Environmental Testing Preps for Tighter Regulations

Weiss Technik uses patented LEEF standard, using R449A, to make chambers compliant with future regulations.

One of Weiss Technik's environmental test chambers works to cool down a Volkswagen Touareg. (Weiss Technik North America)

Most engineers are used to the steady winds of change in refrigerant regulations as global agreements lead to new standards from the U.S. EPA and its counterparts in Europe and Asia. At the 2022 Automotive Testing Expo in Novi, Mich., one environmental-testing-chamber company gave an overview of its new technology that uses R449A to meet the looming standards. Beginning in 2024, Montreal Protocol A2, which includes the U.S. and most developed countries, calls for hydrofluorocarbon (HFC) use to drop from 90% of a baseline set 10 years ago all the way to 60%.

Compared to R404A, a 30-lb tank of the new refrigerant 449A produces a C02 equivalent of 64% fewer cars being driven for one year. (Weiss Technik)

The move toward new refrigerant is being driven by a focus on ozone depleting substances (ODS) that has largely driven those with that classification out of use. Instead, the emerging focus is on a refrigerant’s global warming potential (GWP). For instance, R404A, commonly used in medium and low temperature refrigeration applications, has a GWP of 3,922. R409A, originally developed as a replacement for R12, has a GWP of 1,585. It is used in walk-in coolers and supermarket refrigeration systems.

After a relatively gentle beginning, the step-down standards for the use of HFCs get steep in 2024 and continue from there. (Weiss Technik)
Felton said the LEEF temperature cooldown process achieves a lower peak energy use sooner and results in significant cost savings for heavily-used testing chambers. (Weiss Technik)
The more a testing chamber using the LEEF technology is being used in given year, the higher the savings versus current refrigerants. (Weiss Technik)

“We essentially resolved the ODS issue, and GWP is the new focus,” said Taylor Felton, a product engineer with Weiss Technik North America, a test-chamber manufacturer based in Kentwood, Mich.

A number of common refrigerants, including R404A, R134A, R410A and R407C are among the high-GWP refrigerants that are affected. Felton underscored that R404A is already banned in Europe, and a phase-down in U.S. production in 2024 is required by the American Innovation and Manufacturing (AIM) Act of 2020. Reducing production by 30% would meet that 2024 requirement.

“Test chambers are a long-term investment,” Felton said. “Will the refrigerant you’re using now even be available in 20 years?” Weiss Technik’s patented LEEF (leading energy-efficient footprint) technology allows a faster ramp rate to cooler chamber temps, more precise control and lower overall operating costs, the company claims, while using R-449A, which is low-GWP certified at 1,397.

Weiss Technik North America Product Engineer Taylor Felton

“LEEF technology became a reality after pairing optimally sized compressors, using 449A as a low-GWP refrigerant, and thousands of hours of research,” Felton said. “A powerful controller was needed for this application, but we achieved success with the end result.”

“LEEF technology gives us a jump-start to peak power use and also gets us to the set temperature faster. Peak power consumed is also lower than our classic refrigeration standard, which is two cascaded 30-hp compressors.” “If you’re running them 24 hours a day, and you have a large test facility, there would be huge savings,” he said. For low-stage chambers that are cooled to -70C (-94 F), Felton said the company uses R508B, which is still unregulated (only high-stage uses are currently regulated). “But we are already looking to the next low-stage refrigerant, because the current refrigerant has a lot of room for improvement at 13,000 GWP,” he said. “It will be regulated, it’s just a matter of when.” Because test chambers are often in use for 20 years or more, and are thus a long-term investment, Felton urged companies to begin planning for the sustainable future no matter how recently they purchased new equipment. “Is sustainability a core value of your business?” he asked. “Are you prepared?”