After two years of virtual events, AHR Expo celebrated its triumphant return to in-person events with a showcase of cutting-edge HVAC technology in Las Vegas.

AHR 2022 was marked by a number of themes that were picked up in ASHRAE and AHRIs Trend Report 2022. This industry snapshot captured the opportunities, threats, and challenges facing the HVAC industry in the near future, including a key theme the organizations dubbed “The Future is Clean.” New regulations, the push toward decarbonization and electrification, and the emergence of new low-Global Warming Potential (GWP) refrigerants are all making a significant impact on the HVAC industry.

Additionally, the pandemic has also led to a focus on clean air – people are more aware of their indoor environment and are clamoring for more insight into what they are breathing.

These trends were reflected on the exhibition floor where these three themes emerged.

[Related: Today’s Top Trends in HVAC Technology]

1. The trend towards low GWP refrigerants

Several manufacturers have introduced low GWP refrigerants. This innovation is an answer to that Phasing out hydrofluorocarbon (HFC) refrigerants.that contribute to global warming.

Daikin applied introduces new split systems that use R-32, a single-component refrigerant. R-32 is already widely used in Europe and Asia (as well as in window units in the US) and accounts for 50% of R-410A, one of the phase-out refrigerants. It has a GWP of 675 compared to R-410A’s 2,088 GWP.

“[R-32 is] proven, simple, efficient and available,” said Philip Johnston, GM and Low GWP Program Manager at Daikin Applied. “It’s a non-proprietary component that’s manufactured by many companies around the world, so people can be confident that they can get it. R-32 is the backbone of R-410A and also the backbone of other proprietary blends. It works and it works so well.”

Honeywell introduced Solstice N71 at AHR. This refrigerant is optimized for supermarket applications and is designed to replace R-404A, another HFC refrigerant that needs to be phased out. It is non-flammable, energy efficient and has a GWP of less than 150. “N71 will be 13% more efficient than R-404A and compared to a CO2 system it is 30% more energy efficient,” explained Sunita Rai Singh, General Manager and Global LOB, Advanced Materials and Fluorine Products, for Honeywell.

2. Local moratoria on gas and oil

Gas and oil-fired furnace heating systems are on the decline in several cities and states that have enacted moratoriums on new gas construction, said Mike Smith, senior manager of marketing and communications for Mitsubishi Electric Trane HVAC US. A possible replacement is a high-performance heat pump. Some models can also heat hot water, making them a solid solution.

Consumers seem happy that more sustainable solutions are on the market, but are also demanding cost savings through greater efficiency, Smith added. Mitsubishi Electric Trane HVAC US has conducted focus groups to ask customers about sustainability issues and found that customers really want a balance between the two.

“We try to balance the sustainable benefits with the efficiency benefits of our products so that customers not only save money and have a more efficient system, but also benefit society and their community by reducing their emissions to do what they choose ‘ Smith said.

[Related: Is VRF the HVAC Solution for Your Hotel?]

3. The demand for cleaner air

COVID-19 is driving a renewed focus on indoor air quality. People increasingly want to know what they are breathing – and that includes all aspects of air quality, not just the risk of virus transmission. HVAC technology manufacturers are responding with greater IAQ transparency. One such offering in this area is Johnson Controls’ OpenBlue IAQ as a servicewhich starts with a basic understanding of how the building operates and then addresses any indoor air quality needs as they arise.

OpenBlue IAQ as a Service is offered as a subscription, explains Tyler Smith, Executive Director of Healthy Buildings at Johnson Controls. This potentially shifts large upfront investments to the building’s operating budget. It also means that there is daily monitoring with IAQ sensors, so someone is measuring progress towards IAQ targets every day instead of implementing a solution and forgetting about it.

deVerid, another company working in the IAQ space, is targeting air quality with its sorbent ventilation technology that captures VOCs, CO2 and other gaseous pollutants. The company now offers a HEPA filtration system combined with the sorbent aeration system to combat not only gases but also microbes, bioaerosols and particulate matter. In this way, the indoor air is cleaned and there is no need to constantly supply maximum outside air, which is sometimes done as a precautionary measure to try to flush out SARS-CoV-2 and other airborne germs.

“It works when it’s possible, but buildings may not have the capacity to move more air through these systems and it’s energy intensive to condition all outdoor air,” said Christian Weeks, CEO of enVerid. “That led to risk modeling and further analysis. How can we combine ventilation with high-level filtration to clean indoor air and not just rely on outdoor air to maintain safe spaces?”

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