The refrigerants are safe to use with well-trained staff and specialised equipment.
Hydrocarbons have gained in popularity due to their favourable thermodynamic properties and low global warming potential (GWP). However, these refrigerants are flammable, so hydrocarbon safety is crucial. But with the proper equipment and handling, they are safe to use.
According to GIZ, many concerns about posed hydrocarbon refrigerants are based on misconceptions.
It points out that three ingredients are needed for a fire: a flammable substance at the right concentration, oxygen or air, and an ignition source. A concentration in the air that is too high can suffice to create an ignition. However, two of the ingredients should be eliminated to maximise safety.
For example, hydrocarbons need to be concealed and where they could leak, ventilation is required. Also, ignition sources need to be eliminated and hot surfaces or sparks are to be avoided close to the system.
“Once developing countries start to adopt the use of HC as refrigerants, authorities and enterprises as well as individual technicians and engineers will find some barriers to their implementation. Many of these are related to a lack of information and misperceptions about the flammability issue leading to fear and reluctance.” — GIZ
Arthur Miller, an RSES trainer from KAM Associates, noted that hydrocarbons cannot be used as drop-in replacements. They need specialised equipment that is hermetically sealed and designed to prevent sparks. The installation should also be ventilated to allow free movement of air. He urges every technician not to work with a system where the labels of the refrigerant and the compressor do not match.
“Don’t continue with something that is not right.” — Arthur Miller, KAM Associates
Miller also emphasises the importance of training to increase hydrocarbon safety. Lack of training and subsequently too little knowledge about the properties of the refrigerants are amongst the main reasons for accidents, in his opinion. The EPA does not require training for technicians to use hydrocarbons, but recommends it. A thorough consideration of the hazards is crucial to improve safety. GIZ also recommends involving all personnel in the safety policy.
How can all these issues be addressed? End users need to buy specialised equipment and personnel have to be well trained on how to use it. In the companies and products section you can find this equipment for hydrocarbons. Some manufacturers also offer training. shecco, publisher of this website, published the Guide to Natural Refrigerant Training in Europe. In Europe, 38% of training providers offer it for free.
“Surprisingly, over a third of the respondents said they offer their course free of charge.” — Guide to Natural Refrigerant Training in Europe
To find out more about hydrocarbon safety, read the articles below:
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