Now that the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) has increased the charge limit for hydrocarbons to 500 g from 150 g for commercial display cases, how will the U.S. food retail market react?

Gary Cooper, director of refrigeration for Lowe’s Markets, a Texas-based grocery chain, sees the new global standard “opening up the market considerably” and making it easier for R290 [propane] “to get a foothold, especially on the medium-temperature side. There will be lots of opportunity, even with open cabinets.”

Cooper has experience with R290, having installed 35 R290 condensing units atop a Lubbock, Texas, store’s 88-door freezer units in 2015. A glycol loop is used to remove heat from the condensing units. The system runs well, but a 500-g charge would enable him to use fewer condensing units and cut costs, he noted.

Richard Gilles, senior product leader – distributed solutions for OEM Hussmann said the charge-limit increase “will help the industry uptake on hydrocarbons as the country regulations are changed.” Hussmann, which supplied Lowe’s with its R290 equipment, last year introduced a line of R290 cases called MicroDS.

Attendees at the ATMOsphere Australia conference had a similar reaction upon hearing news about the higher charge limit.

On May 9, IEC announced its approval of the 500-g limit for hydrocarbons – as well as a rise in the charge limit for A2 and A2L (low flammable) refrigerants to 1,200 g from 150 g – in self-contained commercial refrigeration cabinets under IEC standard 60335-2-89.

The approval came as a result of a surprising recount of voting by the IEC National Committees that reversed the IEC’s initial rejection of the charge increases on April 12. The reversal resulted from a procedural error in the vote cast by Malaysia.

“Getting the fire marshals on board is key.”

Gary Cooper, Lowe’s Markets

IEC standards serve as a guide by which individual countries can adopt their own standards. In the U.S., bodies like Underwriters Laboratories (UL), ASHRAE and EPA would have to approve a charge-limit increase, and code bodies would have to adopt the increase, before 500-g condensing units could be installed in the marketplace.

 “The IEC decision will help provide cover and support for a U.S. increase,” said Gilles. But “wide adoption would only be possible with federal building code support, which has the next revision in 2024.”

Even then, local fire marshals would have to weigh in before a permit could be granted. “Fire marshals can be problematic,” said Cooper. At his Lubbock store, he had to “jump through some hoops” to get approval for the R290 units. “But they were a lot more comfortable once it was up and running” and saw the units could be safely operated.

Added Cooper: “Getting the fire marshals on board is key.” That should be easier now that there are more R290 self-contained cases in the marketplace, he said.

In the U.S., there has been talk that standards bodies may only approve a charge-limit increase to 300 g for hydrocarbons in commercial cases.

“It may be that ASHRAE and UL take a more conservative approach and have no increase, or 300g, or some other variation based on closed versus open case designs,” said Gilles.

Cooper believes that 500 g “would give us more flexibility than 300 grams” with compressor size and the number of condensing units that would be required.

But Cooper acknowledged that the 500-g limit may require some design changes to prevent an R290 leak from accumulating inside a closed unit. “There will probably be best-practice revisions on how to handle it,” he said.

Still, Cooper sees “nothing but good” coming out of the charge limit increase. “The sooner it gets traction in the U.S., the sooner we can start sinking our teeth into it and seeing what we can get out of it.”

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