Craig Roy, service manager at Galileo T.P.
With an increasing number of customers adopting hydrocarbons, good leak detection equipment is imperative, Roy argued. He said that Galileo T.P. supplies the safest hydrocarbon charging equipment and accessories in the market.
“Galileo T.P. provides assistance during all phases of the installation and certification process including insurance companies’ approval, field evaluations and submittal of all documents to the Fire Marshal” said Roy.
The session concluded with a comment from Augustin Sanchez Guevara, national coordinator in the Government of Mexico’s Ozone Protection Unit, who said that a lack of trained technicians represents a major barrier to wider uptake of hydrocarbons in Mexico.
Moreover, he warned that some technicians in Mexico are working with hydrocarbons without having been trained to do so, increasing the chances of an accident.
To read more coverage from ATMOsphere America, please click here.