By Jim Taylor, Editor MACS ACtion Magazine
Regular readers of MACS ACtion magazine are familiar with our man in Australia, Ken Newton. For over a year, he has kept us advised on that nation’s new “carbon tax” on any product viewed as contributing to climate change, and that of course includes fluorocarbon refrigerants.
The new taxes took effect on July 1, and Ken reports that the price of R-134a has more than doubled, now going for about $70 AUD per kilogram or about $35 the pound. Plus sales tax. Their mobile industry is greatly concerned that the high price of the correct refrigerant will drive customers to choose lower priced options including hydrocarbon gases when repairs are needed. While the tax was in the legislature, they made this case loud and long to no result.
But the industry’s message may now be getting through to government officials who had previously turned a deaf ear. The government’s Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities recently issued a white paper “Safety considerations when using flammable refrigerants.” It’s a lengthy, but accurate document and contains advice for repair facilities and customers in both mobile and stationary applications.
The use of such refrigerants is legal in some Australian states and territories but not in others. In general, using these alternate gases does not require training or license, but handling R-134a, including removing it from a system, does.
Part of the government’s text is below, including the advice to notify the customer of the risks and get their consent before replacing a refrigerant. Consumers are advised to find a trained and certified technician to do the job and to understand the risks.
Before using an alternative natural refrigerant, particularly if replacing the fluorocarbon refrigerant with an alternative refrigerant is being contemplated, a number of factors need to be taken into consideration. This includes, but is not limited to the following:
• Do you have appropriate training, skills and license to install and maintain the equipment?
• Is the equipment for use only for a specific HFC whereby substituting with an alternative gas could introduce safety hazards?
• Are you certain of the type of refrigerant gas currently in the equipment, has this been labelled and has it been checked prior to servicing? Do not assume that the refrigerant in the equipment to be serviced is non-flammable. Always check the identity of the refrigerant in the equipment, using a safe method that does not pose an ignition hazard, before beginning work on the equipment.
• Can you legally use an alternative refrigerant (such as hydrocarbon which is flammable) for the particular purpose in your state or territory? Are you aware of the current regulatory controls and standards, codes of practice and other relevant guidance?
• If you can legally use an alternative refrigerant (such as hydrocarbon) for the purpose, have you conducted a comprehensive risk assessment to determine if it is safe to use an alternative refrigerant that is flammable or toxic or operates at high pressure in the particular circumstances?
• Has the unit’s manufacturer and the refrigerant supplier approved the use of a flammable, toxic or high pressure refrigerant in the system?
• If a retrofit is to be undertaken, how can you assess the safety and suitability for purpose?
• Has the equipment manufacturer given approval for retrofitting the equipment using an alternative refrigerant?
• Has the owner or user of the refrigeration or air conditioning equipment been advised that a flammable, toxic or high pressure alternative refrigerant is proposed to be used, been made aware of the risks involved and given written approval to its installation?
• Have all applicable standards, codes of practice and other relevant guidance been taken into account?
Consumers considering the use of alternative refrigerants may wish to consider the following:
• Does the technician have the appropriate training, skills and licensing to install and maintain the equipment? The Australian Refrigerant Council provides a full list of licensed technicians at http://www.lookforthetick.com.au.
• Have the technicians explained what work they are doing and why and outlined any risks associated with the work they are doing?
• If a flammable refrigerant is proposed to be used, have you been made aware of the risks involved and have you given written approval to proceed with the installation?
• Replacement of synthetic greenhouse gases in equipment with an alternative refrigerant may void the equipment warranty or have insurance implications. Ask the technician and check with the equipment manufacturer and your insurer.
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When having your mobile A/C system professionally serviced, insist on proper repair procedures and quality replacement parts. Insist on recovery and recycling so that refrigerant can be reused and not released into the atmosphere.
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