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Could HCFC-22 become a 'Catch 22' for commercial refrigeration users?

Could HCFC-22 Become a |Catch 22' For Commercial Refrigeration Users?

Will commercial refrigeration plants using CFC-12 and CFC-502 have to be converted to HCFC-22, only to be converted once more to some HFC (hydrofluorocarbon) in a few years?

That's the prospect looming for frozen food processors, retail chains and stores and refrigerated warehouses, as pressure mounts for an early phaseout of HCFCs (hydrochlorofluorcarbons) as well as CFCs (chlorofluorocarbons).

Aggravating the problem is the fact that there isn't yet any proven HFC substitute for HCFC-22 in low temperature applications, as opposed to medium temperature applications (home refrigerators, air conditioning, etc.) that can use HFC-134a.

It could easily cost retailers more than $100,000 to convert the average food store to HCFC-22, according to David Kelly, engineering superintendent for Supermarkets General, Woodbridge, N.J., USA. Kelly was one of those addressing a seminar in Newark, N.J., first of a series sponsored by the Alliance for a Responsible CFC Policy.

Multiply that by the 35,000 supermarkets and 110,000 smaller food stores in the United States alone, and you're talking about a conversion cost well into the billions - which retailers will have to pass along to consumers in higher food prices. Nobody seemed to have a figure for conversion of CFC plants for processors and warehouses.

If HCFC-22 is itself later banned, the only candidate to replace it thus far seems to be HFC-125. But that proposed substitute suffers from "three key problems," according to another seminar participant, Theodore Atwood, senior research engineer with Allied Signal, Inc., Buffalo, N.Y., USA, and a life member of the American Society of Heating, Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE).

The problems with HFC-125 include "high greenhouse numbers," a poor operating pressure and efficiency due to low critical temperature, and incompatibility with mineral lubricants. The last problem is really the least, since HFC-125 can be used with the same kind of polyol ester lubricants already proven with HFC-134a (see QFFI, April 1991, page 176), but the others could be political and economic killers.

Although ozone depletion has been the basis for phasing out CFCs and perhaps HCFCs, global warming is becoming an increasingly serious issue. Nobody is going to be enthusiastic about a refrigerant that may contribute to global warming both directly and by making refrigeration systems less efficient and therefore more energy intensive. Atwood said he doesn't know what the answer will be - perhaps a blend.

Under the revised Montreal Protocol of 1990, production of CFCs is to be phased out by the turn of the century. The Protocol includes a non-binding "declaration of intent" to phase out HCFCs by 2040, or even 2020. Amendments to the U.S. Clean Air Act, adopted last year to implement a phase-out of HCFCs by 2030, with a freeze on production and limitations on use to begin in 2015.

There is "no scientific justification" for eliminating HCFCs, which are 85% to 98% less harmful to the ozone layer than CFCs, said David Stirpe, legislative counsel to the Alliance. Such a ban would do more harm than good, he told the seminar, because the two main hold-outs against the Montreal Protocol - India and China - would be encouraged to keep using CFCs, since HCFCs would never become available to them.

Compliance with the Montreal Protocol would reduce chlorine in the atmosphere to two parts per billion - the level it was before the ozone hole opened up over Antarctica - by 2075, Stirpe said. Banning HCFCs wouldn't reduce chlorine levels (now over four parts per billion) any faster - but if India and China continued to develop CFC refrigeration plants as a result, the chlorine level would actually increase to 4.7 parts per billion by around 2030.

Parties to the Montreal Protocol will meet again next June in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, to consider further changes in the phase-out schedule. Thirteen countries are on record already, Stirpe said, for moving up the cut-off date for CFC production to 1997, and U.S. Senator Albert Gore has a bill pending to the same effect. Advancing the cut-off date might make it harder for the refrigeration industry to obtain recycled or reclaimed CFCs for use after new production is banned.

Encouraging the move towards an earlier production cut-off are reports of ozone depletion over the northern latitudes as well as over the poles. William Reilly, administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), announced recently that there had been "significant" ozone losses over the northern latitudes, Stirpe said, and while they have not been absolutely confirmed, the industry is "taking this very seriously" (Nobody, he stressed, denies any longer that CFCs do cause ozone depletion.).

Besides mandating the phase-out of CFCs and HCFCs, the 1990 amendments to the Clean Air Act in the U.S. impose stringent venting and recycling requirements on both. Intentional venting of either during servicing, repair or disposal will be banned as of July 1, 1992. Strict disposal requirements for CFCs will take effect the same date, and for HCFCs Nov. 15, 1995. Also as of the latter date, use and emission of CFCs and HCFCs alike must be reduced to the "lowest achievable level." Only licensed technicians will be allowed to handle disposal, recycling or reclamation.

In yet another Catch 22, the Clean Air Act authorizes the EPA administrator to promulgate rules banning any substitutes for CFCs or HCFCs that are currently or potentially available, that may represent a threat to human health or the environment, or where the administrator has identified some other alternative that reduces the overall risk to human health or the environment. What may be even more burdensome are provisions requiring the labeling of everything made from or with CFCs or HCFCs, as well as containers for storage or transport of same, effective May 15, 1993.

Kelly suggested that conversion from CFCs to HCFC-22 will be especially burdensome to retailers, not only because of the cost, but because the systems are so complicated - the typical supermarket, he said, has five miles of pipes and fittings, often buried in floors or hidden in ceilings. With nothing else proven to be suitable, he added, "HCFC-22 is the only choice we have" to replace CFC-12 or CFC-502, and the Food Marketing Institute (FMI), which represents the food retailing industry, is thus recommending the switch. "We want to leave the HCFCs phase-out at 2030 until an adequate replacement can be found," he said.

Two industry-sponsored efforts are under way to evaluate potential substitute refrigerants, Atwood said. One is the Alternative Fluorocarbon Environmental Impact Study (AFEAS), which looks into ozone depletion, global warming and efficiency issues (AFEAS is supported by 12 major chemical companies around the world.). The other is PAFT (Project for Alternative Fluorocarbon Toxicity), which studies both acute and chronic effects. PAFT I cleared HFC-134a, while PAFT III is still working on HFC-125 (So is AFEAS) - one reason HFC-125 is hard to get right now is that so much of it is being used in tests.

Refrigerant blends (Atwood suggested that a blend of HFC-125 with some other chemical might overcome the problems of straight HFC-125) come in three varieties: azeotropic, in which the boiling points of the constituents are the same; near azeotropic, in which they are close; and simple mixtures, in which the boiling parts are far apart. The simple mixtures, obviously, are the hardest to deal with. Blends can have the advantage of properties tailored to specific applications, and masking the problems of specific chemicals, he said - but also suffer from complex thermodynamics and heat transfer penalties.

Industrial refrigerants must fall within certain parameters of boiling point, critical point and thermodynamic requirements to be any use at all, Atwood pointed out, and there just aren't that many chemicals that qualify. The situation is so tight, he said, that the EPA has come out in favor of re-examining chemicals that are flammable - previously considered "an absolute no-no." Flammability may not be so bad, if the risk level is acceptable, the EPA seems to feel. That might open the way for methyl chloride, propane, butane and various ether-derived compounds; but nobody seems to be taking them very seriously yet.
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Title Annotation:includes related articles; hydrochlorofluorocarbons
Author:Pierce, J.J.
Publication:Quick Frozen Foods International
Date:Jul 1, 1991
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