With current and upcoming carbon footprint reduction requirements aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions, now is an excellent time to look at simple ways HVAC systems can contribute to building decarbonization goals while simultaneously lowering energy costs.
The Refrigerant-Oil Relationship
Before we can discuss solutions to enhancing the sustainability of HVAC systems, a clear understanding of the basic refrigerant-oil relationship is essential.
The compressor lubricant in HVAC systems has many important functions. In addition to keeping the compressor moving parts running by reducing friction, oil also works as a seal, keeping compressed refrigerant from escaping from the compressor and ending up in the oil sump.
Under normal circumstances, there will always be a small amount of oil that escapes a compressor’s crankcase and is circulated with the refrigerant throughout the system. It is for this reason that refrigerant oil and the refrigerant itself must be miscible. However, as time goes on, the oil that escapes begins to build up and remains as a film on the heat exchanger coils. This slow oil migration of oil buildup is referred to as oil-fouling.
Oil-fouling can leave HVAC units operating at 70% or less of their original capacity. It creates excessive work for compressors in delivering called-for BTUs, leading to substantial energy loss, higher electricity bills and a shortened system or component life.
How to Restore Lost HVAC Performance Efficiency
As the HVAC supply chain continues to face serious disruptions and production shortages, in addition to inflated prices, extending current equipment longevity while looking for methods to reduce operational costs and carbon emissions is extremely important.
Treatments for oil-fouling were first developed decades ago with mixed outcomes. For example, some initial treatment formulations chemically cleaned the oil from the heat exchanger coil surface, which did result in breaking down the oil. However, this solution was also detrimental to lubricating properties and inevitably shortened the life of compressors.
Fortunately, advances in material science have enabled oil-fouling treatment solutions to finally perform as intended by clearing deposited oil from heat exchanger coil walls, putting the oil back into circulation with the refrigerant and acting as a barrier against future buildup. These validated additives, like ECM Technologies’ ThermaClear solution, are a sure remedy to restoring lost efficiency, extending equipment life and lowering overall building emissions. With no additional hardware or downtime, one application can restore a system back to optimal operating efficiency for the life span of the equipment.
With validated HVAC additives, building owners and facility managers not only have the opportunity to gain back lost HVAC performance to the benefit of reduced energy consumption and lower energy costs, but can reduce building carbon footprint.
Michael Daly, P.E., chief technology officer at ECM Technologies, is a seasoned professional with 30-plus years of engineering and business management experience. He has made a career of developing, manufacturing and selling lifesaving and life-changing technologies focused on energy conservation measures. Currently, he is bringing HVAC innovation to the market with ThermaClear, ECM Technologies’ green HVAC treatment that helps building owners improve their carbon footprint and cut electrical costs with a fast payback period. Daly has a PE license in the State of Arizona, with his BSME from the University of Arizona and executive education through the Harvard Business School Program for Management Development. Additionally, he received his program management certification, PMP, through PMI and is certified in several quality methodologies.
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