HVAC operators considering so-called “natural” refrigerants are grappling with one very important question: are they worth the risk?
In An Expert’s Take on So-Called “Naturals”, globalFACT executive director Jordan Smith sat down with refrigeration expert Dr. Richard Powell to get his thoughts:
globalFACT: What are some potential repercussions of the misconceptions around so-called “natural” refrigerants?
Dr. Powell: Safety wise “natural” refrigerants leave much to be desired. “Natural,” unfortunately, doesn’t mean “safe.”
Flammable hydrocarbon-based materials are implicated in the 2017 London Grenfell Tower tragedy when, horrifically, 72 people lost their lives, an event that caused me to reconsider my own work on hydrocarbon refrigerants.
In my view the refrigeration and air conditioning industries need to learn from the Grenfell tragedy. Are hazardous “natural” refrigerants systems as safe as HFO based systems when retrofitted into existing buildings? Ammonia is an industrial refrigerant favored since the 1870s for large plant installations especially in the food processing, ice rinks and brewing industries. Legionnaires’ disease from water-cooled condensers is readily prevented by bactericide additions. Yet, despite years of experience, fatal incidents still regularly occur.
It must not be forgotten that as a system becomes more complex the chance of malfunction increases. It should be failsafe.