By Jim Taylor, Editor MACS ACtion Magazine
By the time you read this, some progress may have been made in the march towards the introduction, use and servicing of R-1234yf. If you’ve been following the ongoing saga, you’ll recall that one stumbling point was the type and size of the connectors for tanks and service equipment. With any luck, that one at least is now settled, although other questions still remain.
At the end of March, U.S. EPA said it is taking “direct final action,” (that is, without the “proposed rule” procedure and related comment period) to adopt a unique standardized connector for refrigerant tanks of the new product. The new rule will become effective on May 21 if the agency does not receive any “adverse comments” or a request for a public hearing. EPA said they view this as “a noncontroversial action and anticipate no adverse comment.”
What they’ve adopted (for refrigerant containers of R-1234yf from 5 to 50 lbs. for use in professional servicing) is a 1/2-inch diameter left-handed valve with Acme or trapezoidal threads at 16 per inch. That is coupler defined in the revised SAE specification J2844 and it appears now the revision was the key to the snag.
The SAE committee working on the problem thought they had it all solved by early 2011 when they defined a quick-connect (QC) fitting that would make the tanks literally a snap to mate to a service machine. But when put out for review, some industry players expressed concern that the quick-connects were not robust enough and should be replaced by a screw-on connector. Additionally, commenters said, QC fittings are more likely to release refrigerant without giving warning to the technician while a threaded fitting usually issues an audible hiss that may warn of a problem.
EPA asked the SAE committee to revisit and rethink the fitting. We are reliably told that some of those meetings were quite contentious since some members had already committed to the earlier design. By October, 2011 however, consensus was reached on the present proposed connector; dimensionally, it’s similar to others but the unique threads prevent mating it to any other common fitting. It’s the October, 2011 revision to J2844 that’s being adopted as the technical specification.
So, we hope, that’s one down and another step towards getting service equipment and supply tanks into the general marketplace. Other roadblocks, or perhaps speed bumps, still exist however—we haven’t yet heard what size tanks will be used and the question of required technician training and certification remains open as well.
It does appear that the new chemical won’t be available to DIY’ers for a while. The recent EPA announcement also said “we note that our final rule listing HFO-1234yf as acceptable subject to use conditions did not apply to small containers. The refrigerant manufacturer would need to submit a unique fitting specifically for use with small can taps and small refrigerant containers before EPA could determine whether to find use of such small containers acceptable under SNAP. In addition, such containers could not be sold until a significant new use notice is submitted to EPA…”
Small cans also made the news recently in Wisconsin. For a long time, the state’s Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP) had prohibited sale of those items. That all changed in early April when the governor signed a bill stating that “The department may not promulgate rules prohibiting the sale or offering for sale of any substance used as a substitute for an ozone-depleting refrigerant in a container holding less than 15 pounds of the substance or regulating an individual’s noncommercial use of such a substance that is sold in such a container.”
That move canceled the department’s administrative rule instantly and now allows small cans of refrigerant to appear on store shelves. Supporters of the bill included the AAIA and refrigerant product maker IDQ Holdings. Some backers noted that many DIY’ers simply bought the stuff in neighboring states anyway.
But the change also raised questions about the future of Wisconsin’s related rules on technician training, shop licensing, ban on sale of flammable refrigerants and other matters. “Nothing else has changed, said Judy Cardine, Chief of Regulation and Safety for DATCP. “Everything else remains as it is. The recent bill only affects the prohibition on selling small cans of substitute refrigerant.”
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