What does R-22 phase out mean?

Air conditioning units

R-22 is a type of HCFC (hydrochlorofluorocarbon) and therefore an ozone depleting substance. It was commonly used in air conditioning, process chillers and industrial refrigeration plant. The phase out period began in 2003, where production of R-22 air conditioning equipment was ceased. The Montreal Protocol modified by the EU, enforces the end of the supply of R-22 by 2015 due to the detrimental effect the refrigerant can have on the environment (a known greenhouse gas) and the ozone layer.

Phase out period 

It is permissible to carry on using equipment that contains R-22 (including other HCFC’s) beyond the phase out dates, however there must be no maintenance or servicing undertaken on the equipment that involves breaking onto the refrigerant circuits. Given that most RAC systems leak to a certain degree, this implies that any equipment that is of strategic importance to a business should not be using R-22 (including all other HCFC’s) by 2015. All current users of R-22/HCFC systems must develop a plan to manage their operations without the HCFC’s, as doing nothing is no longer a sustainable option.

Sectors at great risk

  • Retail
  • Finance
  • Food and drink industry
  • Petro-chemicals
  • Pharmaceuticals
  • Health
  • Hospitality
  • Data-processing

Phase out solutions

Replace the unit

Systems that are in poor condition, inefficient or not meeting their current cooling load should be replaced with new systems which use a non ozone depleting substance. These can include HFC’s or a natural refrigerant like hydrocarbons, ammonia or CO2. Although the upfront cost is significant, the new system would have the best energy efficiency (save money in the long run), will meet current/future cooling requirements and have a new 20 to 30 year lifetime.

Convert/modify the unit

RAC systems which are in good order may simply be converted to use a less hazardous refrigerant. There are a range of actions depending on the type of RAC system you own which includes a simple retrofill operation or a comprehensive modification to a more standard HFC refrigerant. This will be a cheaper process than replacing the whole unit, however it is not applicable to all designs, the efficiency may actually get worse than the original unit and the cooling capacity may also fall.

Leave as it is

This option is only applicable if:

  1. A guaranteed stock of recycled HCFC is assured.
  2. The system represents no business critical risk.  Case a) may be appropriate if it is not practical to replace or convert the system, however this is a risky option as leaks are unpredictable both in frequency and scale. Case b) may be appropriate to a small non-critical split air conditioning system in an office. Typically this type of system is very reliable, can be replaced quickly and will continue to operate without trouble for many years.