Vending prepares for refrigerant changes

Over the next few years there are going to be a few radical changes with regards to the refrigerants that will be permitted for usage in new vending machines/chillers. Managing director of DGB Refrigeration Gary Barlow explores what the industry must prepare for.

Evaporators stocked by DGB Refrigeration

From January 1, 2020 the use of R404a in new chillers will be prohibited. This will not have a great impact on vending because R134a is the predominant refrigerant.

But from the January 1, 2024 R134a will also cease to be used in the manufacture of new chillers. The use in service repairs and refurbishment has no set date but will eventually be phased out over time.

Both of the above are manmade hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) which are greenhouse gases (GHGs) and directly contribute to the increase in global warming.

As an example – the emissions of every 1kg of Carbon Dioxide equals a GWP (global warming potential) of 1 per kg. Whereas the emissions of 1kg of R134a has a GWP of 1,300 per kg and remains in the atmosphere for about 14 years.

So, as you can see getting repairs done by companies that are equipped with this knowledge, a good reputation and competent engineers is of utmost importance.

Chiller units can have gas leaks especially in the evaporator or condenser coil, which must be difficult to detect and repair on site.

But firms such as DGB Refrigeration carry stock of brand-new replacement evaporators for many chillers used in the vending industry and work towards detecting leaks and repairing them in house.

To just add refrigerant to its current charge (topping up) is not cost effective, but more importantly it is unethical and actually illegal.

Over the coming years ‘’topping up’’ could also lead to some serious implications. The replacement refrigerants or hydrofluorocarbons will be hydrocarbons – natural refrigerants with a negligible GWP. They are however highly flammable, must be handled with care and systems containing them should only be worked on by authorised certified engineers.

Isobutene (R600a) will replace R134a and is currently the refrigerant of choice in most household fridges. Propane (R290) can also replace R134a and R404a.

Hydrocarbon refrigerants will only be able to be used on chiller systems/machines designed with these refrigerants in mind, so cannot be used as a replacement refrigerant (drop in) for a current R134a chiller/machine. This would be highly dangerous.

To finish on a positive – hydrocarbons are not only just good for the environment, they are also an extremely good refrigerant and could save you between 17% and 54% on energy consumption.