The HVACR industry is undergoing major transitions due to new A2L regulatory changes. By 2025, all new refrigeration systems must use flammable refrigerants. This article explains how manufacturers can comply with these changes and smoothly integrate the new refrigerants.

Overview – The Transition to Flammable Refrigerants

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) introduced A2L federal mandates in 2023 that require manufacturers to use flammable refrigerants such as A2L (or A3) by January 2025.

What are flammable refrigerants? Flammable refrigerants are gases used in HVACR systems that can ignite easily. Examples include R-290 (propane, Class A3), R-152a (Class A2), and R-32 (Class A2L). These refrigerants fall under classifications A2L, A2, or A3, and are known for their energy efficiency and lower environmental impact.

What are A2L refrigerants? A2L stands for (A) non-toxic, (2) flammable, (L) with low burning velocity. A2L refrigerants are characterized by their low flammability and low toxicity, making them a safer and environmentally friendly option with low global warming potential (GWP). A2L refrigerants include: R-1234yf, R-1234ze, R-32, R-447A, R-452B, R-454A, R-454B, R-454C, and R-455A.

What are A3 refrigerants? A3 stands for (A) non-toxic (3) with high flammability. A3 refrigerants, like propane (R290) and isobutane (R600a), are highly flammable and are considered even more environmentally friendly than A2Ls. Class A3 refrigerants include R-170 (ethane), R-290 (propane), R-600 (butane), and R-600A (isobutane).

Class A1 – Non FlammableClass A2L – Mildly FlammableClass A3 – Highly Flammable
R-22R-1234yfR-170 (ethane)
R-134AR-1234zeR-290 (propane)
R-407CR-32R-600 (butane)
R-410AR-447AR-600A (isobutane)
Examples of refrigerant classes. For a more comprehensive list, checkout the CA Air Resources Board List.

What does this mean for my manufacturing facility?

Because of this switch to flammable refrigerants, manufacturing facilities need to follow many fire safety rules that apply at various levels—from local to national—to keep their operations in check. These rules are particularly strict about spotting and handling leaks from flammable refrigerants.

A major part of these safety measures includes setting up containment systems, either partial or full. Partial containment means keeping refrigeration charging stations in specific areas with safety features to stop leaks from spreading for A2L refrigerant charging systems. Full containment, on the other hand, involves sealing the entire station in a specially built enclosure, equipped with safety measures and ventilation to manage leaks with A3 systems.

Let’s dive into some examples and schematics of what this setup looks like for flammable charging systems.

Example of an A2L System Installation

  1. iRockall HC ( Vacuum and flammable refrigerant charging system)
  2. Medusa ( Safety Monitoring and Mitigation Controller)
  3. Air ducts for Eolo (Variable Speed Extraction system with DPS feedback)
  4. Non flammable panels (and door sensors)
Flammable Refrigerant Systems Installation

Vacuum and Flammable Refrigerant Charging System

The most obvious shift to becoming compliant with your new A2L / A3 setup is the charging system itself. In this example, we use the iRockall HC Hydrocarbon Refrigerant Charging System which is able to charge both A2L and A3 Refrigerants. The iRockall HC is a versatile evacuation and charging station. It is highly accurate and efficient, making it ideal for both domestic and commercial refrigeration production lines. The machine supports the latest refrigerants like R-1234yf and R-1234ze, and is especially optimized for isobutane (R-600a) and propane (R-290). Featuring microprocessor or optional smart OS control, high-speed charging capabilities, and comprehensive safety features in compliance with ATEX Directive for explosive atmospheres, iRockall HC is tailored for high-throughput environments needing precision and safety.

Using a system like the iRockall HC helps manufacturers keep up with changing environmental and safety rules for handling flammable refrigerants. This advanced equipment allows for accurate refrigerant charging, meets safety standards for explosive environments, and helps maintain high safety levels across the board.

Medusa Monitoring System

The Medusa system serves as the control and command hub for the entire system’s refrigerant gas management. With an electronic control unit, gas concentration detection sensors strategically positioned within the charging area, and many other safety components, this sophisticated module acts as the brains for a safe and compliant environment.

This system is crucial for managing the operation of a forced ventilation system (referred to as the EOLO system), effectively increasing airflow rates when hazardous gas concentrations are detected. It also controls the vacuum and charging unit as well as the associated refrigerant transfer pumps connected to the delivery line. This regulation is dynamically adjusted based on continuous sensor feedback on refrigerant concentration levels and ventilation efficiency.

The Medusa system is crucial for safety, alerting staff and boosting ventilation when gas levels reach 15% of the Lower Flammability Limit (LFL). If these concentrations exceed 30% of the LFL, it automatically puts the vacuum and charging system into standby mode to reduce risks. At the same time, it activates various safety valves and alarms to prevent explosions. The system includes auditory and visual warnings, and has remote signals to quickly direct operators to leave the area in emergencies.

Additionally, once the gas concentration levels recede below the safety threshold, the system necessitates a manual reset by the operator to resume operations, ensuring a high degree of safety and control in the handling of refrigerant gases.

Gas Sensors

Gas sensors play a pivotal role in ensuring compliance and enhancing safety within environments where flammable refrigerants are handled, such as in HVACR systems. These sensors are crucial for detecting the concentrations of refrigerant gases, which, if leaked, could pose significant safety hazards due to their flammability.

The primary function of gas sensors is to continuously monitor the air for specific gas concentrations. When integrated with systems like the Medusa controller, they form an advanced safety mechanism. It uses this information to manage the operation of related equipment, such as vacuum and charging units and refrigerant transfer pumps, ensuring they operate safely and efficiently.

Gas sensors work on various principles, including electrochemical, infrared, semiconductor, and ultrasonic, each suited to detect different types of gases and concentrations. For instance, electrochemical sensors are widely used for their sensitivity and specificity to gases like ammonia or carbon dioxide, which are common refrigerants. In contrast, infrared sensors are ideal for detecting hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) and other greenhouse gases.

Upon detecting a gas concentration that approaches a predefined threshold, the sensors can trigger a series of safety protocols. These may include activating ventilation systems to dilute the gas concentration, alerting operators with visual and auditory warnings, and, if necessary, shutting down equipment to prevent ignition in the case of highly flammable gases.

The integration of gas sensors into refrigerant handling systems not only ensures operational safety but also aids in compliance with environmental and workplace safety regulations. These regulations often specify maximum allowable concentrations of different gases in the air to protect workers’ health and prevent environmental damage. By providing real-time monitoring and control, gas sensors enable facilities to maintain these standards, avoid penalties, and ensure the safety of their operations and personnel.

Air Ducts Extraction system

Proper ventilation is critical for maintaining compliance as well as safety. Potential leaks and spills during flammable refrigerant charging must be mitigated quickly and safely. This is why it is required for A2L partial enclosures and A3 full enclosures to have proper ventilation. Because A2L and A3 refrigerant gasses are heavier than the air, ducts with intake vents must be placed on the floor along the inside perimeter of the non-flammable panels. These ducts must be connected to an EOLO fan that safely vents out of the building and into the atmosphere. Because of the environmentally safe nature of A2L and A3 refrigerants this is best practice and required to maintain compliance.

EOLO Extraction System Fan
EOLO Fan Connects to a Duct System

Non Flammable Panels

In places where flammable refrigerants are used, setting up flammable panels is a key safety step. These panels act as barriers, designed to keep any accidental leaks within a safe area. Because many of these refrigerants are heavier than air, the panels don’t always need to reach the ceiling. They’re built tall enough to hold back gases that settle near the floor, stopping them from spreading to nearby areas and lowering the chance of ignition.

The strategic height of these panels is based on the understanding that heavier-than-air refrigerants will accumulate at lower levels in the event of a leak. By containing the spread of these gases, the panels significantly mitigate the risk of a flammable gas reaching an ignition source, thereby enhancing workplace safety. This containment approach aligns with safety regulations and compliance standards, ensuring that facilities handling flammable refrigerants adopt effective measures to protect personnel and property from potential hazards associated with gas leaks.

Flammable Refrigerant Systems Technical Drawing
Flammable Refrigerant Charging Example Layout

Next Steps

The adoption of flammable refrigerants this year requires a lot from manufacturers. At Airserco, we have continued to offer critical assistance during this transition, equipping companies with the necessary tools, knowledge, and expertise for seamless integration of the new standards. Through our provision of specialized equipment and support, we help your compliance with the regulations, ensuring operational excellence amidst these changes. Airserco provides in-depth experience and consultation to help you determine the most suitable and regulatory compliant “system(s)” for your facility. Contact us if you would like to know how we can help with your transition to flammable refrigerants this year.

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.