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Update on North American Safety Standards for Climate-Friendly Refrigerants

Update on North American Safety Standards for Climate-Friendly Refrigerants: Comment Opportunity by April 5th

This month a new standards proposal under ASHRAE-15, represents some progress for uptake of climate-friendly hydrocarbon refrigerants to replace super pollutant hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs). The proposal allows hydrocarbons to be used in corridors and lobbies of commercial buildings like hotels. It allows up to 114 grams of propane where previously none was allowed at all. This will enable vending machines and most other light commercial refrigeration equipment like small one door beverage coolers and ice makers containing hydrocarbons to be used in these spaces.

Room for Improvement: Comment Now

Although it’s a good step forward, the proposal should be improved to allow a broader swath of equipment to be used. Updates are anticipated to UL/CSA 60335-2-89 that will more closely align with the revised IEC standard establishing additional safety measures to allow safe use of up to 500 grams of hydrocarbons in self-contained equipment, that are not considered in this proposal. The proposal is now open for public comments until April 5th.

EIA is calling for the UL/CSA 60335-2-89 proposal under development for self-contained refrigeration systems to be fully adopted in the next edition of ASHRAE-15 or directly adopted in state and local building codes. This includes considering the relevance of additional safety measures for using more than 114grams of hydrocarbons in corridors and lobbies that meet minimum room size requirements under the new UL standards. This would allow consistent design for a wider range of hydrocarbon equipment to be used in hotel lobbies, including multi-door refrigerated cabinets and ice machines.

Click here to comment on the public review draft of the ASHRAE15 proposal ‘BSR/ASHRAE Addendum c to ANSI/ASHRAE Standard 15-2019, Safety Standard for Refrigeration Systems” by April 5th. A copy of EIA’s comments are available here. Here are some points you can include in your comment:

  • CANENA WG12 is currently working to adopt additional safety measures and updated charge size requirements for use of Class 2L, 2, and 3 flammable refrigerants under the UL 60335-2-89 listing for refrigeration equipment covered by this clause.
  • Additionally, there is a parallel AHRI committee working on a proposal with associated changes to ASHRAE 15.
  • Updated safety requirements for self-contained refrigeration equipment under UL 60335-2-89 will incorporate additional safety testing and installation requirements for minimum room size that will enable safe use of equipment using more than 3 x LFL.
  • Current proposal to revise Addendum C could create unnecessary restrictions on safe listed refrigeration equipment and will not reflect the updated safety requirements being developed by CANENA WG12.
  • Therefore, Addendum C should be revised to allow for >3 x LFL for self-contained equipment listed under UL 60335-2-89 provided that the equipment passes Annex CC and is installed in accordance with minimum room size requirements.

What is ASHRAE 15?

ASHRAE 15 is a broader standard covering all types of refrigeration and air conditioning equipment that is used in adoption of building codes by U.S. states. Currently ASHRAE 15 prohibits flammable refrigerants in corridors and lobbies, and limits hydrocarbons to 150 grams in all spaces without approval for an exception by local building code officials.

Why is this important?

Developing modernized safety standards and building codes is vital to enabling widespread use of climate-friendly refrigerants. It is also therefore key to successful implementation of a global phase-down of HFCs under the Kigali Amendment. Many climate-friendly refrigerants have flammable properties, which can be managed safely by revising standards and codes, making them “smarter” by including more robust requirements for design, testing, and installation of equipment using these refrigerants. Without updates to existing overly restrictive outdated standards, many HFC-free refrigerants will continue to face market hurdles. This includes hydrocarbons, which have near zero global warming potential and the added benefit of higher energy efficiency.

The North American market has often lagged behind the rest of the world in modernizing standards and codes. Hundreds of millions of household fridges using hydrocarbons proliferated around the world for decades with nearly zero market uptake in the US and Canada due to more restrictive standards that allowed only a tiny amount of 57 grams of hydrocarbon refrigerant to be used. When the U.S. and Canadian safety standard (UL/CSA 60335-2-24) was updated in 2018 to harmonize with international standards allowing up to 150 grams, it allowed North America to begin a transition to hydrocarbons in new household fridges to be complete by 2023.

This lag in consistency with international standards cannot be allowed for commercial refrigeration sector. Similar updates need to be adopted in North America to expand adoption of hydrocarbons in supermarkets, convenience stores, restaurants, hotels, and other commercial buildings. The corresponding international standard, IEC 60335-2-89, was recently updated to allow up to 500 grams of hydrocarbon refrigerant, by introducing new testing and minimum room size requirements designed to ensure safety in the event of a worst-case refrigerant leak. A new working group convened under the North American regional safety standards body, CANENA, began work last year to develop a proposal for more closely harmonizing with these changes in the corresponding UL/CSA 60335-2-89 standards for the U.S. and Canada. A proposal is anticipated from the working group this year, with the goal of implementation by end of 2021.

For these changes to the UL standard to take full effect in U.S. building codes by 2023, simultaneous changes to the ASHRAE 15 standard are vital to meet the deadline for adoption in the next code cycle. Otherwise, the U.S. market will lose at least several important years in fully enabling climate-friendly hydrocarbons.