How Will The R-404a Phase Out Affect Commercial Refrigeration?

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The R-404a phase out is effecting the majority of commercial refrigeration in restaurants, supermarkets, food production, hospitals and many more businesses through the UK.  To help others understand this complex issue, we have compiled the following Q&A. If the R-404a phase out is likely to impact on your business, please contact our team for further advice.

What is R-404a?

R-404a is refrigerant that has been widely used across Europe for commercial refrigeration since the mid-1990s. In the past it has been a very effective replacement to CFC-502, R12 and R22, which were banned for their Global Warming Potential (GWP).

R-404a is now suffering the same fate of its predecessors, as it has also been found to have a high GWP. This popular refrigerant is currently being phased out from use in all commercial refrigeration.

Those most effected by the phase out include the hospitality, supermarkets, retail, food processing, education and healthcare sectors.

Other refrigerants being phased out at the same time are, R-507A and R-422A (MO79), which were also substitutes for R22 or R502. However, the R-404a phase is the most significant, due its wide-spread usage in commercial refrigeration.

Where is R-404a used?

The refrigerant, R-404a is widely used across the UK and Europe in commercial refrigeration systems. It is the predominant refrigerant used by supermarkets and within the hospitality sector.

Despite not being the most effective refrigerant on the market, R-404a has been used for many years. It was a refrigerant that was readily available and posed the ideal replacement for other banned refrigerants, including CFC-502, R12 and R22.

Due to it long term usage, the R-404a has become the dominant refrigerant for chilling and freezing applications in supermarkets, food production, leisure, healthcare and hospitality sectors.

Why is R-404a refrigerant being phased out in commercial refrigeration?

While R-404a has eased the transition from R502, R12 and R22, it has been deemed to have a high global warming potential (GWP) of 3,992. To put this into perspective, R-404a traps 3,992 times as much heat per kilogram as carbon dioxide does in 100 years.

HFC refrigerants are constantly under scrutiny, as they are rapidly accumulating in the earth’s atmosphere. The accumulation of HFC gases is changing the balance of the energy from the sun entering the Earth’s climate and the energy escaping the Earth back into space.

R-404a is made up of several HFCs and within the mix are HFCs that have been reported to represent a very strong global warming impact per kilogram. As a result, the popular refrigerant has been listed by the U.S. Environmental Agency (EPA) under it’s Significant New Alternatives Policy (SNAP) as an “unacceptable” refrigerant. It is therefore being phased out rapidly in all commercial refrigeration.

What affect will the R-404a phase out have on commercial refrigeration systems in 2018?

    1. In the first instance, prices of R-404a increased by 300% month on month in 2017. The cost of an 11kg bottle of R-404a increased by 127% between November 2016 and November 2017.  This is a cost that is not sustainable by most commercial refrigeration maintenance companies or the businesses they serve.
    2. On 31 December 2019, the use if R-404a in a service application will be banned. This will impact heavily on the hospitality sector, which predominantly uses the gas in its commercial refrigeration applications. It also poses a limited period to retrofit refrigeration systems with alternative equipment that can support an alternative refrigerant.
    3. All new cooling and refrigeration systems that support R-404a will no longer be available from 1st January 2020. Therefore throughout 2018 and 2019, the refrigeration systems running on R-404a will need to be replaced or support a retrofit alternative refrigerant.
    4. FGas regulations stipulate a 37% cut in use of refrigerants with a GWP of over 2,500. In actual fact when you factor in the pre-charged imports this makes the cut equivalent to 48%

Will Brexit affect the phase out of R-404a in the UK?

In short, no. The phase out of R-404a is a global directive for Fluorinated Refrigerant Gas (FGas) regulations. Although it originated from Brussels and was driven by the European Commission, it was transposed directly into UK law and this will not change when Brexit is set to commence in 2019. It would require Westminster to repeal its own law for FGas regulations to change. As a result, UK air conditioning and refrigeration contractors will continue to operate according FGas regulations. Refcom certification will not be affected.

What do the latest F-Gas regulations say about the R-404a phase out?

 FGas regulations stipulate a 37% cut in refrigerants above 2500 GWP by 2018. Add in the pre-charged imports, this is the equivalent to 48%.

By 2020 all refrigerants higher than 2500 GWP will be banned in new stationary refrigeration equipment and a service ban will be introduced on all systems with a charge size of more than 40 tons CO2 equivalent (approx. 10kg).

Is R-404a used in all commercial refrigeration applications?

 R-404a is the predominant refrigerant used in commercial refrigeration the UK and Europe. Therefore, it is likely that a business that operates commercial refrigeration uses R-404a.

 Who does the R-404a phase out affect?

Due to it’s wide spread popularity over a long period of time, the R-404a phase out effects the majority of businesses with commercial kitchen and those that operate the following commercial refrigeration equipment:

  • Walk-in cold rooms
  • Blast chillers
  • Display units
  • Fridges
  • Freezers
  • Wine coolers
  • Ice machines
  • Medical fridges
  • Vending machines

The type of businesses affected by the R-404a phase out include:

  • Restaurants
  • Hotels
  • Supermarkets
  • Take away restaurants
  • Shops
  • Cafes
  • Coffee shops
  • Pubs
  • Bars
  • Food production facilities
  • Food storage facilities
  • Schools
  • Universities
  • Workplace canteens
  • Cooking schools
  • Catering companies
  • Science laboratories
  • Pharmaceuticals
  • Nursing homes
  • Hospices
  • Hospitals
  • Doctor surgeries
  • Surgical practitioners
  • Shopping centres
  • Airports
  • Gyms
  • Leisure facilities
  • Spas
  • Funeral parlours

What is the best alternative to R-404a?

Unlike when R-404a was introduced as the alternative to R22 R502 and R12, there is not one single refrigerant that is suitable for the majority of commercial refrigerant applications.

It is, however, likely there is a suitable “drop in” alternative, it just depends on the system itself. The downside is these alternative refrigerants can often be expensive (although not as costly as R-404a) and the system may need to be significantly altered to accept the new refrigerant.

Some suitable alternative refrigerants to R-404a applications are:

  • R-449B
  • R-449A
  • R-448A

All have a low GWP of around 1300 and are A1 safety rated, meaning they are non-flammable and non-toxic.SNAP has listed these refrigerants as acceptable for:

  • New and retrofit commercial ice machines
  • Remote condensing units
  • Refrigerated transport
  • Retail food refrigeration
  • Refrigerated food processing and dispensing equipment
  • Retail food refrigeration-low-temperature stand-alone equipment
  • New and retrofit R-22 and R-404A commercial refrigeration supermarket systems
  • Retail food refrigeration

I have commercial refrigeration running on R-404a, what do I need to do?

 Your refrigeration system could run perfectly well for years to come on R-404a. You will only experience the effect of the R-404a phase out if a top up of the refrigerant is required. For example, a leak in the system, breakdown or service. At this point, the system may need:

    • An alternative “drop in” refrigerant
    • To be retrofit to accommodate an alternative refrigerant
    • A new system all-together

 What is the long-term solution?

The rules and regulations surrounding HFC gases are constantly under investigation. While a “drop in” refrigerant could be the solution in the short term, if the system needs extensive work to accommodate a new refrigerant, you may need to consider a whole new system that operates on a highly efficient refrigerant that is likely to withstand the test of time….for a little longer at least!

Synecore’s Planned Preventative Maintenance customers will be informed on changes in regulations during their scheduled maintenance visit. Depending on the system in place, we will advise on the best solution for you.

If you are new to Synecore and would like more information about out Planned Preventative Maintenance (PPM) scheme for commercial refrigeration in London, Kent and the wider UK, please click here for more information. We also offer PPM for commercial air conditioning systems nationwide. Contact our service department for more information.

How do I prepare for the R-404a phase out?

Initially, you need to decipher if your system runs on R-404a. The best solution is to arrange for an engineer to access your system. They can advise:

  1. If there is a simple alternative drop in refrigerant available for your system
  2. If any work needs to be done to the system to accommodate a new refrigerant
  3. If there is an alternative, more cost-effective solution available

To book a Synecore engineer to carry out a full assessment of your commercial refrigeration, call 0845 4953 241 or email service@synecore.co.uk.

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