When it comes to natural refrigerants, Japan has been decidedly in the CO2 and ammonia camps, while casting a wary eye on hydrocarbons.

This year, its National Committee in the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) submitted one of eight negative votes on the question of whether to raise the charge limit for hydrocarbon refrigerants to 500g (17.6oz) from 150g (5.3oz) in self-contained commercial refrigeration cabinets under IEC standard 60335-2-89. Enough positive votes enabled the IEC to approve the increase in May.

But Japan is still open to the use of hydrocarbon refrigerants, as long as strict safety measures are in place. Japanese organizations are continuing to run safety tests and update a safety guideline to enable the safe and steady spread of hydrocarbon solutions in the country.

Japan was not opposed to the IEC’s 500g (17.6oz) charge proposal itself, just the current safety standards, which it felt were not discussed enough, explained Kazuhiro Hasegawa, a member of the Engineering Department of the Japan Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Industry Association (JRAIA), in an interview with Accelerate Japan (sister publication to Accelerate Magazine).

“Japan voted against it, even though we knew the proposal would be approved, as an expression of warning against proceeding without clear safety standards,” said Hasegawa. “We wanted to share the important message that we want to spread hydrocarbon technology safely and reliably.”

“If any accidents happen under this international standard with 500g,” he added, “we would need to revise the law which limits hydrocarbons use.”

Creating a Guideline

JRAIA has been proceeding with a risk assessment for A2L and A3 refrigerants in collaboration with industry, government, and academia to ensure that safety is taken into consideration.

In an earlier project in 2016-2017 called the “Evaluation of Performance and Safety of Low-GWP Refrigerants,” the New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organization (NEDO), evaluated the safety of hydrocarbon refrigerants in cooperation with multiple universities. The study concluded that no major accidents were found if the charge limit was within 150g of the refrigerant charge, which was the international standard at the time.

NEDO’s latest project – the “Development of the Optimization and Evaluation Methods for Next-Generation Refrigeration and Air-conditioning Technology that can Achieve Energy Savings and Low GWPs” – began last year and will continue to 2022. For this, NEDO is collecting data from simulations and experiments with hydrocarbon refrigerant leaks to review risks and other factors.

A draft guideline from the project has already been completed, said Yoshihisa Sakamoto, Chief of Built-in Refrigerated Display Cabinet Risk Assessment Working Group (WG) 3, as well as Product Engineer of Japanese OEM Sanden Retail Systems Corporation.

The final guideline will comprise not only information on the safe use of hydro- carbons but also contents on the entire refrigerant life cycle, including a manual for disposal procedures; it will be issued by March 2020, Sakamoto added.

JRAIA believes that hydrocarbons in small- sized refrigeration equipment will dominate, said Hasegawa. “I think that hydrocarbon technology will become a main option in Japan. The advantages of hydrocarbons in small equipment have been proven in the market.”

While imported hydrocarbon showcases have started to be installed in Japanese stores, hydrocarbon use has been clouded by end user’s concerns about safety. But Sakamoto believes that the upcoming hydrocarbon safe-use guideline will serve as a  tailwind for the market penetration of hydrocarbon systems in Japan in the future.

“Japan voted against it, even though we knew the proposal would be approved, as an expression of warning against proceeding without clear safety standards,”

Kazuhiro Hasegawa, JRAIA

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Author Tomoro Sato