The F-Gas Regulations might not initially seem all that relevant to many UK builds and refurbs. After the summer we’ve had – where the sunny days only seemed to last until some time in July – you’d be forgiven for thinking that air conditioning isn’t really a big concern for our temperate isle.
But a recent report from BRE found that in 2012 65% of the UK’s offices and 30% of its retail space was air conditioned, and there’s evidence that around 10% of our electricity consumption is due to air conditioning. If you also take into account the work of energy economist Lucas Davis at the University of California in Berkeley (who estimates that most developed countries will have air con in all homes and workplaces within 20 years), it’s no surprise that efficiency is very much a hot topic.
It’s not the only one, either. With some refrigerant gases being phased out under the 2014 EU F-Gas Regulations, to reduce F-Gas emissions by 79% by 2030 by cutting the availability of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) with a high Global Warming Potential (GWP), finding new and efficient alternatives has become one of the industry’s biggest challenges.
Researchers at the US National Institute of Standards and Technology looked at 60 million chemicals to find a suitable replacement for the widely used R410A – soon to be phased out under the F-Gas Regulations – and found just 27 ‘suitably efficient’ options, all of which were flammable to an extent. Disappointingly, they didn’t find a single solution which met optimal efficiency and safety requirements.
F-Gas-Regulations-compliant R32 looks set to be the industry’s choice, with many manufacturers developing systems that use this refrigerant. It already makes up 50% of R410A, which is widely used – especially for small single-split systems of less than 3kg charge. R32 has a GWP of 675 (below the F-Gas Directive limit of 750 GWP, and just a third of the GWP of R410A), plus it can deliver the same performance as R410A with a 30% smaller refrigerant charge.
It certainly looks like the benefits will outweigh the risks. The Toshiba director and general manager David Dunn has recently been quoted in the CIBSE Journal, saying that R32 “is slightly flammable under certain specific conditions,” but that “it is widely accepted within the industry that – as long as good practice is followed – any risks are exceptionally small and can be managed.” Naturally, installers and service engineers will have to ensure that R32 is handled as a flammable liquid, and that both air conditioning units and tools are suitable for use with this particular refrigerant.