No such thing as a 'drop-in refrigerant'
Are retrofill or so-called 'Drop-in' Refrigerants really a solution or a problem in the making? With effect from 1st January 2010 it became illegal throughout Europe to use virgin HCFC R22 refrigerant for air conditioning, heat pump or refrigeration equipment service and maintenance purposes.
Until 31st December 2014 only recycled or reclaimed HCFC R22 can be used, after which time it will be banned completely.
Refrigerant suppliers have made it clear that recycled and reclaimed R22 will be in seriously short supply, with some estimates put at only 10% of previous, un-restricted demand. This poses a real problem for anyone still operating equipment designed to use R22, particularly if a fault occurs that necessitates replacing the refrigerant charge.
It has been suggested that such equipment can accept retrofill or 'drop-in' alternatives to R22. Whilst, to some extent, this may be the case, the practice has many disadvantages, not least of which is the risk of premature equipment failure. So what at first may appear to offer a quick fix, cost effective and practical alternative to R22 could in fact be a big mistake and not worth the risk or expense.
It must be understood that to charge equipment with any refrigerant, other than that it was designed to use, is not as straightforward as it may sound. It involves essential and in some cases costly engineering modifications, so the term 'drop-in' is extremely misleading.
- Even if the work is done and an alternative refrigerant used, the equipment will not operate as designed but will suffer capacity or efficiency reductions or both. This has been proven in tests carried out by Daikin.
- Environmentally, retrofilling is undesirable compared to replacing the equipment as, in many cases older equipment contains a significantly higher refrigerant charge and therefore has a greater global warming potential than new systems.
- Daikin (one of the worlds largest manufacturers of refrigerants as well as air conditioning products) will not support the use of alternatives in its equipment and other major manufacturers take a similar stance.
- Most retrofill or 'drop-in' replacement refrigerants are blends that operate at different pressures. Where used a dramatic reduction in operating efficiency and or capacity can be expected, resulting in increased annual running costs and/or poor performance.
- Older equipment has a higher potential for refrigerant leakages, which are expensive to resolve, harmful to the environment and have legal and cost implications under the F-Gas Regulation (EC) 842/2006.
- Where retrofill alternative blends are involved, maintenance issues become a significant cost factor, for example, if any leakage occurs the entire charge must be replaced and there can be further or new legal implications under the PED Directive and BSEN 378 and Building Regulations, that did not apply prior to the equipment modifications.
- The long term effects of retrofilling refrigerants are uncertain, however a major concern is that their use can lead to unexpected component or system failure in equipment that is technically obsolete and therefore difficult to source parts for repair.
- Retrofill or 'drop-in' refrigerants are environmentally undesirable, do nothing to extend the life of equipment already classified as obsolete and serve only to discourage investment in more energy efficient, high performance and reliable new equipment.
To summarise - there is no such thing as a 'drop-in replacement refrigerant' for HCFC R22, essential mechanical modifications and system re-commissioning will be necessary. Whilst retrofilling is a possibility and in some situations can be considered practicable in the short term, technically, economically and environmentally it is not an option recommended by any major equipment manufacturer.