Higher charge limits for hydrocarbon in commercial cabinets are moving very slowly toward final adoption in the U.S. and Europe
That’s the assessment of Marek Zgliczynski, R&D Director at Nidec Global Appliance, a producer of refrigeration compressors, condensing units and other components for the appliances and HVAC industries. Zgliczynski is also Chairman of the IEC (International Electrotechnical Commission)/SC61C subcommittee for refrigeration product safety standardization.
It was the IEC SC61C subcommittee that got the ball rolling in 2019 with the publication of IEC 60335-2-89, third edition; this raised the charge limit for A3 (flammable) refrigerants in all self-contained commercial cases to 13 times LFL (lower flammability limit) or about 500g for propane (R290).
The IEC’s standard is the global model used to guide regional bodies, and since 2019 many countries, like Brazil, for example, have adopted the higher charge limits for hydrocarbons. The Australia/New Zealand version of the -89 standard was published in 2020, and the Japanese JIS standard in 2021. However, manufacturers of hydrocarbon-based cabinets are “waiting for the U.S. and Europe to approve it” before fully implementing new equipment with large charge sizes, said Zgliczynski.
In North America, initial approval came last October when UL (Underwriters Laboratories) announced the second edition of the UL 60335-2-89 standard, which includes higher charge limits for hydrocarbon and A2L (less flammable) refrigerants.
The new UL standard raises the charge limit in commercial plug-in display cases to 13 times the LFL (lower flammability limit) of a refrigerant – or about 500g for propane (R290) – but only for open appliances (without doors). It raises the charge limit for closed appliances with doors and/or drawers to eight times the LFL of the flammable refrigerant (300g for R290). The prior limit for flammable refrigerants in commercial cases – used in millions of installed cases globally – was 150g.
However, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency still needs to adopt these higher charge limits in SNAP (Significant New Alternatives Program) before they can be implemented in the U.S. According to the EPA website, the agency’s regulatory agenda expects a proposed rule that would address the higher charge levels to come out this June but not be finalized until July 2023.
“EPA’s Significant New Alternatives Policy (SNAP) program is aware of the recent publication of UL 60335-2-89 standard, Edition 2 on October 27, 2021,” said Enesta Jones, an EPA spokesperson. “We are reviewing that standard as a first step in revisiting the existing requirements for propane and other flammable refrigerants for retail food refrigeration equipment.”
Other related developments are also in progress. For example, ASHRAE is soon expected to incorporate the new UL 60335-2-89 standard in its ASHRAE-15 application safety standard, Zgliczynski noted. The ASHRAE-1 standard is then expected to be included in 2024 updates of model building codes, and then adopted by local and state building codes.
However, adoption by model and building codes would not be required for manufacturers to start making and marketing equipment with higher hydrocarbon charges, noted Christina Starr, Senior Policy Analyst, Climate Campaign, for the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA). “I think the primary barrier to market adoption is UL and EPA approval.”
Meanwhile, CENELEC, which is responsible for publishing European (EN) standards, is close to finalizing the 500g charge limit for hydrocarbons in commercial cabinets under EN 600335-2-89. “Europe is the last one,” said Zgliczynski.
In fact, a proposed draft of the updated EN 600335-2-89 standard already received a positive vote in 2021, and is expected to be published by mid-2022, Zgliczynski said. Once published, the standard must then be included in the list of harmonized standards with the EU Machine Directive (MD) before it can be used as a reference by industry. He expects that to happen by the end of 2022.
In the EU, another standard, EN 378 allows hydrocarbon charges up to 1.5kg in display cabinets, but only on a case by case basis.
Impact on market
A higher charge limit for R290 in commercial cases has long been considered a way to increase adoption of hydrocarbon equipment in supermarkets; this is particularly aimed at larger cabinets that currently use multiple circuits to compensate for the 150g charge limit. Commercial ice machines will also benefit from being able to use a larger charge of hydrocarbons.
However, the commercial cabinet industry has already been able to install millions of hydrocarbon cabinets in stores around the world using the 150g charge limit. “The market is already well-served by what we are producing today,” said Zgliczynski. “With 150g, the majority of self-contained cabinets are covered.”
Manufacturers of large cabinets will be able to use a single circuit with the larger charge rather than multiple circuits. However, the larger charge is contingent on an appliance being constructed to prevent a flammable refrigerant concentration to surround the appliance in case of a leak, as verified by the “Annex CC” test.
As a result, some manufacturers prefer the multiple-circuits approach instead of a higher hydrocarbon charge in one circuit, said Zgliczynski.
Manufacturers are “waiting for the U.S. and Europe to approve [higher hydrocarbon charges].”Marek Zgliczynski, Nidec Global Appliance
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