EIA-GatewayUK: Environmental group the EIA has called for a rethink on worldwide safety standards in order to ease the transition to low GWP “natural” refrigerants.

In its Pathway to Adoption of a Global HFC Phase-Down in 2016 report produced for this week’s 37th OEWG of the Parties to the Montreal Protocol in Geneva, the EIA (Environmental Investigation Agency) says many of the standards are outdated, overly restrictive and impede the take-up of low-GWP technology and equipment.

Overly restrictive

The EIA recognises that standards are important for setting technical specifications and criteria that ensure that appropriate levels of quality and safety are met, and that countries and companies can compete on equal terms. However, it says: “Many standards for using low-GWP refrigerants are overly restrictive, based on outdated data and unsupported assumptions that do not take into account advances in technologies, modern safety devices and the use of clear warning labels.”

It uses the example of domestic refrigerators using isobutane which have become the standard in many countries including Europe. Despite more than 700 million hydrocarbon domestic refrigerators having been sold around the world, the technology has yet to enter the US market “due primarily to an outdated standard recognised in the United States, UL 250”. UL 250 allows only allows 57g of hydrocarbon refrigerant compared to the international standard which allows 150g.

“Fifty-seven grams is an insufficient amount of refrigerant to design an efficient, cost-effective refrigerator, thus the majority of refrigerators in the US are forced to use HFCs,” the EIA says.

More research

The EIA calls for more research demonstrating safe operation of various low-GWP refrigerants, as well as seeing a need for wider representation of stakeholders (government, NGO, technical experts and representatives of companies manufacturing or using low-GWP technologies) on selected standards panels and committees to balance what it sees as an over-representation from the HFC industry.

It says standards for low-GWP technologies should be based on the most current research, technologies, data, and testing of low-GWP equipment. They should take into account modern safety technologies for mitigating flammability risks such as automatic shut-off valves, leak detectors, ventilation, and use of warning labels.

“Smarter standards will open the market to new alternatives that will allow countries to accelerate their transitions to low-GWP technologies and bring down costs by allowing economies of scale to develop,” says the EIA. “Without these changes, meeting the schedule for any phase-down of HFCs will be exceedingly difficult.”