4277940_mWith Daikin well advanced in the development of air conditioning units running on R32 and others not far behind, the introduction of split air conditioners with this low GWP “mildly flammable” refrigerant seems inevitable. While information from the Far East is sparse, there is another country preparing for R32 units – Australia. 

Daikin units running on R32 are expected in Europe this month following their introduction in Japan 12 months ago and in India early this year. Mitsubishi Electric introduced R32 splits in Japan two months ago and Panasonic and Hitachi made similar moves this month. If the Daikin units prove successful in Europe, and there’s nothing to suggest they won’t, it seems likely the other manufacturers will shortly follow.

In fact, in the drive towards low (or lower) GWP refrigerants the continued long-term use of R410A with its GWP of 2088 looks decidedly shaky. Added to that, it seems incongruous that the developing countries currently undergoing the transition away from R22 would move to R410A when that refrigerant’s long-term future appears uncertain.

R32‘s characteristics have been well documented: a much lower GWP than R410A (675 versus 2090); a potential refrigerating effect 1.5 times better than R410A; lower pressure losses for the same capacity; 10% lower liquid density, meaning smaller pipe diameters and up to 30% less refrigerant charge than an equivalent R410A system. The price will also be lower.

But there is that niggling characteristic of R32’s as yet unratified A2L “mild flammability”.

Concerns

The introduction of R32 is not without concerns amongst the contracting fraternity, most of whom have had no previous experience of working with flammable refrigerants. There are concerns also about availability of service equipment and possible affects of flammability issues on insurance premiums. The Australian air conditioning industry is experiencing similar concerns. Japanese manufacturer Fujitsu introduced three ranges of R32 wall-mounted splits at the end of September and Daikin is also said to be introducing R32 units into Australia in coming months.

Australia is thought to have been targeted as a good testbed for R32 units due to its experience with hydrocarbons but the move has not been without criticism from those concerned about the health and safety implications of working with flammables.

It would appear that Australia shares many of Europe’s concerns but so far the major problem seems to be the lack of compliant supply and recovery cylinders.

Supply problem

Australians are expecting a lag between the introduction of R32 pre-charged equipment and the supply of R32, largely due to a lack of cylinders meeting the increased pressure requirements. The fact that Australia’s refrigerant supply chain, like those in Europe, is largely geared to the supply of non-flammable, non-toxic refrigerants is also said to be impacting supply.

“The pressure rating on the cylinders we currently use for R410A is just below the rating required for R32 under our standards,” Stephen Smith, head teacher for refrigeration and air conditioning trades at the NSW Technical and Further Education Commission (TAFE NSW), told the Cooling Post.

According to Kevin Lee, global technical manager for refrigerant supplier Heatcraft Australia, the speed at which R32 has been adopted by the major Japanese and Chinese based manufacturers has surprised many in the Australian refrigerant supply chain.

Interviewed by HVAC&R Nation, the magazine of the Australian Institute of Refrigeration, Air conditioning and Heating (AIRAH), he said “Daikin released R32 on only four models of mini-splits in the Japanese market last November. Today they have more than 50 models released on R32.

“China has also geared up very quickly on R32, as it has received government endorsement as the replacement for R22 in the Chinese domestic market.”

Insurance

Insurance has not been an issue so far in Australia. Stephen Smith told the Cooling Post that the possibility of increased insurance premiums had been one of his concerns ever since the introduction of hydrocarbons in his country but so far they had been unfounded.

“I am not aware of any premium changes being exerted by insurance companies due to the handling, storing or ownership of systems charged with any of the HCs to date,” he told the Cooling Post.

“I’ll also add that I wasn’t expecting a change for mechanics/technicians as they already work with flammable substances (ie acetylene, MAPP gas, propane etc) but I was expecting a ‘hit’ on the owners of refrigeration and air conditioning systems.”

However, attention must be paid to storage and transportation due to the flammability of R32. Heatcraft’s Kevin Lee told the HVAC&R Nation: “Warehouse facilities, storage requirements and handling procedures must all be reviewed and/or revised.”

R32 comes under Australia’s Dangerous Goods Code for transport and storage and Kevin Lee confirmed that Heatcraft was currently reviewing its branch refrigerant storage facilities and procedures. It was considering a roll-out of R32 in a limited number of strategically located branches within the next couple of months.

Apart from a general sparsity of recovery equipment, tooling is not considered to be a major problem. “The technicians that have been actively engaged with the HCs have already put into place the necessary safety procedures to isolate any electrical tools (eg. vacuum pumps) and R32 runs very close to the pressures for R410A so those already working with this refrigerant will not need to purchase any additional tools,” said Stephen Smith.

Fujitsu R32

Fujitsu’s new KM and CM series introduced into Australia run on R32

One-use coupling

As perhaps an indication of future direction, Peter Cashel, Fujitsu General Australia’s national product manager, told HVAC&R Nation: “I don’t believe that Fujitsu will be completing any major new development on R410A refrigerants in wall-mounted air conditioners, and will look to use R32 where suitable in future models.”

Interestingly, Fujitsu has developed a “one use” mechanical coupling that is supplied with their R32 units. This device is designed to prevent untrained individuals from disconnecting the pipework and eliminates the need to perform any hot work on the interconnecting pipe.

“The fitting was developed by Fujitsu, I believe, and is designed for one use only,” Stephen Smith revealed. “Once the joint is tightened, it cannot be separated without the aid of a separate mechanism that is only being made available to technicians.”

Training is also being given a priority. Since the release of its R32-charged splits in September, Fujitsu has trained more than 1,700 technicians across Australia. Daikin is also looking at training prior to launch and the  Australian Refrigeration Equipment Manufacturers Association (AREMA) and National Electrotechnology Industry Skills Council are also in discussions with a training centre to produce a training manual and national course specifically aimed at the introduction of the new range of A2L refrigerants.

The UK’s Institute of Refrigeration through its Air Conditioning & Heat Pump Institute has produced useful guidance on the use of R32 and the relevant European standards. It can be downloaded here