Refrigerant Problems for Boaters
The costs of maintaining boat refrigeration
and air-conditioning today are ten times more than they were ten years ago with higher costs ahead. The government
directed the EPA to write regulations
that would reduce and if possible eliminate the effects of refrigerants on ozone depletion and global warming. These regulations
were divided into Phase I and Phase II. They favored the automotive and other large special interest groups but offered no assistance to the small mobile refrigeration
industries like boating
. Two good things did come out of the Phase One ban on CFC refrigerants in 1995, more jobs and more profits but Phase One promoted the alternative refrigerants to replace Freon R12 and R502. This resulted service
personnel who had little training or experience with blends and profiteering. By the end of 2004 some manufacturers of air-conditioning units will begin Phase Two of the EPA plan that will eventually phase out R22.Venting of Freon R12 to the atmosphere has 95% more of an effect on Ozone Depletion than R22 and causes six times the effects of R22 on global warming. By regulation, R22, is now on a reduction schedule with a 35% cut back this year.
EPA mandate Phase I: Impact on boater’s pocketbooks
A theory was developed in 1974 that said that Chorofluoral carbons (CFCs) that were released into the atmosphere were responsible for ozone depletion and contributed to global warming. In 1990 the US and fifty-six other nations agreed to band CFCs and our Clean Air Act was amended. The Federal EPA along with recommendations from special interest groups developed a string of regulatory requirements as if CFCs were a narcotic drug. The basic intent behind the change in the clean air act was to ban the manufacture of CFCs and stop the venting of refrigerants into the atmosphere but these rules cannot be enforced. They are reducing the CFCs but at the same time they have created a financial hardship for boaters.
The CFCs that mostly affected boaters are contained in Freon 12 used in refrigerators and Freon 502 used in low temperature freezers. Of the many federal rules affecting owners of mobile refrigeration, these are the ones that most affect boaters:
• You must be certified by a federally approved training organization to
CFC, HCFC and blends containing Freon 22 refrigerant.
These new highly treasured licenses are now available by mail and on the internet
. Can this be in compliance with the regulations? And what happened to the incentives to recover, recycle and buy back recovered refrigerants? When I asked a major refrigerant supplier what they would pay to buy back R12 refrigerant still in sealed containers, he advised they could take it off my hands at no charge.
After the federal EPA released their regulations the states and even some counties added more stringent legal
requirements such as, you must have a local business license
in some counties to buy and use refrigerants but not required in others.
• If a system contains refrigerant, an owner must be certified or must hire a person who is certified to service
, repair, or recover refrigerants from his system.
• Short term replacement refrigerant blends were used while compressor
manufacturers tooled up to produce compressors that could use 134a. Compressor
manufacturers, unlike the auto industry, were not satisfied with the 134a refrigerant alternative especially for refrigeration, so they waited till the last minutes to take action. This has led to lack of training, confusion and misinformation that has ultimately cost boaters as some boaters have spent more to repair a system than a new one would have cost.
• Fifteen years ago Freon 12 was selling for 79 cents per pound. Today a licensed technician must pay $28 a pound from a wholesaler. Then the technician turns around and charges the boater whatever the traffic will bear. After seeing a boater charged $600 for five pounds of blended 408a refrigerant that sells for $8 a pound you wonder why a profiteering penalty was not included in the regulations. Unfortunately there are still some boat refrigeration systems that are not practical to convert away from R12 so the owner is forced to pay exorbitant prices. Some people do what the commercial
advises, “If you can’t find it, try E-Bay.”
EPA mandate Phase II: A new problem for boaters the HCFC Phase-out
In 1990 we knew that Freon type refrigerants were on the way out and there was a lot of press about Freon R12 but no concern about the affects of changes that will ban other refrigerants much later. The refrigerant we depend on for boat and home air conditioning
HCFC R22 will no longer be manufactured after January 2020. One might think that since there was plenty of time left there is no need to worry but the phase out has already begun to limit production of HCFCs to 65% of previous production and by 2010 production will be reduced to 35%. A forgotten item is that most of the new blends that replaced the CFC refrigerants are interim refrigerants and will be banned because they contain large component of HCFC, R22. Another ban occurs in 2010 and that is a ban to stop manufacturing equipment
that uses R22. It is expected that some new equipment
will be coming out next year containing 134a type blends.
In April of this year the price
of refrigerant 134a has increased to $15 a pound with warnings it may be phased out because of its effect on global warming.
There are a few basics that a boat owner needs to know before working on, or hiring someone to work on a boat system containing refrigerants. There are more than thirty different refrigerants available today and seven different oils. The selection of the wrong refrigerant or oil
can cause major damage. The practice of bypassing safety
devices or setting pressure switches beyond recommended settings is not an acceptable practice. A qualified service technician must have a recovery pump and a yellow and grey recovery cylinder with him and if he is going to put the refrigerant back into your system, his bottle must be empty and under a vacuum to insure the quality of your refrigerant. Blended refrigerants must be added to a system as a liquid not a gas. In most cases the blended bottles are turned upside down when servicing.
Refrigerants R12, 134a and R22 are known as pure refrigerants that are found in boat refrigeration and A/C units. Today the common alternative replacement for R12 when 134a is not compatible with the system is blended 409A. It is sometimes identified as R409A which is a composition of R22/124/142b refrigerants. The safest approach when switching to an alternative refrigerant is to follow the written instructions on refrigerant conversion from the system manufacturer. Otherwise, it is easy to get into trouble as a blend formulated for an automobile designed for a lower high pressure may have an undesirably high evaporator temperature when used in a refrigerator
A blended refrigerant can be a very unfriendly refrigerant. When two or more liquids with different boiling points are mixed and these boiling points are well below ambient temperatures, they tend to separate when they become a gas. This difference in boiling points means the gas with the highest pressure is more likely to leak out through a small hole and will cause a change in performance. Another problem with 409A blend is temperature glide in the evaporator. This is easy to control once a new superheat adjustment is understood. Refrigerant 409a is not a drop-in replacement for R12. It only has moderate miscibility with mineral oil
that could cause problems with low temperature freezer
Refrigerant oils have always been special oils and today there are at least eight different compounded oils with each available in several viscosities. It is unlikely that refrigerant oil will ever need to be added to a system but if oil is added it must be compatible with the oil that was originally supplied by the manufacturer. The moving parts
of a refrigeration compressor and the system’s expansion device depend on the mixing of oil and refrigerant. Oil is not pumped through these systems like the oil in the boat’s engine
. It is transported only by a mist mixture in the refrigerant. Miscibility is the common term used when an oil and refrigerant mix. For those planning to build their own refrigeration system, oil circulation through the system must be one of your first concerns. Piping that is too large and tube layout can cause oil to separate from the refrigerant and stick to the tubing walls or it may pool in low spots. Improper oil flow can reduce system refrigeration capacity and cause oil starvation failures.
Types of refrigerant oil
Mineral Oil (MO) this was used in boat refrigerators and air-conditioning for many years. Mineral wax free oil was considered friendly oil that resisted moisture absorption and the small amount of moisture that could be absorbed could also be drawn off with a good vacuum pump. Mineral oil is used with R12 in refrigerators and high temperature freezers. It is also used in A/C units with R22 refrigerant.
Alkyl Benzene oil (AB) is commonly found in 110 and 220volt alternating current
boat refrigeration and A/C compressor systems. AB oil may also be found in some engine-driven, freezer
holding plate systems. Because AB mixes better with R22 and blended refrigerants, it performs much better in low temperature applications than R12.
Polyol Ester oil (POE) is a synthetic lubricant that mixes with 134a and other new HFC refrigerants. POE is used in small 12/24volt refrigeration compressors manufactured by Danfoss. There are more than 12 companies manufacturing boat icebox
conversion refrigeration systems with Danfoss’s BD35 and BD50 compressors that use 134a refrigerant and POE oil. The disadvantage to POE lubricants is that they are hygroscopic, which means they absorb moisture in larger quantities than mineral oil. Water
in POE oil creates a much greater problem than moisture in mineral oil because it won’t separate from the oil easily. Moisture in oil can breakdown the POE oil and as a result, acid is formed which causes interior corrosion
. Interior corrosion
was experienced in the past on small boat refrigerator aluminum
evaporators. It manifested itself first by a paint
blister, and then by a reduction in refrigerant. POE contaminated oil would then accelerate the corrosion problem. Hopefully with the new concerns over moisture in POE oils manufacturers of ice box conversion units will use dryers with more drying desiccant in them.
Poly Alkaline Glycols oil (PAG) is another one of those unfriendly things that does not like the materials used in older refrigeration systems. When the ban on R12 was scheduled the automobile industry was forced to use an available oil, PAG. The electric
compressor manufacturer’s and marine
refrigeration industry had problems applying PAG oils, so they waited for the development of the POE oil which is now used by many auto services centers as conversion oil for old automobiles.
For those of us who enjoy boating
whether it’s just for a weekend or an extended cruise
, a little basic knowledge combined with experience keeps us out of trouble. We know that failure to secure anchor
lines or not conserving our batteries can give us a lot of grief but sometimes problems are caused by the negligence or lack of knowledge of others. The wrong oil can be added to the hydraulic steering
or gasoline can be put in our diesel
tank. These are costly mistakes
and can be prevented by vigilance on our part. In other words, you need to be aware of what the service person is doing.
When technology changes quickly as it has in the refrigerant industry it takes time for these changes to filter down to service personnel. We were well informed of the dangers of global warming and ozone depletion and the need for change in refrigerants but very little attention was given to educating us about the problems that we would encounter or how to avoid them in the change over.
The Federal Clean Air Act changes regarding refrigerant has and will continue to affect costs for those boaters having refrigeration or air conditioning
. The Phase 1 ban previously used refrigeration refrigerants, and phase 2 has just begun to slowly phase out Freon 22 and most of the new blends we switched to in Phase 1. Many boaters have experienced economically irreversible difficulties do to the lack of information and training available to the person servicing his refrigerator. Because of the general lack of information on mixing refrigerants, incorrect use of oils and use of incorrect refrigerants, refrigerators eventually failed resulting in the owner having to pay twice or forced to buy a complete replacement system. The only one qualified to approve a refrigerant is the system manufacturer with the consent of the compressor manufacturer. The EPA does not approve refrigerants, they only except them based on their affects on safety
and the environment
For those boat owners who have purchased refrigeration since 1996, that were delivered with 134a refrigerant you have a good stable system. It would be a good idea to record
in the maintenance
log, the type of refrigerant and type of refrigerant oil just in case some day the system might need servicing.
For those that have systems that currently use a blended refrigerant containing R22 be prepared to pay higher prices in the future, as the available product is slowly phased out.
The phase out of R22 means a refrigerant change over again with little interest in the impact it will have on the marine
pleasure boat industry.
So, stay informed and do not experiment with new blended refrigerants you hear about that are not approved in writing by the compressor manufacturers.