17 April 2018

No Need to Panic with R404A

A-Gas Commercial Director Enzo D’Alessio says there is a way forward if you haven’t yet switched to a low GWP alternative.

Let me begin by reassuring you that R404A is still available for installers and end users. The recent pressure on high GWP refrigerants, such as R404A, has been immense due to this year’s phasedowns under the F-Gas Regulations. R404A, with a GWP of just under 4000, has been particularly hard hit and this year’s 37% cut in the quota – 44% if you include pre-charged requirement – for the production of virgin gases has taken its toll.

The good news is that last year’s aggressive price hikes for high GWP refrigerants appear to have ended and the market has to some extent now stabilised. The supply of virgin high GWP refrigerants has decreased and refrigerant reclamation is playing a key role in this shift of emphasis. Under the quota system, the availability of recovered gases is having a significant effect on supplies to the market as reclaimed refrigerant is quota exempt.

A-Gas has invested heavily in its reclamation and recovery facilities over the years and this has been reflected by the recent addition of a new high capacity gas separator in Portbury. In the reclamation process, we use distillation technology to separate refrigerants of different boiling points. Once a gas leaves the separator, it is sampled, certified to the meet the AHRI 700 standard and re-supplied to the market outside of the quota system. This source of supply is reassuring for users who are yet to make the switch to a low GWP refrigerant.

I am pleased to report that a steady stream of R404A continues to make its way back to A-Gas as installers and end-users are making the switch to lower GWP gases. That said, market behaviour around reclaiming product appears to have changed, with users now keeping hold of recovered refrigerant that they would have otherwise returned. There are strict guidelines governing this and the reclaimed gas can only be used on the same premises and only once it has gone through a basic cleaning process.

I am pleased to report that we are selling less R404A than we did a year ago. The message about the importance of switching to lower GWP refrigerants has been taken on board by many users and this has been reflected in the marketplace. An achievement we as an industry should be proud of.

What will happen to the use and price of R404A is anyone’s guess. Yes, you do need to switch, but if you haven’t done so yet we are confident that your service and maintenance needs will continue to be covered for the foreseeable future.

For those looking to change, there are several suitable retrofit refrigerants for R404A available but Opteon XP40 (R449A) and Solstice N40 (R448A) are the ones that can really make a difference. They are currently the lowest GWP replacements (around 1400) and are closely matched to R404A in terms of refrigeration capacity. What’s more, the gap between the cost of R404A and its low GWP alternatives is narrowing in the industry.

Another refrigerant feeling the pressure as a result of the phasedowns is R410A which is widely used in air conditioning systems. There have been significant cuts in the quota for virgin R410A and this has had an effect on availability – especially as the refrigerant used in pre-charged equipment is to be taken from the quota allowance.

I suspect that there may be further prices rises ahead for R410A. The good news is that as far as the mildly-flammable A2L replacements like R32 are concerned, they are being seen as a viable alternative for new equipment, although use in retrofitting has been slower as A2Ls are far from being drop-ins and a different approach is needed by the contractor.

As an industry, we are working hard to meet the F-Gas challenge. We are moving away from high GWP refrigerants and opting for lower GWP alternatives. We are making good progress in our use of A2Ls and these refrigerants have the potential to make a real impact on the industry and ease the pressure on contractors as the step-downs get steeper.

New refrigerants will continue to emerge to offer solutions for the installer and the end-user. It is no doubt a time of change and it is important that we stay open-minded to what may develop as we make the switch from high GWP gases to their low GWP alternatives.