July 2017

Master-Bilt® Refrigeration News & Product Information

Oh, SNAP: EPA’s Refrigerant Policy Creating Uncertainty

When it comes to refrigeration these days, one of the most puzzling issues is the EPA’s Significant New Alternatives Policy (SNAP). This policy calls for the delisting of long-used HFC refrigerants including R-404A and R-134a for use in several types of refrigeration equipment in the effort to reduce global warming.

The first stage of SNAP begins January 1, 2018 with remote condensing units. Next, effective January 1, 2019, are stand-alone medium temp units with a compressor capacity below 2200 Btu/h. Then, effective January 1, 2020, stand-alone medium temp units with a compressor capacity equal to or greater than 2200 Btu/h. Also impacted as of January 1, 2020 are low temperature stand-alone units and certain types of walk-in panel foam.

Few debate the necessity of lowering global warming potential. In fact, you’d be hard-pressed to find any manufacturer, including Master-Bilt, who doesn’t understand its responsibility in producing environmentally-friendly equipment. But sometimes the process comes with its share of challenges and uncertainty. With SNAP, manufacturers are charged with determining the best replacement refrigerant which will fulfill customer needs while holding production costs down. From a service agent perspective, many don’t know what they will be servicing in the future. And end-users are struggling to understand the ramifications from a service and operational cost perspective.

Previous Cool It! articles have related some of the challenges from the manufacturing viewpoint but, in this article, Master-Bilt’s engineering manager, Jeremy James, describes additional issues facing manufacturers as well as service techs and end users.

First of all, alternative refrigerants approved by the EPA are not always consistent with the goals of increasing energy efficiency and reducing end users’ energy costs. “One of the unfortunate aspects about SNAP, particularly for remote refrigeration, is that there are some compromises that have to be made for the alternatives we’re left with,” James said. “This is particularly true when it comes to mitigating the higher discharge temperatures and working with the refrigerant glide* that wasn’t there with our current refrigerants. Those are things you have to account for in design and in some ways the equipment becomes more complicated. That’s one of the things we have to balance.”

James added contractors are already seeing another consequence of the SNAP regulations: a proliferation of refrigerants. While for the most part the industry has worked with two or three refrigerants that covered about 90 percent of the equipment, technicians can expect to soon be carrying anywhere from seven to 10 to service the full range of products. These refrigerant types range from natural R290, or propane, to blended refrigerants which are combinations of two or more single component refrigerants.

After much deliberation, Master-Bilt found the best solution for our customers was to offer a combination of blended and natural refrigerants. For more information, read the AIR Initiative article from the Cool It! May 2016 issue.

Regulations also have created some confusion and uncertainty among end-users and other customers, which may compel them to hold off and see how things shake out before they make the commitment to invest in new equipment.

“Customers know there’s some uncertainty about what refrigerant is going to become the industry standard moving forward. This uncertainty can lead to keeping old units in service rather than replacing until the issue is settled,” he said. “But we all know there are distinct advantages to having new equipment, so we hope the customers will weigh that as they make their decisions.”

*Glide is the temperature range within which the different chemical components of the refrigerant evaporate at the same pressure.