Refrigeration may seem like a technology that is pretty well handled at this point. It’s been around for over a hundred years. But ever since we learned that common refrigerants are damaging to the ozone layer and may also present flammability risks, governmental environmental agencies have been limiting the types of refrigerants that can be used by industry. If you remember the conversation about the dangers of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) damaging the atmosphere, it was directly related to the refrigerant industry. That has led to tremendous strides in the different kinds of refrigerants out there.
Now the EPA is forcing innovation again through the SNAP program. They have placed new limits on the types of refrigerants that can be used, especially the ones that are susceptible to flammability. They have an approved list that includes R448A and R513A among a small list of others. You can find a full list of which refrigerants will be impacted and when at this fact sheet from the EPA.
Most refrigerants are identified in the industry by an R code, a system developed by DuPont. Many of them are a blend of previously developed refrigerants that have superior properties. But every time there is a refrigerant change the entire machine has to be redesigned. The properties of different refrigerant mixes require new fittings and new design schematics to effectively use the refrigerant. This means there is going to be a flurry of redesigns and retro kits for older machines so that ice makers can comply to the new standards, which are set to go into effect at the beginning of 2016.
That’s not the only change coming to the industry. The Department of Energy is also mandating that ice machines, walk-in coolers and freezers, and reach-in refrigerators comply with new energy standards. These devices all use a lot of energy and work around the clock. Newer devices will have to do the same amount of work using much less energy than before. The DOE has asked manufacturers to step down their energy usage for several years now. These new regulations began around 2010 and have a final target date for 2017. The requirements will continue to push older machines out of the marketplace in favor of machines that are more affordable to run and safer for the environment. You can compare the different energy regulations at this website.
As the government continues to push for greater energy efficiency and environmental safety, manufacturers have to comply with developing new technologies to meet the standards. This drives innovation and better products for all of us to enjoy. While refrigeration may be an old technology, there is always room for improvement.