UL: HFC phase-down driving revision of flammable refrigerant standards

As part of the UL Flammable Refrigerants Webinar Series, the U.S. safety body provided an overview of codes and standards activities that are currently being revised to meet regulatory obligations.

The revision of flammable refrigerant standards is being driven by the global HFC phase-down, according to participants in the UL – a U.S. safety body – Flammable Refrigerants Webinar Series on Codes and Standards Activities, held last week (March 29 2017).

“The Montreal Protocol has driven the [U.S.] Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to adopt regulations, which in turn drive UL and ASHRAE standards, which in turn are referenced in the building codes,” said Randall J. Haseman, UL’s Principal Engineer for Refrigeration and Room Air-Conditioning Equipment. 

The U.S. EPA had already listed hydrocarbons as suitable alternatives to HFCs under the Significant Alternatives Policy (SNAP), playing a key role in their adoption in the United States prior to Kigali.

One of the key rules driving the market towards hydrocarbons cited during the webinar is an EPA ruling that R134a is unacceptable for household refrigerators effective from January 1 2021 due to its high global warming potential (GWP).

The rule is already driving manufacturers to start investing in alternative flammable refrigerants, according to Haseman. The ruling cites propane as an alternative for applications like water coolers and icemakers, as well as for domestic refrigeration. 

More reviews in pipeline to meet 2018 deadline 

In the wake of the Kigali Amendment, all these standards and codes must be reviewed again to address the implications of the global HFC phase-down. 

Many of these revisions in standards must be published by the end of 2017, so the ICC and the IAPMO codes can be revised in the next code cycle.
–  Randall J. Haseman, UL

For the U.S. this means, “many of these revisions in standards [for flammable refrigerants] must be published by the end of 2017, so the ICC [the International Code Council] and the IAPMO [the International Association of Plumbing and Mechanical Officials] codes can be revised in the next code cycle,” Haseman said.

Both of these bodies cover the whole of the U.S., bar the states of Maine and Hawaii, and publish updated editions of building codes and standards every three years. The next revision is in 2018.

This date is very important as UL and ASHRAE standards inform the ICC and IAPMO standards and building codes. This is why the UL wants to update the requirements before the 2018 date.

For air conditioning, UL is proposing safety standards that would require flammable refrigerant-based air conditioners to be fitted with leak detection systems, and to either keep their fans switched on all the time, or only once a refrigerant leak has been detected. The proposed standards also cover refrigerant piping requirements, among others.

ASHRAE, another body that sets U.S. standards, is speeding up its normal process of revising standards to meet the 2018 deadline by publishing its next Addendum in 2017 rather than 2018.

As reported by hydrocarbons21.com, the first step in this process was to test hydrocarbon refrigerants with the U.S. Fire Protection Agency.

Brian Rodgers, UL’s Principal Engineer for Heating, Ventilation & Large-Scale Cooling – who also sits on an IEC working group – argued that international standards and UL standards must complement one another more effectively in future.

Charge limits set to move

The International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) working group on household and similar electrical appliances, meanwhile, is currently preparing a draft to change the charge limit on hydrocarbons.

The new limit is expected to change from 150g to 500g; this could shift the market towards bigger, more efficient hydrocarbon cabinets once it is adopted by the full IEC.

Standards from the IEC, a worldwide body that proposes rules governing how to use electrical, electronic and related technologies, influence the development of the market by providing manufacturers and customers with guidelines as to what is safe to use and buy.

Another standard currently being considered by the IEC covers electric heat pumps, air conditioners and de-humidifiers where charge limits were also discussed in Working Group 16 under the IEC
60335-2-40 standard.

We met to [...] possibly increase the charge limit for A2 and A3 refrigerants.
Brian Rodgers, UL 

“We met to [...] possibly increase the charge limit for A2 and A3 refrigerants,” Rodgers said.

A3 refrigerants are classed as flammable and typically refer to hydrocarbon refrigerants like propane. The next meeting to review this will take place in June, after which the UL will “possibly add it to the UL standard,” Rodgers said.

New UL standards for A3 refrigerants, which increase the maximum permitted equipment charge in commercial and household refrigerators to 150g, were confirmed during the webinar.

By Charlotte McLaughlin

Apr 04, 2017, 10:24

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