Hydrocarbons

Survey

As you all know, a few days ago I sent out a survey to the industry asking questions on hydrocarbon refrigerants.  The goal of this was to help me understand how folks who are working in the industry everyday feel about them. Does it make sense to switch over to hydrocarbons? Should the charge limits be increased? What parts of the world have adopted them, what parts are hesitant to move forward?

This was a new idea for the RefrigerantHQ website and I had high hopes for the results. After letting the surveys come in for the past couple days I am more then happy with the participation that I received. As I write this article eighty surveys have come in. Now, I know that may not sound like a lot but I believe it is enough to at least give us a glimpse on what the industry thinks of hydrocarbons.

What I was most happy with is that we received feedback from across the globe. Yes, the majority of the surveys, about sixty-five percent, came from the United States. But, there were many others from around the world. Fifteen percent of responses came from various countries within the European Union. Seven percent came from Australia. Five percent came from east and central Asia, and another five percent came from Africa. We had some come from the Middle East and even one entry from the island of Fiji.

Hydrocarbon Training

One of the questions I asked on the survey was about hydrocarbon training. In order to handle hydrocarbons applications you have to have proper training. These are flammable refrigerants and if a laymen is trying to repair them there is risk. That is why I saw this question as so important. How many of us out there have had proper training on handling these refrigerants?

With the results I received I was able to break it down by country and also by type of company. Let me first start with training percentages by country. In this I am only going to include the European Union and the United States as the other datasets from other countries was too small to make an accurate judgment. When participants were asked if they have received hydrocarbon training eighty-two percent of people from the EU stated that they had. I also added up the results from all of the ‘other’ countries which includes Africa, Australia, Asia, etc. Their training percentage was at seventy-five percent. If we compare the same question to the United States we see sixty-two percent.

It is obvious to see that the United States is lagging behind other countries when it comes to hydrocarbon training. I had suspected this already before the survey was taken out. There is a certain fear associated with these types of refrigerants, especially within the United States. As an example, a survey participant stated,

“Use of any flammable, explosive, or toxic refrigerants should be outlawed. Anyone who installs one will eventually find himself being sued when it explodes. The natural refrigerants like Ammonia are toxic, and the natural refrigerants like CO2 are explosive because of their exceedingly high ambient pressures. This makes them very dangerous for anyone to work on.”

There were many results similar to the one I quoted above. They weren’t all from the United States either. There were just as many negative comments on hydrocarbons from the European Union as well. Here are a few:

“The use of hydrocarbon refrigerants such as R290, R600, R600a etc need to controlled very carefully. of course, I understand that they are low global warmers, but they are also explosive & present a very significant safety hazard. No good in reducing global warming if we blow ourselves up in the process, ie witness the disaster at Grenfell Tower in London where many people died to the use of hydrocarbons initially in the refrigeration unit & then in the cladding. In my view, the European are going entirely in the wrong direction by easing the restrictions on HCs in EN378. There are other, and much safer, ways of reducing global warming, both direct & indirect, than enabling HCs to become mainstream refrigerants, which would be a disaster & inevitably lead to many accidents & fatalities. Indeed, we as a company are working on such alternatives which are non flammable & with low GWPs.” – Survey Participant from the EU

Another One:

“In Europe for chiller/HPs we’re introducing low GWP (but not so low) HFC R32, R454B, R452B classified A2L. It is already hard to introduce these gases to customers used to work with no-flammable A1 (R410A basically). So I think A3 hydrocarbons would be definitely not accepted at all, except for some niches where they have already some market share.” – Survey Participant from the EU

Reading these comments had me look at the training numbers again. This time I looked at who has been trained by company type regardless of country. This way of looking at the data revealed a lot more. Over eighty percent of the entries from distributors and manufacturers have had hydrocarbon training. The same goes with the automotive sector, but that is most likely due to the HFO-1234yf slight flammability. Now if we look at the training percentage on HVAC contractors the number is only fifty percent. Because of this low number it dragged down the entire overall training percentage to sixty-five percent.

What does all of that mean? There are two things at work here. I believe part of this is a fear of the unknown but another part, just as big, is a legitimate fear of flammability risk. The flammability danger will always be there but what we can do is work on better training to alleviate the fear of the unknown. Looking at the percentages we recorded through the survey there is a gap in training offered or required when working with hydrocarbon refrigerants. Like it or not folks it is the way the industry is moving. HFCs are on the way out and many companies are moving towards hydrocarbon refrigerants. Training needs to occur.

From what I can gather there is one country that is doing an outstanding job when it comes to using hydrocarbons everyday and also ensuring that the proper training is not only given but is required. That country is Australia. I received a few surveys from over there and each one of them had great feedback. Here are a couple of their responses:

“Yes, we work with R600a as well and to be honest we have found no issues with either of them except for the actual weight allowance so it is only good for the smaller self contained cabinets. We would like the charge luted to 500grams so them a much wider self contained market can come int play and as this refrigerant is very efficient it also helps with power / ozone.
We have good training over here for these refrigerants from our training colleges and also the refrigerant suppliers which means after the training you actually get a certificate so you can purchase it legally. Now over here they are talking about putting it A/C units which is madness as these units can hold weights up to 5kgs or more. So far we have said we will not support this maddness as it is far too dangerous.” – Survey Participant from Australia

Another response from Australia:

“Firstly, because approximately only 40% of original charge is used to obtain equivalent super heat & sub cooling settings, then the flammability is reduced to the lower charge with a hydrocarbon. We have been using hydrocarbons now for approximately 4 -5 years with no issues what so ever. The most important aspect I see is that techs or tradies using hydrocarbon refrigerants are not “cowboys” of the industry. We have attended many installations done by cowboys of the industry and they obviously do not own or do not know how to use the following:

  • Nitrogen Regulator & Nitrogen
  • Vacuum Pump
  • Digital Vacuum Gauge
  • Leak Detector

Their installations leak due to badly cut copper and no de-burring, no oil used on the seat or shoulder of the flare and the use of leak lock on a flare – all incorrect and bad installation practices.
Then they fail to pressurize the system to at least 1.5 times operating pressures of the refrigerant. Next they fail to vacuum the system correctly, ie. Evacuate to under 500 microns, isolate the vacuum pump and ensure vacuum does not rise beyond 500 microns.

Until installers can get this right then to me they are a hazard to the community if allowed to work with hydrocarbon refrigerant. Hydrocarbon refrigerant is an excellent refrigerant in the hands of good techs and fridgies. As here in Australia a person does not have to be licensed to buy Hydrocarbon refrigerant, unlike not being able to buy Hydrofluorocarbons because they are not licensed opens up a Pandora’s box to probable fires etc, not acceptable.” – Survey Participant from Australia

I really liked the term ‘cowboys’ that the last participant used. I am sure you have all seen the cowboys of the industry or even the homeowner/business owner who thinks they can do it themselves. When R-404A or R-410A is being used the worst that happens it that it gets vented into the atmosphere by someone who doesn’t know what they are doing. With hydrocarbons though it is a different story. A cowboy can cause significant damage and risk to themselves and others.

So the question now to everyone is how do we as an industry get better at training? We all know hydrocarbons are coming. What is the correct answer here? How can we minimize the risk? Do we introduce new national training legislation for each country? The biggest gap in training right now are the contractors who are actually in the field working on these systems. What can we do to provide the knowledge they need to keep them safe?

Conclusion

This article only covered the training section of the survey questions. I will be doing another article on the charge limit and preferred refrigerant choice of the future in the coming weeks. Hopefully by then I have even more survey results back!

While I hope to achieve more survey results the next time we do one of these in the future I am more then pleased to see this initial pilot go so well. I will see how this results article does on traffic. If this performs well also, then I will begin thinking of an additional survey for a month or two down the road. Perhaps we could turn it into a quarterly industry survey. I believe it could be quite the success. With that in mind, if any of you have ideas on what you would like to see in the next survey please reach out to me.

Also, if you’d like to see more detailing statistics on this survey please reach out to me.

Thank you all for reading,

Alec Johnson

RefrigerantHQ

Greetings everyone. I hope that you and your families are staying safe and healthy during these recent times. It seems that the COVID crisis has slowed most everything down across the world including the HVAC industry. I have been watching the headlines  but have not found anything major enough to write an article on in the past few weeks. That got me thinking though, if there isn’t trending news at this time then why not attempt to make our own?

I had the idea this evening to put together a short survey for my readers. I assure you that it is quite short and will only take a few minutes of your time. The topic is hydrocarbon refrigerants such as R-290 propane and R-600a isobutane. The goal here is to get enough feedback from the readers so that I can not only disseminate everyone’s feelings about hydrocarbons but am also able to find a consensus amongst the industry. It will also give a unique view by area of the world. I am very interested to see how thoughts differ between United States and other countries.

If this goes well I will write a followup article that goes over the results and what some of the most frequent comments are. If this doesn’t go well, then you can be assured that I will go back to our standard article format. Either way, thanks for reading!

[formidable id=2]

The other day I was reading an article from Hydrocarbons21.com on the prospect of using R-290 propane in refrigerated transportation. The headline caught my eye and dragged me in. The company Transfrig has been experimenting with the idea of using R-290 propane in their refrigerated trucks. The idea is still in its infancy but I believe it has a lot of opportunity within the United States and the rest of the world.

The company Transfrig is based out of South Africa and has been around since 2002. They specialize in transport refrigeration and aim to be the number one choice for businesses within Africa. In recent years they have also expanded internationally to countries including Hong Kong, China, the Middle East, Libya, Liberia, Australia and Nigeria. In 2018 Transfrig was acquired by the automotive research group out of Paris known as Valeo.

The choice for R-290 for their new refrigerant was a unique one. They had originally looked at using R-744 but after some further research they decided they wanted to stay with a subcritical system. The hydrocarbon R-290 has been around for centuries and was one of the first refrigerants used before we saw CFC/HCFC refrigerants come to market. Propane is not going anywhere. It is also one of the best refrigerants out there when it comes to environmental impact. R-290 has a Global Warming Impact of only three and has no Ozone Depletion Potential.

Also, along with the lower GWP using R-290 for refrigerated transportation is more efficient then R-404A. In fact it has between a fifteen to twenty-five percent better coefficient of performance (COP) in medium temperature applications and between a ten to thirty percent COP increase in lower temperature applications. This increased efficiency also translates into around a sixteen percent savings in diesel usage. You get the benefit of having a very low Global Warming Potential refrigerant as well as having increased system efficiency for both the refrigeration system as well as the diesel engine.

The proposed unit from Transfrig uses a charge of only one point three to one point four pounds. That is an eighty percent decrease in charge when compared to your standard R-404A models. (A 404A unit could have between 6 and 8 pound charge.) Not only is R-290 cheaper then R-404A but you will also need less per recharge.

Drawbacks

Obviously the biggest fear here when using a hydrocarbon like R-290 is the chance of ignition. Over the evolution of refrigerants certain countries have adopted use of hydrocarbons in everyday use while other countries, like the United States, have shied away from mainstream hydrocarbon usage. Here in the US we have always preferred safety over climate, but times are changing and the push for climate friendly refrigerants are gaining traction.

The good news here is that there are a few good points here to help alleviate some of these flammability concerns. The first is that we had mentioned earlier the charge of these systems is quite small at less then two pounds. That is about ten percent of the propane that you’d find in your standard grill tank. (Yes, I am aware that propane used on grills and refrigerant are different.) The point I’m making here is that it is quite a small charge.

You can look at this another way too folks, almost all new cars nowadays are using the newer HFO 1234yf refrigerant. This refrigerant is classified as slightly flammable and the typical charge on a car can range between one to four pounds of refrigerant. So, you are looking at either the same, or even a smaller, charge then what is already in your car that you drive everyday. It puts things into perspective.

Transfrig also understands the concerns of possible ignition. To compensate for this have have installed a leak detection system that alerts the driver if the system falls below fifty percent charge capacity. If this does happen an alarm sounds and it is then recommended for the driver to pull over, open the container hold, and let it air out. After some time it can then be driven to a dealer for servicing.

The prototype unit was tested over a one year period on a refrigerated truck from the Ola Ice Cream Company based out of South Africa. The article at Hydrocarbons21.com puts the change of ignition at a thousand times less likely then that of an vehicular accident with the same truck. Throughout these tests there were no major issues found and since the test went so well the decision was made at Transfrig to migrate all of their refrigeration range of products over to the new R-290 design.

United States

As most of all you know HFC refrigerants, such R-404A, are on their way out. There has been countless debate and as back and forth on the United States’ HFC policies… but one thing is certain: HFCs do not have much longer and one of the top targets is R-404A.

Even if the Federal Government never comes up with an HFC phase down law it will not matter as there are so many states right now offering their own individual regulations and phase downs on HFCs. As the snowball begins to pick up speed we will see more and more states joining and mimicking other states policies. It will get to the point, if it hasn’t already, that it will not make financial sense to continue using HFC refrigerants. Why make one system for one state and another system for a different state? Business wise it makes sense to adhere to the strictest restrictions and be in compliance everywhere with your product.

So, what we will be left with is a hole for manufactures to fill. What refrigerants will be used instead of R-404A? In my opinion I believe R-290 has a legitimate chance. It makes sense. The only question now is can Transfrig truly prove their concept over the next few years… and if they do will United States government and importers take notice?

There are many folks who believe once a refrigerant has been chosen for an application then that refrigerant is it. Yes, it will never have one-hundred percent market share but it will have the lion’s share. There are many reasons for this but the biggest one is that it is just easier this way. Technicians only really have to become familiar with just a few refrigerants. There are very little surprises. Some of you may not agree with this statement, but we have a recent example to reference. Just look at R-134a’s transition over to R-1234yf. Yes, there are some outliers out there using R-744… but for the most part every new car is using R-1234yf.

Now that we are beginning to see the end of R-404A there is a hole in the marketplace when it comes to refrigerated transportation. Could R-290 fill this? There are a lot of hurdles to go through if Transfrig wishes to pursue. They have to test further. They have to roll trucks off the line and ensure there are no problems. Also, as I was writing this article I went and checked the EPA’s SNAP approved refrigerants on refrigerated transport. I was ninety-nine percent sure R-290 wasn’t approved… and I was right. So, they would have to through the EPA’s SNAP approval process as well before R-290 units could start being seen within the United States.

Conclusion

Let’s say though folks that we do end up seeing R-290 units in a few years across the globe and maybe even within the United States. What is the next step? If we are already using it in refrigerated trucks why couldn’t we use it in our vehicles as well? Remember how I said that R-1234yf was slightly flammable? Well… so is propane. The big difference here is that R-290 isn’t nearly as expensive as the HFO R-1234yf.

I’m going to throw some numbers out there and am also going to overestimate price on R-290 just so we can get a clear picture of the differences. Let us say that R-290 is about eight dollars per pound today. Then if we look at R-1234yf we can see that it is sixty dollars per pound. That is nearly a ninety percent savings when you go with R-290. Both refrigerants are flammable, both have very low Global Warming Potential, and both are Ozone friendly.

Now, I am not an engineer by any means, but I am wondering after researching this article… what is stopping us from using R-290 in our vehicles? If we can prove concept and go through the traditional SNAP approval process… why not? It would be an alternative to the 1234yf and it would save consumers a significant amount of money. What if, down the road, R-290 does get approved for vehicle usage? I could see a whole aftermarket industry dedicated to retrofitting away from 1234yf and over R-290.

Thanks for reading,

Alec Johnson

RefrigerantHQ

Sources

Over the past few years the biggest concern when it came to refrigerants has been their Global Warming Potential. The higher the number the more damage that refrigerant could do to the environment. The Ozone problem has been fixed, more or less, due to the Montreal Protocol. In fact, just this month scientists announced that the Ozone hole is at the smallest it has ever been recorded. The problem today though is Global Warming or Climate Change. It seems that ALL of the popular HFC refrigerants used today have a GWP problem. Alternatives needed to be developed.

As we all know, there is no perfect refrigerant. There are always sacrifices that have to be made when selecting a refrigerant rather this be safety, environment, performance, or cost. Because of all of the press and news coverage that Climate Change has been receiving the world has been focused on reducing all of these refrigerants’ environmental impact. The smaller the GWP number the more friendly the refrigerant is to the environment.

The problem here is that the alternatives on the marketplace today that have a lower GWP number also come with a higher flammability rating. The HFCs that we all know and love today are mostly all rated as a ‘1’ on ASHRAE’s flammability scale. These refrigerants show no sign of flame propagation when tested in air at 21° Celsius (69.8° Fahrenheit) and 101 KPA. (14.6488 pounds of force per square inch.) These refrigerants are also non-toxic and are rated as an A1 on ASHRAE’s scale. They are very safe to technicians and to end-users.

The alternative refrigerants that are now being used in place of R-410A, R-404A, R-134a, and other HFCs are NOT rated as a ‘Class 1’ on the flammability scale. Depending on the refrigerant you will most likely see them rated as a ‘Class 2’ or a ‘Class 2L.’ These refrigerants are slightly flammable, or have a lower flammability rating. In some cases HFC alternatives, like Hydrocarbons, are rated as a ‘Class 3’ on the flammability rating scale. These refrigerants are in the higher flammability risk zone, some examples of them are R-290 Propane and R-600a Isobutane.

While some of these replacement refrigerants have been around for decades, others are being developed in laboratories as we speak. Honeywell and Chemours both have their own newer product lines known as Solstice and Opteon. These lines mainly focus on HFO refrigerants but also have some HFC releases as well. In both instances though these new refrigerants are classified as lower flammability. Some examples of these are the ever-popular automotive application known as R-1234yf and then Honeywell’s R-452B (Solstice L41y.)

In the past the United States has been hesitant to use refrigerants with flammability risk. Safety was the priority for us. If the choice was between environmental harm or worker/end-user safety we seemed to choose safety most of the time. This isn’t as true for the rest of the world. Countries in eastern Asia have been working with hydrocarbons and other flammable refrigerants for decades without any major issues. But, there is a lot more training and precautions that have to be taken in order to work on a propane system correctly.

The question that I have in my head, and what caused me to write this article today, is that is the United States ready to adopt these flammable refrigerants? I’m not just talking about in vending machines or super market coolers folks. No, are we ready to accept flammable refrigerants in a traditional home or office split system? R-32 is looking to do just that. Over in Europe and Asia it has become one of the leading refrigerant for split system applications and is widely seen as the replacement for R-410A. R-32 is rated as 2L, so it is only slightly flammable, but the risk is still there.

Looking at the Environmental Protection Agency’s SNAP approved refrigerants list I do see R-32 on there as an approved refrigerant for home and office air conditioning. The catch is that it has to be “for use in self-contained room air conditioning; see rule for detailed conditions.” (Source). So, the applications are still limited for now, but that may change in the near future. Mini-split R-32s have become quite popular as well. I believe it’s only a matter of time before we start seeing R-32 in split systems.

I am curious, what my readers think of this. Do any of you see problems with flammable refrigerants? What are your thoughts on the refrigerant pendulum swinging away from safety and over to environmental? Will you feel comfortable working on systems with these types of refrigerants? I’m anxious to hear your thoughts on the matter as all I see on the topic are others who have written articles. Please feel free to e-mail me your thoughts!

Thanks for reading,

Alec Johnson

RefrigerantHQ

Flammable Refrigerants

Last month I wrote on the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) and their decision on rather or not to increase the allowed charge limit on hydrocarbon refrigerant applications. Before their decision was made the maximum approved amount was one-hundred and fifty grams under the IEC 60335-2-8 global standard. This proposed increase would have moved the one-hundred and fifty grams limit up to five-hundred grams.

In April the IEC voted against the charge increase amendment. The decision was lost by one no vote. This ruling caused great disappointment across the industry. Many companies and organizations have been pushing to increase charge limits on flammable hydrocarbon refrigerants. The increased charge limit would allow hydrocarbons to be used in larger variety of applications.

Hydrocarbons are one of the top contenders for future refrigerants as the world begins to phase down HFC refrigerants such as R-134a, R-404A, and R-410A due to their high Global Warming Potential. While hydrocarbons can be dangerous due to their flammability they are also one of the most environmentally friendly refrigerants out there as they have no Ozone Depletion Potential and have very little Global Warming Potential.

There is a fine line that has to be walked though as if the charge limit on a propane or isobutane system is too high then the risk of catastrophic failure becomes higher.

This Week’s Recount

It was announced this week by the IEC that a recount was done on last month’s vote. It was found that Malaysia’s no vote was cast illegitimately. The Malaysian vote did not follow the proper voting procedures. In order to vote no you had to provide technical justification for your no vote. If no justification was provided then your vote would be rejected. This is precisely what happened to Malaysia’s vote this month.

While it has not been made one-hundred percent official yet it appears that there are no further roadblocks in the path of IEC adjusting their 60335-2-89 standard. A3 refrigerants will see their charge limit increase to five-hundred grams and A2L refrigerants will see their charge limits increase to one point two kilograms. (One point one pounds on A3 refrigerants and two point four pounds on A2L refrigerants.)

Conclusion

While the IEC is not a governmental organization it serves as a global standard within various industries sand it is who governments look towards for guidance. The IEC ruling to increase charge limits on hydrocarbon applications will be seen as the first steps in seeing further hydrocarbon rollouts across the world.

There is a lot of debate on this decision.  Many folks have expressed concern about increasing charge limits on these highly flammable refrigerants. Obviously, the higher the charge limits the higher the chance of ignition and explosion.  But, if proper precautions are taken by both the manufacturers and the service technicians then all should be fine. All it could take though is one mistake and an incident could occur.

As we move forward from the IEC’s decision we can expect to see other countries and manufacturers beginning to adopt larger hydrocarbon applications. We may first begin to see this in Asia and then in the European Union.

The United States is quite a bit behind the times when it comes to hydrocarbons. It was just a bit ago when the Environmental Protection Agency increased the approved charge limit from fifty grams to one-hundred and fifty grams. So, we just caught up to the global standard and now it has changed again to five-hundred grams.  I predict it will be quite a while before the EPA approves five-hundred gram applications.

No matter how you feel about the IEC’s decision, this topic is another example of the safety versus climate balance. No refrigerants are perfect and while we all know the world wants to get rid of HFCs is it really worth moving away from HFCs if we are risking our own safety to do so? Personally, I think not. I believe we should hold onto HFCs until a more suitable and safer alternative is discovered.

As to what will happen only time will tell.

Thanks for reading,

Alec Johnson

RefrigerantHQ

Sources

Flammable Refrigerants

Last Friday the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) voted against increasing the charge limits on flammable hydrocarbon refrigerants such as propane (R-290) and isobutene (R-600a). The proposed changes aimed at increasing the global standard charge limit to five-hundred grams. Today, the International Standard known as IEC 60335-2-89 limits hydrocarbon A3 refrigerants at a charge of one-hundred and fifty. In order for it to pass the amendment needed a three quarters approval. It failed by one vote.

The International Electrotechnical Commission is an international standards organization that reviews, prepares, and publishes worldwide standards for electrical and other technologies. The group is made of nearly twenty-thousand experts from various industries. Their goal is to provide the companies, governments, and industries standards to follow when working with specific equipment. You can read more about them by clicking here.

Over the past decade or so there has been a large push to get back to the basics when it comes to refrigerants. Hydrocarbons were one of the very first refrigerants used way back in the 1800s. Back then, they were used because they were naturally found within the environment, were easily accessible, and performed efficiently. The problem with them back then, and in today’s world, is that they are highly flammable. Their flammability posed a potential risk and as soon as CFCs and HCFCs were synthesized we began to see a decline in hydrocarbon usage.

The push for hydrocarbons today comes from them being so environmentally friendly. Hydrocarbons have no Ozone Depletion Potential and they have very low, sometimes non-existent, Global Warming Potential. In order to use these climate friendly refrigerants while being conscious of their flammability many governments and organizations have imposed charge limits. By limiting the charge the risk of explosion is much lessened.

As a global standard IEC had a maximum charge of one-hundred and fifty grams as we mentioned above. Other governments have their own specific regulations, but they more or less follow the standard which is one-hundred and fifty grams. Here in the United States we were a bit behind the times. Up until a few years ago the maximum charge allowed by the EPA was fifty-seven grams. Most applications today have been approved by the EPA’s SNAP up to one-hundred and fifty grams. But, this was a recent development and you will still certain applications only allowing up to fifty-seven grams.

The hope from Friday’s decision was that the IEC would rule in favor of the five-hundred gram charge. This ruling would then inspire other governments and regulatory agencies to move forward with higher charged systems. It would be a cumulative effect across the world that would allow us to see hydrocarbons used in larger applications.

IEC’s ruling is disappointing to many. All is not lost though. The amendment will go back to a sub-committee where they will revisit the issue. They may end up making revisions so that it is not as such an aggressive change. In the meantime, we may see other countries move forward with their own increase in charge.

It is a delicate decision. Yes, there is a lot of pressure on having climate friendly refrigerants, but that doesn’t mean we should dive into flammable refrigerants. There has to be a balance between safety and climate. This balance may mean we need steer more towards less flammable refrigerants such as HFOs. Hydrocarbons will always have their place in their world but their growth into newer applications will be limited this latest ruling. This story broke from Hydrocarbons21.com.

Thanks,

Alec Johnson

RefrigerantHQ

Sources

RefrigerantHQ's Pressure Charts

One of the very first steps when it comes to diagnosing your home air conditioner, refrigerator, or even your vehicle’s air conditioner is understanding the temperature and the current pressure that your system is operating at. Having these facts along with the saturation point, the subcool, and the superheat  numbers for the refrigerant you are working on are essential when it comes to really understanding what is going wrong with your system.

After a visual inspection the very next step for the most seasoned technicians is pulling out their gauges and checking the pressure and temperature. It just becomes second nature after enough calls. I have heard stories of rookie techs calling some of the pros on their team for help on a system that they’re stuck on. It doesn’t matter what the situation is. It doesn’t matter if you’re in Miami or in Fargo. It will never fail that one of the first questions the pros ask the rookie is what is your subcool and what is your superheat? Having  and understanding these numbers is key to figuring out what to do next.

But, these numbers won’t do you any good if you don’t know what refrigerant you are dealing with and what the refrigerant’s boiling point is at each pressure level. This article aims at providing you with just that information.

R-290 Pressure Chart

A few decades ago very few people had heard of using propane as a refrigerant. Propane was the stuff you use in your grill and what powered your forklift. While the concept of using R-290 as a refrigerant had been around for over a century it was rarely used due to the flammability risk. Over the years though technology has improved and the need for an environmentally refrigerant has surfaced. The HFC refrigerants that most of the world uses today have a huge impact on Global Warming and an alternative needed to be found. Propane provides the answer to that alternative. Already today in the United States we are seeing propane in vending machines, ice machines, stand alone supermarket refrigerators/freezers, and in many other applications. As time moves forward and the Environmental Protection Agency becomes more comfortable with R-290 we may begin to see more and more applications be authorized to use propane. 

If you would like to read more about R-290 propane refrigerant please click here to be taken to our refrigerant fact sheet.

Let’s take a look at our pressure chart:

°F °C PSI KPA
-40 -40 1.4 9.7
-35 -37 3.4 23.4
-30 -34 5.7 39.3
-25 -32 8.1 55.8
-20 -29 10.7 73.8
-15 -26 13.6 93.8
-10 -23 16.7 115.1
-5 -21 20.1 138.6
0 -18 23.7 163.4
5 -15 27.6 190.3
10 -12 31.8 219.3
15 -9 36.3 250.3
20 -7 41.1 283.4
25 -4 46.3 319.2
30 -1 51.8 357.15
35 2 57.7 397.8
40 4 63.9 440.6
45 7 70.6 486.8
50 10 77.6 535
55 13 85.1 586.7
60 16 93 641.2
65 18 101.4 699.1
70 21 110.2 759.8
75 24 119.5 823.9
80 27 129.3 891.5
85 29 139.7 963.2
90 32 150.5 1037.7
95 35 161.9 1116.3
100 38 173.9 1198.9
105 41 186.5 1285.8
110 43 199.6 1376.2
115 46 213.4 1471.3
120 49 227.8 1570.6
125 52 242.9 1674.7
130 54 258.7 1783.7
135 57 275.1 1896.7
140 60 292.3 2015.3
145 63 310.2 2138.7
150 66 328.9 2267.7
155 68 348.4 2402.1
160 71 368.7 2542.1

Conclusion

There you have it folks. I hope this article was helpful and if you find that something is inaccurate here in my chart please do not hesitate to reach out to me. I have sourced this the best I could but there is always going to be conflicting data.  I’ve seen it multiple times on various refrigerants. I’ll search for a refrigerant’s pressure chart and get various results all showing different pounds per square inch temperatures.

The aim with this article is to give you accurate information so again, if you see anything incorrect please let me know by contacting me here. On top of this post we are also working on a comprehensive refrigerant pressure/temperature listing. The goal is to have every refrigerant out there listed with a pressure/temperature chart that is easily available. 

Thanks for reading,

Alec Johnson

RefrigerantHQ

Owner

RefrigerantHQ's Pressure Charts

One of the very first steps when it comes to diagnosing your home air conditioner, refrigerator, or even your vehicle’s air conditioner is understanding the temperature and the current pressure that your system is operating at. Having these facts along with the saturation point, the subcool, and the superheat  numbers for the refrigerant you are working on are essential when it comes to really understanding what is going wrong with your system.

After a visual inspection the very next step for the most seasoned technicians is pulling out their gauges and checking the pressure and temperature. It just becomes second nature after enough calls. I have heard stories of rookie techs calling some of the pros on their team for help on a system that they’re stuck on. It doesn’t matter what the situation is. It doesn’t matter if you’re in Miami or in Fargo. It will never fail that one of the first questions the pros ask the rookie is what is your subcool and what is your superheat? Having  and understanding these numbers is key to figuring out what to do next.

But, these numbers won’t do you any good if you don’t know what refrigerant you are dealing with and what the refrigerant’s boiling point is at each pressure level. This article aims at providing you with just that information.

R-600a Pressure Chart

Isobutane is being seen more and more across the world. This holds especially true as various countries begin to phase out the ever common HFC refrigerants such as R-404A and R-134a. There will come a time where HFCs area thing of the past and we need to be ready for it. Today we are seeing isobutane based systems in home refrigerators/freezers, vending machines, ice machines, stand alone supermarket refrigerators/freezers, and many more expanding options. While they are quite popular in Europe and in Asia it is only a matter of time before they start showing up in United States. If you haven’t run into one of these systems yet then it’s only a matter of time. For more information on R-600a please click here to be taken to our R-600a Refrigerant Fact Sheet.

Let’s take a look at our pressure chart:

°F °C psi kpa
-40 -40 4.16 28.7
-36 -38 4.6 31.75
-33 -36 5.08 35.05
-29 -34 5.6 38.62
-26 -32 6.16 42.47
-22 -30 6.76 46.62
-18 -28 7.41 51.09
-15 -26 8.11 55.9
-11 -24 8.85 61.05
-8 -22 9.66 66.57
-4 -20 10.51 72.48
0 -18 11.43 78.79
3 -16 12.4 85.52
7 -14 13.45 92.7
10 -12 14.55 100.33
14 -10 15.73 108.45
18 -8 16.98 117.07
21 -6 18.31 126.21
25 -4 19.71 135.89
28 -2 21.19 146.13
32 0 22.77 156.96
36 2 24.42 168.39
39 4 26.17 180.45
43 6 28.02 193.16
46 8 29.96 206.54
50 10 32 220.61
54 12 34.14 235.41
57 14 36.4 250.94
61 16 38.76 267.24
64 18 41.24 284.32
68 20 43.83 302.22
72 22 46.55 320.95
75 24 49.39 340.54
79 26 52.36 361.02
82 28 55.46 382.4
86 30 58.7 404.72
90 32 62.08 428
93 34 65.6 452.26
97 36 69.26 477.53
100 38 73.08 503.84
104 40 77.05 531.21
108 42 81.17 559.66
111 44 85.46 589.23
115 46 89.92 619.95
118 48 94.54 651.82
122 50 99.34 684.9
126 52 104.31 719.19
129 54 109.47 754.74
133 56 114.81 791.56

Conclusion

There you have it folks. I hope this article was helpful and if you find that something is inaccurate here in my chart please do not hesitate to reach out to me. I have sourced this the best I could but there is always going to be conflicting data.  I’ve seen it multiple times on various refrigerants. I’ll search for a refrigerant’s pressure chart and get various results all showing different pounds per square inch temperatures.

The aim with this article is to give you accurate information so again, if you see anything incorrect please let me know by contacting me here. On top of this post we are also working on a comprehensive refrigerant pressure/temperature listing. The goal is to have every refrigerant out there listed with a pressure/temperature chart that is easily available. 

Thanks for reading,

Alec Johnson

RefrigerantHQ

Owner

facts

In the very beginning of refrigerants and air conditioning there were a select few refrigerants used. These refrigerants occurred naturally within our environment and were known as natural refrigerants. These included ammonia, carbon dioxide, water, and oxygen. Among these natural refrigerants under a subset category are what’s known as hydrocarbon refrigerants. Some examples of hydrocarbon refrigerants are propane, butane, ethyl, and isobutane.

In this article we’re going to take an in-depth look at the isobutane refrigerant also known as R-600a. What are the facts on this refrigerant? What are the pros and cons? What are some worthy notations? How is it used today and how will it be used in the future? We will go all over of this and more. Without further adieu let’s dive in and take a look:

The Facts

Name:R-600a
Name - Scientific:Isobutane
Name (2):HC-600a
Name (3):Care-10
Name (4)R600a
Classification:Hydrocarbon Refrigerant
Chemistry:C4H10 or CH(CH3)2CH3
Status:Active & Growing
Future:Will Be Used All Over The World
Application:Home Refrigerators & Freezers
Application (2):Commercial Refrigerators & Freezers
Application (3):Commercial Vending Machines & Plug-Ins
Application (4):Industrial Refrigeration
Application (5):Medium, High, &Very High Temperature
Replacement For:CFCs, HCFCs, and now HFCs
Ozone Depletion Potential:0
Global Warming Potential:3
Global Warming Risk:Very Low
Toxicity Levels:A (No Toxicity Identified.)
Flammability Levels:Class 3 - Highly Flammable
Lubricant Required:MO, AB, POE
Boiling Point:−11.7 °C (10.9 °F; 261.4 K)
Critical Temperature:134.7 °C or 274.46 °F
Critical Pressure:3,640 kpa
Auto ignition Temperature:460 °C (860 °F; 733 K)
Flash Point−83 °C (−117 °F; 190 K)
Molar Mass:58.124 g·mol−1
Density:2.51 kg/m3 (at 15 °C, 100 kPa)
Density (2):563 kg/m3 (at 15 °C, boiling liquid)
Melting Point:−159.42 °C (−254.96 °F; 113.73 K)
Vapor Pressure: 3.1 atm (310 kPa) (at 21 °C (294 K; 70 °F))
Manufacturers:Various Including: Honeywell, Chemours, Arkema, Mexichem, Chinese, etc.
Manufacturing Facilities:All Over Including: USA, Mexico, EU, China, and others.
Form:Gas
Color:Colorless gas
Odor:Odorless
EPA Certification Required:No
Require Certification to Purchase?No
Cylinder Color:Unknown
Cylinder Sizes:1 lb, 20 lb, 100 lb, 200 lb, 420 lb.
Purchasing:CLICK FOR A QUOTE!

R-600a Pressure Chart

Knowing the pressure and the temperatures associated to the machine you are working on is essential to being able to diagnose any possible issues. Without knowing the temperatures you are more or less walking blind. These pressure checks give you the facts so that you can move onto the next step of your diagnosis. Instead of pasting a large table of information here I will instead direct you to our specific R-600a refrigerant temperature page. This can be found by clicking here.

R-600a Pros & Cons

Just like with any other refrigerant there are always going to be pros and cons. I’ve said it countless times before, but there are no perfect refrigerants out there. Regardless of what you look at you will always have a downside. As an example of this I like to use Ammonia R-717.

Ammonia is deemed as one of the absolute best refrigerants due to it’s energy efficiency. This is why you see ammonia applications in systems that require very large charges such as meat packing plants. These systems demand a lot of energy and by having the most efficient refrigerant out there these companies can save a lot of money. The downside of ammonia based systems is it’s safety rating. Ammonia is rated as slightly flammable and is rated as toxic if exposed in large enough quantities. It is this reason alone that ammonia has seen very limited use in more residential and commercial applications.

Ok, so now that we have that in mind let’s take a look at some of the pros and cons that come with R-600a Isobutane refrigerant.

Pros

  • Just like with other hydrocarbons and natural refrigerants, Isobutane has zero Ozone Depletion Potential, or ODP. When using R-600a there is no risk of damaging the Ozone layer.
  • Sticking with the environmental side of things, R-600a also has a very low Global Warming Potential (GWP) when compared to other synthetic refrigerants such as R-134a or R-404A. Isobutane’s total GWP is 3.
  • There are also no venting regulations to worry about when dealing with R-600a. (Although, I would advocate venting due to the flammability aspect.)
  • Moving to safety, R-600a is rated as an ‘A’ from ASHRAE. The A stands for non-toxic. While that is great news, please note that isobutane is heavier then air and if enough is leaked in a confined area it can displace the oxygen in the room which can cause asphyxiation.
  • R-600a is a very efficient refrigerant with low discharge temperatures. It also operates at a low pressure level when compared to other refrigerants. Not only does this make for an overall quieter machine, but it also reduces chances of failures and extends the life of your compressor.
  • Going along with the efficiency benefit, R-600a actually requires a smaller charge to complete the same job as other refrigerants. As an example, the required charge is forty-five percent less when compared to R-134a and sixty percent less when compared to R-12.
  • Lastly, isobutane is relatively low cost when compared to the synthetic refrigerants we use today.

Cons

  • Well, you may have guessed it by now, but the biggest drawback when it comes to R-600a is it’s flammability rating. Yes, just like other hydrocarbons, flammability is the biggest factor. R-600a is rated as a ‘3’ from ASHRAE. That three signifies a ‘higher flammability,’ rating.
  • Because of this higher flammability risk with isobutane the amount of charges allowed by governments is quite limited. As an example, in the United States isobutane based systems can not have a charge greater then one-hundred and fifty grams. This was actually recently changed by the EPA. (UL standard 60335-2-24 – Source) Before that the old limit was just fifty-seven grams. This rule change applied to refrigerators and freezers as well as other approved applications we’ll get into further on into this article.
  • Again, due to it’s flammability, R-600a is not suitable for use in retrofitting existing fluorocarbon based systems such as R-22, R-134a, or R-404A. These machines were not made to handle flammable refrigerants such as R-600a.
  • Depending in the municipalities and governments on where you live you may find that hydrocarbon based systems are not allowed within certain types of buildings. These could be database centers, museums, or government buildings. This is to minimize risk of fire or explosion.
  • Lastly, technicians must be well trained in order to properly use, handle, and maintenance hydrocarbon based systems. While this may not been seen as a con, it does require extra knowledge and cost to train. This limits the amount of people who can work on these types of systems.

R-600a Points of Note

OK folks so we’ve got the facts and the pros and cons down. Now let’s take a look at some of the more intricate details of R-290.

  • Isobutane belongs to the hydrocarbon refrigerant classification and it, along with propane, are the most popular hydrocarbon refrigerants used today.
  • Isobutane is derived from butane and is created by the isomerization of butane.
  • R-600a is used for blending in a variety of other refrigerants mixes found in HCFC, HFC, and Hydrocarbon classifications. There are nearly twenty different blends with R-600a. (R-441A being one of them.)
  • As I had mentioned earlier in our ‘Pros’ section isobutane has zero Ozone Depletion Potential and a very low Global Warming Potential of three. It is one of the most climate friendly refrigerants out there today. This is one of the main reasons we are seeing a growing hydrocarbon market.
  • Because of the climate friendliness of 600a there are not venting regulations or purchase restrictions that you would normally find on other refrigerants like HFCs and HCFCs. In other words, anyone can purchase and handle R-600a without EPA Clean Air certification.
  • R-600a has an A3 safety rating from ASHRAE. The ‘A’ stands for non-toxic and the ‘3’ stands for higher flammability. This flammability rating is the biggest problem with isobutane and other hydrocarbons.
  • Isobutane is mainly used in household appliances such as refrigerators and freezers. It is also used in medical equipment, vending/ice machines, and in larger scale refrigerators and freezers such as at bakeries or gas stations.
  • R-600a is often the best choice when it comes to medium, high, and very high temperature applications. Whereas R-290 is geared towards lower temperature applications.
  • Ninety-five percent of refrigerators manufactured in Europe, China, Brazil, and Argentina use Isobutane. Even today there are more and more countries adopting R-600a for their refrigerators and freezers.
  • Isobutane is also used in non-refrigerant applications such as aerosol sprays, portable stoves that are used in camps and for geothermal power generation.
  • It is illegal to convert or retrofit existing systems over to using isobutane unless it explicitly stated in the EPA’s SNAP Program. (If outside the US then you will need to check your local regulations.)
  • Isobutane and other hydrocarbons should be handled by trained professionals due to their flammability risk.
  • Due to it’s flammable nature, systems that use isobutane have their charge amount strictly limited by governments and worldwide agencies.
    • In the United States the EPA has approved isobutane for use in certain applications but only up to one-hundred and fifty grams.
    • There are also pending global proposals to increase the standard one-hundred and fifty gram charge upwards to five-hundred grams.

R-600a EPA Approved Applications

As I was writing this article I took the time to go through the EPA’s SNAP Approved Refrigerant listing. Under each category I searched for R-600a and rather it was approved and for what charge it was approved for. (Be aware that these can change at anytime if the EPA decides to issue a new rule.) Let’s take a look:

  • Household Refrigerators & Freezers – Originally approved in December of 2011 and then revised in August of 2018. This change increased the maximum charge to one-hundred and fifty grams (source).
  • Retail Food Refrigeration – Stand Alone Equipment – Acceptable as of April of 2015. Approved applications cannot exceed charges of higher then one-hundred and fifty grams.
  • Vending Machines – Approved as of April of 2015. Approved applications cannot exceed charges of higher then one-hundred and fifty grams (source).

When going through these approved applications I was honestly surprised to see how small this list was. The list is significantly smaller then even it’s rival hydrocarbon R-290. This may be quite different if your outside of the United States.

>Also, please note that these regulations can change at any time. It is best to check the EPA’s SNAP Substitutes in Refrigeration and Air Conditioning page by clicking here to check for the most updates.

R-600A Past

The concept of refrigeration and air conditioning using refrigerants dates back over one-hundred and fifty years ago. In the very beginning stages of invention, innovation, and testing the most common refrigerants used occurred naturally within our environment. These were what’s known as natural refrigerants and within these natural refrigerants existed a subset known as hydrocarbons.

Hydrocarbons were among the very first refrigerants ever used. These included propane, isobutane, ethane, and butane. These hydrocarbons along with the natural refrigerants ammonia and carbon dioxide were the building blocks of modern refrigeration and air conditioning technology that we use today.

While these refrigerants were able to cool to the desired temperatures that we wished there were inherent problems with each one of these natural refrigerants. These ranged from the flammability problem found in hydrocarbons to the toxicity in ammonia and to the extreme operating pressures of carbon dioxide. Whatever the natural refrigerant was there was a problem associated to it.

It was in the 1930’s that the DuPont corporation formed a partnership with General Motors. The goal of this partnership was to synthesize a new type of refrigerant that would be efficient, safe, and affordable to the masses. The end result of this partnership brought into the world some of the most famous refrigerants in the world: R-11, R-12, and R-22. These new refrigerants were known under the classifications Chloroflurocarbons (CFCs) and Hydrochloroflurocarbons (HCFCs).

These new refrigerants reigned supreme for nearly sixty years. The thought of hydrocarbons and natural refrigerants was just that, a thought. Nearly everyone had moved to the new and improved CFC and HCFC refrigerants. While there was still some usage of hydrocarbons they were scarce and more often then not replaced by artificial refrigerants.

It was in the 1980’s when it was discovered that when vented or leaked into the atmosphere the chlorine in these refrigerants would damage the Ozone layer. It had gotten so bad that a thinning of the layer was beginning to form in Antarctica. Scientists sounded the alarm to their governments and after some time a world wide treaty was signed to phase down and eventually phase out all CFC and HCFC refrigerants. This treaty was known as the Montreal Protocol.

To take the place of the phasing out CFC and HCFC refrigerants a new synthesized classification was introduced known as Hydroflourocarbons (HFCs). These refrigerants were very similar to their predecessors except that they did not contain chlorine, so they did not affect the Ozone layer. While there was a rise in natural refrigerants and hydrocarbons usage during this time it was still mostly eclipsed by the newer HFC refrigerants.

The reign of HFCs was much shorter lived then previous refrigerants. It was only about fifteen to twenty years before the world decided to start phasing down HFC refrigerants as well. This time instead of the Ozone it was due to the Global Warming Potential (GWP). The higher the GWP the more damage the product does to the environment and it was found that HFCs have extremely high GWPs. A new solution needed to be found.

While HFCs are still majorly used in today’s world there is a large market for alternative refrigerants such as hydrofluoroolefins (HFOs) and now natural refrigerants including hydrocarbons. The attraction of natural refrigerants is that they are just that, natural. They are environmentally neutral which is exactly what the world is looking for today. On top of that, technology has improved leaps and bounds from where it was over a hundred years ago. In today’s world natural refrigerants and hydrocarbons are much safer.

R-600A Present & Future

In the future of refrigeration and air conditioning  we will see these most common refrigerants that we use today, HFCs, become a thing of the past. Already today they are being phased down across the world. The European Union has done away with R-134a and is working towards R-404A and eventually R-410A.

The question though is what refrigerants will replace these? There is a battle going on in the industry between natural refrigerants and the newer artificial refrigerant classification known as hydrofluoroolefins (HFOs). At this point I don’t know if there’s going to be a declared winner or not. It seems that as the years go by we are going to see certain parts of the world, and even certain companies, advocate and use one over the other. If it was me, and my business, I would push for natural refrigerants and hydrocarbons. We never truly know how long the HFOs will be with us. I mean just look at the history of the other artificial refrigerants out there. At least with the natural refrigerants we know they’ll be here forever as there is no risk of phase out.

While the push to use hydrocarbons is admirable there is still a large hurdle that needs to be cleared before we can begin to truly see world wide adoption. This hurdle is the various charge limits that have been suggested and implemented by different governments and agencies.

The IEC

In the early summer of 2018 the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) released a drafted proposal that outlined increasing the charge limits on hydrocarbon refrigerants, such as R-600a, from one-hundred and fifty grams upwards to five-hundred grams. The current standard known as IEC60335-2-89 is seen as the worldwide guideline for what charges to use in hydrocarbon based systems.

This proposed changes goes hand in hand with the lobbying efforts of North American Sustainable Refrigeration Council (NASRC). The aim is to increase the charge limits for a variety of hydrocarbon applications to five-hundred grams. This change would allow R-600a and R-290 (Propane) to be deployed to larger systems such as supermarkets and eventually air conditioners. While this change has not yet been approved, most people expect it will be sometime in 2019.

IEC addresses the safety concerns of dealing with a larger R-600a charge in the following manners.

  1. The first precaution they give is that the system should be completely air tight… but shouldn’t this already be the case when dealing with a refrigerant cycle?
  2. The second precaution is that any construction in or around the system cannot cause excessive vibrations. If these vibrations occur damage to the pipes could happen which could cause the isobutane to leak out causing an ignition risk.
  3. The last safety precaution that they mention is that if a leak does occur that there is enough room for air to flow and for the refrigerant to dissipate.

According to IEC If these precautions are followed then there should be no safety difference between a one-hundred and fifty gram system and a five-hundred gram system.

Please note that IEC does not represent the United States of Americas. Their suggestions are just that, suggestions. It is up to individual governments and regulatory agencies to determine the exact amount of hydrocarbon charge that they are comfortable with. Here in the United States the EPA has approved R-600a for use in some applications as long as the charge does not exceed one-hundred and fifty grams.

United States

Isobutane is quickly becoming the standard refrigerant when it comes to home refrigerators and freezers. In some parts of the world it is becoming standard even in larger commercial refrigerators and freezers that you would find in restaurants or bakeries.

As usual, the United States has lagged behind on this change. We are still using HFCs like R-134a and R-404A to cool our food and drinks. Back in 2015 there were proposed rules by the EPA to begin phasing down HFCs across the US but the rule was overturned by a court’s ruling in 2017. Now, as of today in 2019, there is not yet an Environmental Protection Agency policy on phasing down HFCs. They are expected to make an announcement sometime this year on proposed new HFC rules, but so far there is nothing yet.

Some states have taken matters into their own hands and have begun phasing down HFCs. The problem with this though is that many applications that could use hydrocarbons are still deemed as unacceptable by the EPA’s SNAP program. So, it seems that these states will be forced to go through the HFO or other natural refrigerant routes such as R-717 or R-744.

Conclusion

Regardless of the various regulations, charge limits, and different agencies we can all be assured of one thing. The hydrocarbon market is growing and will continue to grow. There are just too many benefits for them not to grow and only one, albeit significant, drawback to using them.

Just know that these systems are perfectly safe as long as you follow the proper precautions, training, and procedures. Here in the United States we may still be quite a ways off from seeing widespread hydrocarbon usage the time will come where you will run into one of these systems.

Thanks for reading,

Alec Johnson

RefrigerantHQ

Owner

Sources

facts

Natural refrigerants and hydrocarbons, such as propane, are some of the cleanest and environmentally friendly options out there for air conditioning and refrigeration. However, over the past century America has had very little use of natural refrigerants. Instead, we have opted for synthetic refrigerants such as CFCs, HCFCs, HFCs, and now HFOs. While these synthetic refrigerants get the job done and provide us with that cool air we all crave they are not healthy for the environment.

As we move deeper into the twenty-first century natural refrigerants have become more and more of our everyday life. The pressure is on here in America and across the world to begin phasing down these synthetic refrigerants and replace them with more environmentally friendly natural refrigerants such as R-290 propane.

In this article we’re going to take an in-depth look at propane. We’ll look at the facts, the pros and cons, points of note, the past, present, and the future of this natural refrigerants. Let’s dive in and take a look:

R-290 Facts

Name:R-290
Name - Scientific:Propane
Name (2):HC-290
Name (3):CARE-40
Name (4)R290
Classification:Hydrocarbon Refrigerant
Chemistry:C3H8 or CH3CH2CH3
Status:Active & Growing
Future:Will Be Used All Over The World
Application:Supermarkets, Gas Stations, Vending/Ice Machines
Application (2):Refrigerated Transport, Industrial Refrigeration, and Much More
Replacement For:CFCs, HCFCs, and now HFCs
Ozone Depletion Potential:0
Global Warming Potential:3.3
Global Warming Risk:Very Low
Toxicity Levels:A (No Toxicity Identified.)
Flammability Levels:Class 3 - Highly Flammable
Lubricant Required:MO, AB, POE
Boiling Point:−42.25 to −42.04 °C; −44.05 to −43.67 °F; 230.90 to 231.11 K
Critical Temperature:96.7 °C or 206.06 °F
Critical Pressure:4,248 kpa
Auto ignition Temperature:470 °C (878 °F; 743 K)
Flash Point−104 °C (−155 °F; 169 K)
Molar Mass:44.097 g·mol−1
Density:2.0098 kg/m3 (at 0 °C, 101.3 kPa)
Melting Point:−187.7 °C; −305.8 °F; 85.5 K
Vapor Pressure:853.16 kPa (at 21.1 °C (70.0 °F))
Manufacturers:Various Including: Honeywell, Chemours, Arkema, Mexichem, Chinese, etc.
Manufacturing Facilities:All Over Including: USA, Mexico, EU, China, and others.
Form:Gas
Color:Colorless gas
Odor:Odorless
EPA Certification Required:No
Require Certification to Purchase?No
Cylinder Color:Unknown
Cylinder Sizes:1 lb, 20 lb, 100 lb, 200 lb, 420 lb.
Purchasing:CLICK FOR A QUOTE!

R-290 Pressure Chart

°F °C PSI KPA
-40 -40 1.4 9.7
-35 -37 3.4 23.4
-30 -34 5.7 39.3
-25 -32 8.1 55.8
-20 -29 10.7 73.8
-15 -26 13.6 93.8
-10 -23 16.7 115.1
-5 -21 20.1 138.6
0 -18 23.7 163.4
5 -15 27.6 190.3
10 -12 31.8 219.3
15 -9 36.3 250.3
20 -7 41.1 283.4
25 -4 46.3 319.2
30 -1 51.8 357.15
35 2 57.7 397.8
40 4 63.9 440.6
45 7 70.6 486.8
50 10 77.6 535
55 13 85.1 586.7
60 16 93 641.2
65 18 101.4 699.1
70 21 110.2 759.8
75 24 119.5 823.9
80 27 129.3 891.5
85 29 139.7 963.2
90 32 150.5 1037.7
95 35 161.9 1116.3
100 38 173.9 1198.9
105 41 186.5 1285.8
110 43 199.6 1376.2
115 46 213.4 1471.3
120 49 227.8 1570.6
125 52 242.9 1674.7
130 54 258.7 1783.7
135 57 275.1 1896.7
140 60 292.3 2015.3
145 63 310.2 2138.7
150 66 328.9 2267.7
155 68 348.4 2402.1
160 71 368.7 2542.1

R-290 Pros and Cons

Just like with any other refrigerant there are always going to be pros and cons. I’ve said it countless times before, but there are no perfect refrigerants out there. Regardless of what you look at you will always have a downside. As an example of this I like to use Ammonia R-717.

Ammonia is deemed as one of the absolute best refrigerants due to it’s energy efficiency. This is why you see ammonia applications in systems that require very large charges such as meat packing plants. These systems demand a lot of energy and by having the most efficient refrigerant out there these companies can save a lot of money. The downside of ammonia based systems is it’s safety rating. Ammonia is rated as slightly flammable and is rated as toxic if exposed in large enough quantities. It is this reason alone that ammonia has seen very limited use in more residential and commercial applications.

Ok, so now that we have that in mind let’s take a look at some of the pros and cons that come with R-290 propane refrigerant.

Pros

  • The largest attraction when it comes to using R-290 is it’s effect on the climate. Synthetic refrigerants such as CFCs, HCFCs, and HFCs all damage the environment. Some damage through Ozone depletion and others through Global Warming. Either way, they are harmful. Propane has zero Ozone depletion potential and has a Global Warming Potential of just three. In contrast, one of the most popular HFC refrigerants today, R-404A, has a GWP of nearly four-thousand. These facts alone are why the world is pushing for more and more R-290 applications.
  • R-290 has excellent thermodynamic performance, it is energy efficient, and it is very reliable.
  • Propane is very affordable and has ample supply especially when compared to some of the more expensive refrigerants out there like R-22.

Cons

  • The biggest drawback with propane, and with many other hydrocarbons, is flammability. Yes, I know most of you could have guessed that already since we’re dealing with propane. The substance can be quite flammable when put under the right conditions. This is why it is rated as an A3 refrigerant from ASHRAE. The A standing for non-toxic and the 3 standing for ‘higher flammability.’
  • Because of this higher flammability risk with propane the amount of charges allowed by governments is quite limited. As an example, in the United States propane based systems can not have a charge greater then one-hundred and fifty grams. This was actually recently changed by the EPA. (UL standard 60335-2-24 – Source) Before that the old limit was just fifty-seven grams. This rule change applied to refrigerators and freezers as well as other approved applications we’ll get into further on into this article.
  • Again, due to it’s flammability, R-290 is not suitable for use in retrofitting existing fluorocarbon based systems such as R-22, R-410A, or R-404A. These machines were not made to handle flammable refrigerants such as R-290.

R-290 Points of Note

Ok folks so we’ve got the facts and the pros and cons down. Now let’s take a look at some of the more intricate details of R-290.

  • Propane belongs to the hydrocarbon refrigerant classification and it, along with Isobutane, are the most popular hydrocarbon refrigerants used today.
  • I mentioned this briefly already but the biggest selling point of R-290 is how environmentally friendly it is. Propane has zero Ozone depletion potential and has a Global Warming Potential of only three. That blows out even some of the newer HFO refrigerants.
  • R-290 has a variety of applications that it can be used in including commercial refrigeration, vending machines, ice machines, industrial refrigeration, residential and commercial air conditioning, industrial chillers and much more.
  • Again, I mentioned this already in our cons section, but propane is highly flammable and is rated as such through the ASHRAE safety guidelines. This means that you need to be extra careful when working with it and observe all of the proper safety procedures.
  • Due to the phasing down of HFCs across the world the demand for hydrocarbon refrigerants like propane have gone up exponentially. Along with that demand has come innovation as we are seeing newer and better ways to use R-290 in various systems.
  • Due to it’s flammable nature, systems that use propane have their charge amount strictly limited by governments and worldwide agencies.
    • In the United States the EPA has approved propane for use in certain applications but only up to one-hundred and fifty grams.
    • There are also pending global proposals to increase the standard one-hundred and fifty gram charge upwards to five-hundred grams.

R-290 EPA Approved Applications

As I was writing this article I took the time to go through the EPA’s SNAP Approved Refrigerant listing. Under each category I searched for R-290 and rather it was approved and for what charge it was approved for. (Be aware that these can change at anytime if the EPA decides to issue a new rule.) Let’s take a look:

  • Refrigerators & Freezers – The EPA approved isobutane in 2012 and propane in 2015. Then, in 2018 a change was made that allowed the maximum charge to move up from fifty-seven grams up to one-hundred and fifty grams.
  • Ice Machines – These were approved for use on December 1st, 2016 and have charges eligible up to one-hundred and fifty grams. (Rule 81 FR 22827 – Source )
  • Industrial Process Refrigeration – Approved in March of 1994 and then changed to June of 2010.
  • Vending Machines – Acceptable as of April of 2015 with a charge limit of one-hundred and fifty grams.
  • Water Coolers – Acceptable as of December 2016 with a charge limit of one-hundred and fifty grams.
  • Retail Food Refrigeration/Freezer – Stand alone equipment acceptable as of December 2011. Maximum charge of fifty-seven grams. ( I searched through out EPA’s rules but I did not see a change to one-hundred and fifty grams for this application.)
  • Very Low Temperature Refrigeration – Acceptable as of December of 2016 with a charge limit of one-hundred and fifty grams.
  • Residential Light & Commercial Air Conditioners – Approved in August of 2015 with a charge limit of one-hundred and fifty grams. Heat pumps are included in this as well.

While they do mention air conditioners as approved please pay close attention to that charge limit. One-hundred and fifty grams equates out to 0.33 pounds. Now, what air conditioner do you know of that only takes 0.33 pounds of refrigerant? MAYBE a five-thousand BTU system, but even then I feel like that might not be enough. So, while we’re approved for air conditioners I think we’re still a long ways off before we even begin seeing R-290 in window or portable systems.

Also, please note that these regulations can change at any time. It is best to check the EPA’s SNAP Substitutes in Refrigeration and Air Conditioning page by clicking here to check for the most updates.

Homeowners, Air Conditioners, & R-290

When R-22’s prices were hitting all time highs in the summer of 2017 there was a big push for R-22 alternatives from shady manufacturers. Now, I’m not saying that all R-22 alternatives are shady. There are in fact quite a few very well designed ones such as Chemours’ MO99 and Bluon’s TDX-20. But, there are also companies out there who marketed R-290 as an R-22 alternative. They called it ‘R-22a.’ In some cases it was straight propane and in others it was a blend of various refrigerants including R-290.

Not only is R-290 illegal in the US for home air conditioners it is also quite dangerous as these R-22 systems are not outfitted to handle flammable refrigerant. This can lead to safety hazards for the homeowner when ‘retrofitting,’ their system to R-290.  Along with that if something does go wrong with their air conditioning system down the road and the homeowner does not know how to repair they will  end up calling an HVAC technician. If the homeowner does not inform the technician that they switched their system over to R-290, or the homeowner did not update the stickers on the outside of the unit, then disastrous consequence can happen. In a tragic example out of Australia two technicians were killed when working on what they thought was an R-22 system. It had been switched over to R-290, a leak occurred, and the techs were smoking cigarettes in an enclosed room. (Story can be found here.) Recipe for disaster.

A few years back in 2016 a company out of my home state, Kansas, was fined one-hundred thousand dollars for marketing and selling unapproved alternative refrigerants. They had alternatives for R-12, R-22, and R-502 labeled as HC-12a, HC-22a, and HC-502a. You can read more about this story by clicking here.

While these poorly done retrofits may not be as much of a problem as they were a few years ago it is best to keep your eyes open when servicing older R-22 systems. You never know what could have been done before you either by the homeowner or a previous technician.

R-290 History

The concept of refrigeration and air conditioning using refrigerants dates back over one-hundred and fifty years ago. In the very beginning stages of invention, innovation, and testing the most common refrigerants used occurred naturally within our environment. These were what’s known as natural refrigerants and within these natural refrigerants existed a subset known as hydrocarbons.

Hydrocarbons were among the very first refrigerants ever used. These included propane, isobutane, ethane, and butane. These hydrocarbons along with the natural refrigerants ammonia and carbon dioxide were the building blocks of modern refrigeration and air conditioning technology that we use today.

While these refrigerants were able to cool to the desired temperatures that we wished there were inherent problems with each one of these natural refrigerants. These ranged from the flammability problem found in hydrocarbons to the toxicity in ammonia and to the extreme operating pressures of carbon dioxide. Whatever the natural refrigerant was there was a problem associated to it.

It was in the 1930’s that the DuPont corporation formed a partnership with General Motors. The goal of this partnership was to synthesize a new type of refrigerant that would be efficient, safe, and affordable to the masses. The end result of this partnership brought into the world some of the most famous refrigerants in the world: R-11, R-12, and R-22. These new refrigerants were known under the classifications Chloroflurocarbons (CFCs) and Hydrochloroflurocarbons (HCFCs).

These new refrigerants reigned supreme for nearly sixty years. The thought of hydrocarbons and natural refrigerants was just that, a thought. Nearly everyone had moved to the new and improved CFC and HCFC refrigerants. While there was still some usage of hydrocarbons they were scarce and more often then not replaced by artificial refrigerants.

It was in the 1980’s when it was discovered that when vented or leaked into the atmosphere the chlorine in these refrigerants would damage the Ozone layer. It had gotten so bad that a thinning of the layer was beginning to form in Antarctica. Scientists sounded the alarm to their governments and after some time a world wide treaty was signed to phase down and eventually phase out all CFC and HCFC refrigerants. This treaty was known as the Montreal Protocol.

To take the place of the phasing out CFC and HCFC refrigerants a new synthesized classification was introduced known as Hydroflourocarbons (HFCs). These refrigerants were very similar to their predecessors except that they did not contain chlorine, so they did not affect the Ozone layer. While there was a rise in natural refrigerants and hydrocarbons usage during this time it was still mostly eclipsed by the newer HFC refrigerants.

The reign of HFCs was much shorter lived then previous refrigerants. It was only about fifteen to twenty years before the world decided to start phasing down HFC refrigerants as well. This time instead of the Ozone it was due to the Global Warming Potential (GWP). The higher the GWP the more damage the product does to the environment and it was found that HFCs have extremely high GWPs. A new solution needed to be found.

While HFCs are still majorly used in today’s world there is a large market for alternative refrigerants such as hydrofluoroolefins (HFOs) and now natural refrigerants including hydrocarbons. The attraction of natural refrigerants is that they are just that, natural. They are environmentally neutral which is exactly what the world is looking for today. On top of that, technology has improved leaps and bounds from where it was over a hundred years ago. In today’s world natural refrigerants and hydrocarbons are much safer.

R-290 Present & Future

Over the past few years there has been a big push to use more and more hydrocarbon refrigerants such as propane and isobutane. One of the biggest hurdles though in using these refrigerants is the various charge limits that have been suggested and implemented by different governments and agencies.

In the early summer of 2018 the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) released a drafted proposal that outlined increasing the charge limits on hydrocarbon refrigerants, such as R-2190, from one-hundred and fifty grams upwards to five-hundred grams. The current standard known as IEC60335-2-89 is seen as the worldwide guideline for what charges to use in hydrocarbon based systems.

This proposed changes goes hand in hand with the lobbying efforts of Sustainable Refrigeration Council (NASRC). The aim is to increase the charge limits for a variety of hydrocarbon applications to five-hundred grams. This change would allow R-290 and R-600a (Isobutane) to be deployed to larger systems such as supermarkets and eventually air conditioners. While this change has not yet been approved, most people expect it will be sometime in 2019.

IEC addresses the safety concerns of dealing with a larger R-290 charge in the following manners. The first precaution they give is that the system should be completely air tight… but shouldn’t this already be the case when dealing with a refrigerant cycle? The second precaution is that any construction in or around the system cannot cause excessive vibrations. If these vibrations occur damage to the pipes could happen which could cause the propane to leak out causing an ignition risk. The last safety precaution that they mention is that if a leak does occur that there is enough room for air to flow and for the refrigerant to dissipate. According to IEC If these precautions are followed then there should be no safety difference between a one-hundred and fifty gram system and a five-hundred gram system.

Please note that IEC does not represent the United States of Americas. Their suggestions are just that, suggestions. It is up to individual governments and regulatory agencies to determine the exact amount of hydrocarbon charge that they are comfortable with. Here in the United States the EPA has approved R-290 for use in various applications as long as the charge does not exceed one-hundred and fifty grams.

New Systems

Regardless of charge limits there are innovations being done every year on R-290 systems. Some of the most recent that I have seen are the stand alone R-290 supermarket systems. These units are just that, stand alone. They are NOT cooled by a control room or centralized unit. Instead, the charge is kept in the unit itself and the freezer/refrigerator can be moved as needed. It also eliminates risk to business owners as if there is a problem with their system it does not bring down the whole row of refrigerators but just one small section.

Something I just read about the other day was that the European Union is working on a double ducted air conditioner that would be designed to replace R-410A systems. This system would use, you guessed it, propane. The proposed system would not be split so there would be no need for refrigerant piping going between parts. This alone would reduce the risk of leakage and make installation much easier. The project is still very much in it’s infancy but it is exciting to see the types of innovations that are being done. For more information on this story please click here.

Conclusion

The number of R-290 applications are rising exponentially with each passing year. It doesn’t matter where you are in the world. If you maintenance other equipment besides your standard home/commercial air conditioners then you will run into a propane system. It will only be a matter of time when we begin to see propane home air conditioners as well just as I mentioned above.

Don’t let the flammability risk scare you away though. Remember, at least in America, the charges on these systems are quite small and as long as you take the proper precautions and follow standard safety practices then you will be fine. Even if the whole world goes for the five-hundred gram charge we’re still only looking at just over a pound of propane for a charge.

Thanks for reading,

Alec Johnson

RefrigerantHQ

Owner

Sources

 

Hello everyone. Hope all of you have a great Thanksgiving today! I’m sitting at my desk writing this article while my wife is in the kitchen finishing up a pie and my girls are watching the Macy’s Parade. We’ve got the big meal planned for four this afternoon. Before I enjoy all of that pie and turkey I wanted to do a short article.

It was announced yesterday from the EPA that a series of settlements had been reached with seven different companies on R-717 Ammonia non-compliance. These settlements were split between seven companies in New England and totaled nearly six-hundred thousand dollars in fines and over seven-hundred and fifty-thousand dollars in compliance. Two of these settlements were issued after an ammonia leak had already occurred and the other five were taken as preventative measures. These inspections and fines from the EPA come as part of the EPA’s National Compliance Initiative on reducing chemical accidents.The actual EPA announcement can be found by clicking here, but it looks like these companies either did not have a proper risk management plan laid out or they missed submitting an annual notification to local authorities that their company was using Ammonia as a refrigerant.

Over the years of running RefrigerantHQ I’ve had mixed feelings on using Ammonia refrigerant. Yes, it is one of the most efficient refrigerants available today, it has zero Ozone depletion potential, and it has a Global Warming Potential of zero. It seems like the perfect choice for refrigerant applications. The catch is that it is rated as B2L by ASHRAE. So, R-717 is mildly flammable but the primary concern is the toxicity. If Ammonia is not handled correctly, or maintained correctly, tragedy can occur. Last year there were three fatalities that occurred due to an Ammonia leak at an ice rink up in Canada. Along with the deaths that occurred a large area around the ice rink had to be evacuated. It can be very dangerous.

All that being said, if handled correctly and maintained properly Ammonia refrigerant can save your business money by it’s efficiency and also ensure the longevity of your refrigerant systems as there are not any future plans to phase down R-717 due to it being so environmentally friendly. The responsibilities of maintenance and proper care of Ammonia systems should be left to the business owners but there are many who are negligent or who are just not aware of the dangers. This is where the EPA’s enforcement, fines, and compliance laws come into play. The problem is the EPA can’t do it all and there will be future leak incidents. The good news is that most of these Ammonia leaks are handled rather smoothly.

Ammonia will be here for quite a while and as the years pass by and the R-22 systems age and age we may find more and more business owners transitioning over to R-717 systems over newer HFC or HFO alternatives. Say what you want about Ammonia, it has definitely stood the test of time and will be around for many more decades to come.

Thanks for reading,

Alec Johnson

RefrigerantHQ

Sources

Hello everyone! I hope your Labor Day is going well. We just got back from our city’s parade and I’ve got a few hours before our barbecue so I thought I’d take some time and get an article out there. I’m going to preface this article with the disclaimer that this is an opinion piece. Take it how you want, but it has been on my mind over the past year or so.

As we all know refrigerants have been phased out or phased down for decades. We started it way back in the early 1990’s with R-12 and other CFCs. Then we focused on HCFCs and now the world is looking at HFCs. With CFCs and HCFCs the goal of the phase out was to stop using Ozone damaging refrigerants. These refrigerants contained Chlorine which did not break down in the atmosphere and ended up harming the Ozone layer.

HFCs were the replacement for these Ozone damaging refrigerants. HFCs did not contain Chlorine and did not harm the Ozone layer. They were also non-flammable and non-toxic. Yes, I am aware there are always exceptions out there, but the most commonly used HFC refrigerants were non-flammable and non-toxic. These HFCs seemed to be the perfect substitute for HFCs and HCFCs.

Fast forward to the present and the world is now looking to phase down or phase out HFC refrigerants across the globe. This time though instead of them damaging the Ozone these refrigerants are contributing to Global Warming. Refrigerants are measured on a scale known as Global Warming Potential, or GWP. The zero scale for GWP is Carbon Dioxide (R-744) with a GWP of one. Popular HFC refrigerants, such as R-134a, have GWP as high as one-thousand four-hundred and thirty. There is an obvious problem here and the continued use of HFC refrigerants will speed up Global Warming. The question now though is what alternatives are out there?

Natural Refrigerants

For a lot of companies and countries the answer has been Hydrocarbons such as R-717 and R-290. These natural refrigerants have a very low Global Warming Potential and they do not deplete the Ozone layer. In fact, R-717 is widely seen as one of the most efficient refrigerants out there. Both of these refrigerants are great for the environment. The downside though is that these refrigerants can be dangerous.

Yes, just like with anything, if the refrigerants and machines are handled correctly and maintained properly then there is little chance of problems, but the chance still persists nonetheless. Let’s look at R-717, or Ammonia, as an example. Ammonia is a great refrigerant but it is toxic if inhaled. In today’s world it is mostly used industrial refrigeration such as meat packing plants and in ice rinks. When a leak does happen it can be deadly. Notice, how I said when? Ammonia leaks occur quite frequently across the Americas. There was a particularly bad one around one year ago in Canada that ended up fatally harming three workers. (Source) When an Ammonia leak occurs an evacuation has to occur. Depending on the size of the leak the evacuation could be a couple of blocks surrounding the facility. It can be that dangerous.

The alternative for Ammonia based systems was R-22. In the 1980’s and 1990’s companies could pick between these two refrigerants for their plants. (Yes, there were more, but I believe these were the main players.) The choice for R-22 is now gone due to the phase outs. Depending on the application, some were using R-134a as an alternative to Ammonia. But now, that too, is being phased out. While R-22 and R-134a were damaging the Climate they were safe. If a leak occurred it wasn’t the end of the world.

Now with the shrinking list of alternative refrigerants more and more companies are leaning towards Ammonia. Yes, there are new HFC and HFO alternatives being developed by Chemours and Honeywell but these have not been perfected yet. You may get one that has a low GWP but has a higher flammability rating. Or, you may get one that still has a somewhat high GWP and it just wouldn’t make sense to base a new machine off of a refrigerant that is only going to be around for a few years.

R-290, or Propane, has a similar story. While yes, it’s not near as deadly as Ammonia, it still has it’s risks. Instead of toxicity being a problem we now have to deal with flammability and flame propagation. If an inexperienced technician attempts to work on an R-290 unit and is not sure what they are doing they could end up igniting the refrigerant. (The worst is the guys who smoke when working on a unit.)

Now picture this, what if we start using R-290 in home based air conditioners? It doesn’t even have to be a split system, it could be a mini-split or even a window or portable unit. Let’s say Mr. Homeowner, who has no idea what he’s doing, decides to tamper with the unit because it’s not blowing cold air. Maybe he thinks it just needs ‘more Freon.’ If the unit was using Puron then the homeowner would recharge, waste his money, and think he did some good. However, if the unit contained R-290 the results could be far worse.

HFOs and Alternative HFCs

In my opinion, HFOs are much safer then Hydrocarbons, but there is still that safety risk out there. Let’s look at everyone’s favorite HFO target, 1234yf. Now, I know this horse has been beaten to death, but I’m going to bring it up one more time. YF is rated as an A2L from ASHRAE. That 2L means that YF is flammable and has a chance to ignite. What kills me here is that there was such a push to get YF rolled out to new vehicles that instead of rating it as a standard A2 refrigerant they instead created a whole new flammability called 2L. (Lower Flammability.) So, they’re admitting to it being flammable, but only slightly.

The whole controversy on YF started years ago when the European Union was looking for a suitable alternative to R-134a. There were hundreds of tests conducted across Europe and the World to view the viability of 1234yf. In one of these tests the Daimler company out of Germany found that after the vehicle suffered an impact and the compressor cracked open the HFO YF refrigerant ignited when it was exposed to the hot engine. (For more on this check out our YF fact sheet by clicking here. The video of the ignition is at the bottom.)

Needless to say, this test result shocked Daimler and they published their findings to the world. The other companies and countries stated that Daimler’s test could not be reproduced and that it was a non-issue. The world moved forward with the somewhat dangerous 1234yf. Daimler, being the innovators they are, decided to instead move forward with a completely different automotive refrigerant, R-744.

While 1234yf is by far one of the most popular HFC alternatives on the marketplace today there are others that have similar problems. One that comes to mind right away is R-32. R-32 is an HFC refrigerant that is beginning to see more popularity for it’s usage in home and commercial air conditioners. R-32 is an alternative to the standard R-410A that is found in most home units. The goal of R-32 was to reduce the GWP number when compared to R-410A. 410A has a GWP of two-thousand and eighty-eight while R-32 has a GWP of six-hundred and seventy-five. This is a significant reduction, but the GWP is still quite high when comparing to Hydrocarbons or HFOs. Another very important point is that R-32 is rated as an A2 refrigerant. There’s that 2 again. 2 means flammable except with this one we don’t even get the L for lightly flammable.

So again, I’m going to illustrate the similar scenario we mentioned above. Picture a homeowner, who doesn’t know what they are doing, trying to either retrofit his existing R-22 over to R-32 or perhaps he just wants to recharge his R-32 machine. Without the proper training and knowledge this can end in disaster.

Conclusion

So, now here we are sacrificing technician and public safety for the betterment of the Climate and environment. I understand that Global Warming is a crisis and that it needs to be dealt with, but is it really worth increasing possible risk and danger of everyday workers and people? It appears that in everyone’s haste to move away from HFC refrigerants and to save the environment the thought of safety has taken a backseat.

I mean, if we wanted to get really aggressive in the fight against climate change why not start using Ammonia in nearly every application? After all, it has a GWP of zero and is extremely energy efficient. (I’m being sarcastic here, if you couldn’t tell!)

Thanks for reading,

Alec Johnson

RefrigerantHQ

Here in the United States most of our ice rinks rather they be hockey stadiums or a kids ice-skating park were and are mostly powered by the common HCFC R-22 refrigerant. As you all know R-22 was phased down back in 2010 and is in the process of being phased out entirely. The question on the owners minds of these complexes is with what refrigerant should they replace their older R-22 systems with? Is there a preferred one out there?

Over in the European Union they have been a big fan of R-717 (Ammonia.) in their ice rinks. Ammonia has been used since the 1930s as a refrigerant. It is actually referred to as one of the most efficient refrigerants out there as it has a low boiling point and it is highly energy efficient. On top of that you have no Ozone depletion risk and zero Global Warming Potential. It all sounds too good to be true, right? Here’s the catch folks, R-717 is classified as a B2L refrigerant on toxicity and flammability. The ‘B’ means that it is toxic if inhaled and the ‘2L’ means that it is slightly flammable.

If an Ammonia leak does occur it has to be taken very seriously. There was an incident towards the end of last year up in British Columbia that resulted in three fatalities due to the toxicity of the Ammonia leaking into the building. During the leak the event center had to be evacuated along with any neighboring businesses or homes. I wrote an article about this tragic event which can be found by clicking here. This example right here is why the US has been skiddish about adopting R-717 and the end all be all replacement for R-22. Originally, R-22 was chosen for ice rinks here in the US due to it’s low toxicity. If a person breathed in R-22 there would be no ill effects. So, what other options are out there besides R-22 and R-717? There are some Ammonia advocates here in the US but since this incident occurred just north of our border the skepticism on R-717 has only increased.

CO2 to the rescue?

Most of you who have been following the industry over the past couple years know exactly where I am going. It seems that everything is either moving towards the new HFO refrigerant line from Chemours/Honeywell or they are moving to R-744 (Carbon Dioxide.) I don’t care if you look at vending machines, refrigerated units in supermarkets, or even in ice rinks. CO2/R-744 is showing up everywhere. CO2, like Ammonia, has no Ozone depletion and has a GWP of one. Here’s the best part though it’s rated as a A1 in toxicity and flammability. That means it is NOT toxic or flammable. The downside of CO2 is that it operates at a MUCH higher pressure then other refrigerants on the market. This higher pressure can cause components to fail prematurely.

When I was going through my research tonight I found an article from a local news station out of Alaska. The article took place in Wasilla, a small town north of Anchorage. The town only has a population of about eight-thousand people. (My kind of town!) Their ice rink is one of their larger attractions, but it is over thirty years old and is dealing with an antiquated R-22 system. We all know how much the price of R-22 has gone up these days. Can you imagine recharging a one-thousand pound system? The cost would be astronomical. Imagine having to try and absorb that expense into your P&L for the year.

Luckily for the town of Wasilla there was a twenty-two million bond that was passed by the voters back in October of 2016. Three million dollars of that twenty-two will be going towards removing the old R-22 system on this ice rink and replacing it with a new R-744 CO2 system. On top of that massive expense the complex will also be closed for Spring and Summer while the construction is completed. The goal of completion is set for Labor Day.

This is such a laborious and expensive process as there is just no easy way to retrofit or replace an aging R-22 ice rink system. These installations are massive and when working with a completely different refrigerant such as R-22 nearly everything will have to be replaced. Remember now that CO2 operates at a MUCH higher pressure than R-22. Most of the components will have to be reinforced in order to accommodate this increase in pressure.

Conclusion

Are our only choices today R-744 and R-717? Is there going to be an HFO alternative out there that we can expect? Through my research tonight I wasn’t able to find an HFO refrigerant that could be used for these ice rink applications. I may have overlooked them but I have a feeling that the ice rink market is very niche within the refrigerant industry and Honeywell and Chemours are more focused on the R-404A or R-410A replacements. If any of you know of any please let me know.

I fear that these pricey conversions and retrofits over to these new systems could put a lot of ice rinks out of business. I already know of one in my area that has closed within the past couple years. Just think about that three million dollar number we spoke of earlier. That’s just one complex. That is one hell of an expense. What can these owners do? Do they keep holding out on their dying R-22 systems hoping and praying that they don’t have a leak or a failure? Or, do they bite the bullet and hope they can afford the cost of the new system? That’s not even mentioning the downtime the business would face while the new system is installed. Every day their doors are closed is money being lost.

I’m all for switching to newer refrigerants but like with anything there are going to be winners and losers here.

Thanks for reading,

Alec Johnson

RefrigerantHQ

Sources

The concept of refrigeration and air conditioning has been around for over one-hundred and fifty years. In the infancy of this industry there were a specific set of refrigerants used. These refrigerants were known as ‘natural refrigerants.’ Some of these natural refrigerants included some of the basic elements found today such as water, air, and carbon dioxide.

Within the category of natural refrigerants exists a subcategory known as ‘hydrocarbon refrigerants.’ Hydrocarbons are one of the most basic elements found on Earth. They consist entirely of hydrogen and carbon. In the refrigeration and air conditioning world hydrocarbons can be used as refrigerants. Some of the most commonly used hydrocarbon refrigerants are Propane (R-290), Isobutane (R-600a), and Propylene (R-1270).

A full listing of hydrocarbon refrigerants can be found in our listing below:

  • Propane (R-290)
  • Isobutane (R-600a)
  • Butane (R-600)
  • Ethane (R-170)
  • Dimethyl Ether (R-E170)
  • Methane (R-50)
  • Pentane (R-601)
  • Isopentane (R-601a)
  • Ethene (R-1150)
  • Propene (R-1270)
  • R-136A (Mixture of Propane & Isobutane)
  • R-436B (Mixture of Propane & Isobutane)
  • R-441A (Mixture of Ethane, Propane, Isobutane, and Butane)
  • R-510A (Mixture of Dimethyl Ether and Isobutane)
  • R-433A (Mixture of Propane and Propene)
  • R-433B (Mixture of Propane and Propene)
  • R-433C (Mixture of Propane and Propene)

Today hydrocarbons are used across the world in vending machines, supermarket refrigerators/freezers, commercial refrigeration, food processing, cold storage, industrial refrigeration, refrigerated transport, chillers, air conditioning systems, and heat pumps. As you can see, they are highly adaptable to various applications.

Along with versatility hydrocarbon refrigerants are famous for their environmental friendliness. Other refrigerant classifications such as CFCs, HCFCs, and HFCs all have significant environmental drawbacks. For example, CFC and HCFC refrigerants contain chlorine which was found to be damaging the Ozone layer. These refrigerants were phased out due to their high Ozone Depletion Potential. (ODP)

While HFC refrigerants do not harm the Ozone layer they have another environmental downside known as Global Warming Potential. (GWP) HFC refrigerants are Greenhouse Gases or super pollutants. The higher the GWP number the more damage the refrigerant does in Global Warming. As I write this article HFCs are still commonly used throughout the globe but we are slowly beginning to see them phased down as well.

With HFCs, CFCs, and HCFCs all soon to be gone there are only two main choices left. The world can steer towards the new classification of refrigerants known as HFOs or the world can go back towards it’s roots with natural refrigerants such as hydrocarbons.

Hydrocarbon Refrigerant Pros & Cons

Hydrocarbon refrigerants have zero Ozone Depletion Potential and have a very low Global Warming Potential. The absolute highest GWP on hydrocarbon refrigerants that I could find was twenty-five. The other hydrocarbons were all between five and zero. As a point of comparison, let’s look at the commonly used HFC R-404A refrigerant. 404A’s GWP is three-thousand nine-hundred and twenty-two.

That number is astonishing and it clearly illustrates the picture as to why many companies are looking towards hydrocarbons for their future refrigerant and air conditioning needs. These companies receive the peace of mind that the refrigerants they are using are never going to be phased down or out. On top of that, hydrocarbons operate at nearly the same temperatures as HFC refrigerants do but on a smaller refrigerant charge then standard HFC systems. Depending on the application you need you may find that the price point is similar to that of HFC systems as well. (If you get into larger charged systems the price will go up significantly due to the shielding required.)

Hydrocarbons aren’t all a bed of roses though folks. There are no perfect refrigerants out there today and I’m doubtful there ever will be. There is always going to be a downside to whatever refrigerant that you pick. It could be cost, efficiency, operating pressure, toxicity, or flammability.

In the case of hydrocarbons the downside is their safety and flammability ratings. Unfortunately, here in the United States the concept of flammable refrigerants scares a lot of contractors off. However, in recent years hydrocarbons have begun to gain in popularity throughout the country. You can find them in most new vending machines and other smaller applications.

Hydrocarbon Refrigerant Safety 

In this section we’re going to take a look at the most prominent con when it comes to hydrocarbons, flammability. Just like with anything that is dangerous, if the proper precautions and care are taken then the risk is minimal. Hydrocarbon refrigerants are no different. Yes, they are extremely flammable when compared to other commonly used refrigerants like HFCs and HFOs. But, again, if the proper care is taken then you will be fine.

In an effort to ensure the safety of all users of hydrocarbons there are safety regulations that are monitored and controlled by various agencies. Some of these organizations are local, national, and even global. Today, the standards for using hydrocarbon refrigerants can be found under the following statutes: IEC 60335-2-40, IEC 60335-2-89ISO 5149, and EN378. (Source from Danfoss.com)

The main risk of hydrocarbons is ignition or explosion of the refrigerant. This can occur when the hydrocarbon is between what’s known as the lower and upper flammability limits. (LFL and UFL.) If the proper safety standards are followed then you should not encounter the scenario where the refrigerant exceeds the lower flammability limit. Please note that the type of safety standards and procedures can change depending on the charge size that you are dealing with. Obviously, the larger the charge the higher the risk.

Flammability problems can also occur if you are attempting to retrofit an existing fluorocarbon system over to a hydrocarbon refrigerant. (Please note, that retrofitting an HFC system over to hydrocarbons is illegal in the United States.) Fluorocarbon systems are NOT meant to handle flammable refrigerants and you will need to ensure the proper precautions are taken in the event of a retrofit. Another point of note when retrofitting a fluorocarbon system is to ALWAYS change the label on the system. There are documented cases of technicians smoking while working on an air conditioner that was retrofitted over to propane. The unit was not relabeled and an explosion occurred. Unfortunately, this incident led to the deaths of two technicians. You can read more about this story by clicking here.

As we mentioned above, flammability is the main risk when working with hydrocarbon refrigerants. While hydrocarbons are not necessarily toxic like Ammonia it can still have detrimental effects if the concentration is high enough. In extreme cases asphyxiation can occur. It is very important that only authorized and trained personnel work on hydrocarbon refrigeration and air conditioning systems.

Hydrocarbon Refrigerant History

Ok folks, so now that we know what hydrocarbon refrigerants are let’s take a look at some of their history, how they came to be, and what the future holds for them.

While the concept of ice harvesting had been around for hundreds of years it was only until the 1800’s when the first real refrigerant systems began to appear. In the 1830’s an inventor known as Jacob Perkins filed a patent. This patent was one of the first vapor compression refrigeration systems in the world. Perkin’s patent had all of the basic parts that we see today: Compressor, condenser, expansion, and the evaporator. In these very early days of experimentation Perkins used the hydrocarbon refrigerant ether. (R-E170) Nearly thirty years later a different patent was taken out by Charles Tellier. This patent built off of Perkin’s vapor compression system but this time Tellier was using methyl ether as a refrigerant.

As the years went by more and more advancements were made in the standard vapor compression system. In the 1860’s a carbon dioxide (R-744) system was designed by Thaddeus Lowe. In the 1870’s an Ammonia based system was invented by David Boyle and improved upon by Carl Von Linde. Shortly before the beginning of the twentieth century another refrigerant was patented over in France known as methyl chloride. (R-40) This new refrigerant was the grandfather to the modern day halocarbon refrigerants that are used across the world.

The 20th Century

In the early twentieth century industrial refrigeration was growing by leaps and bounds across the world. The refrigerant of choice was ammonia. As most of you know, ammonia is seen as the ‘perfect’ refrigerant. It is the most efficient refrigerant out there. The only problem is it’s toxicity. Ammonia is deadly when released in large volumes or in an enclosed area. This is why the industrial application was using it and there was hesitation in the residential and commercial sectors. The commercial sector was growing with limited ammonia systems but not nearly as fast as industrial. The chance of potentially deadly accidents scared off a lot of business and home owners.

At this time most homes still relied on ice boxes and other manual ways to store their food. The homes that did have refrigerators were often quite wealthy. These homeowners used a variety of refrigerants such as ammonia, methyl chloride, sulphur dioxide, and propane. Between all of these refrigerants though the safest and the ones with the least amount of incidents were the hydrocarbons. While Propane and Isobutane are flammable the small charge in each system helped to mitigate the risk. In the 1920’s it seemed that hydrocarbons would be the standard refrigerant for most home and commercial refrigerators.

Hydrocarbons would have been the future except for the lobbying of ice companies and union laborers. These companies lobbied the government about the dangers of hydrocarbon refrigerants and they were successful. Strict safety regulations were implemented on hydrocarbons. An alternative refrigerant had to be used.

Rise of CFCs/HCFCs

In the early 1930’s General Motors and the DuPont Corporation formed a team. This team aimed at one thing: To create a ‘perfect’ refrigerant that could be mass produced, was cheap, safe, efficient, and not flammable. After some time one of the team members, Thomas Midgley Jr., invented the new classification of refrigerants we know today as Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and HydroChloroFluoroCarbons (HCFCs). Two of the most prominent refrigerants to come out of these new refrigerant classifications were R-12 and R-22.

These new refrigerants were revolutionary. No longer could only the rich afford refrigerators and air conditioners. These refrigerants put it within reach of the common man. Shortly after the invention more and more air conditioners and refrigerators were produced. In the 1950’s a better synthesization method was discovered. This improved process caused the market to explode. Demand was everywhere and soon enough there were refrigerators in nearly every home across the country. Air conditioners weren’t far behind either.

This meteoric rise of CFC and HCFC refrigerants caused the usage of hydrocarbons to drop and drop across the world. After all, why would anyone use hydrocarbons if there was a cheaper and safer alternative readily available?

Fall of CFCs/HCFCs

It was in the 1980’s that a problem was discovered. Two American scientists, Mario Molina and Shepwood Rowland, from a California university were the first to notice Chlorine’s effect on the atmosphere. (Remember now folks, all of these CFCs and HCFCs contain Chlorine.)

These two scientists found that when a CFC refrigerant was exposed to ultra-violet irradiation that the Chlorine atom would detach itself from the CFC molecules. The remaining residue is oxidized resulting in the creation of a Chlorine oxidized molecule and a new residue. The Chlorine atom and Chlorine oxidized molecule move their way up to the stratosphere. Within the stratosphere there is a layer called the Ozone layer. This Ozone layer protects the Earth from ultra-violet rays and irradiation. What these scientists found out is that all of this Chlorine from CFC and HCFC refrigerants was working it’s way to the stratosphere. When it reached the stratosphere the Chlorine began to attack and weaken the Ozone layer.

Over decades of using CFCs and HCFC refrigerants Chlorine began to accumulate in the stratosphere and overtime a hole began to form in the Ozone layer. Now, I say hole but this wasn’t a hole per-say. Instead, there was a weakening of strength in the layer. So, while there was not a hole, the thickness of the Ozone was decreasing and decreasing rapidly thanks to the CFC and HCFC refrigerants.

The Ozone prevents harmful UVB wavelengths of ultra-violet light from passing through the Earth’s atmosphere. Without it, or with a weakened version of it, a variety of bad things could happen. Some of these include a much higher increased chance of Skin Cancer, more severe sunburns, more chances of cataracts, and a whole host of other problems.

After discovering the weakening of the Ozone layer nations banded together in what is seen as one of the greatest and most effective treaty’s every made. In 1986-1987 the Montreal Protocol was created and signed by over one-hundred nations across the world. This Protocol was an international treaty designed to protect the Ozone layer and to completely phase out the chemicals responsible for the weakening of the Ozone. The treaty went into effect in 1989.

Soon after that date marked the beginning of the end for CFC and HCFC refrigerants across the globe. The industrialized countries, like America, began to phase out the refrigerants first. R-12 was phased out in the early 1990’s along with all of the rest of the CFC refrigerants. The HCFC refrigerants such as R-22 or even R-502 were given a bit more time. Heck, R-22’s true phase out didn’t even begin until 2010.

Out with the old and in with the new, so they say. The refrigerants that were proposed to replace CFCs and HCFCs were known as HFCs, or Hydroflurocarbons. These refrigerants contained no Chlorine so there was no chance of them hurting the Ozone layer. Some of these refrigerants include popular refrigerants today known as R-134a, R-404A, and R-410A. But, now these HFCs refrigerants are under fire for their increase to Global Warming.

HFCs

During the transition away from CFC/HCFC refrigerants most countries moved towards HFC refrigerants. Again, HFCs were the easy solution. They were safe, they were cheap, and they didn’t harm the Ozone layer. Although there were some countries and companies that opted towards natural refrigerant and hydrocarbons, the majority of the world switched over to HFCs.

Just like with previous fluorinated refrigerants HFCs were inherently flawed. It wasn’t chlorine this time though folks. With HFCs the big concern was Global Warming Potential, or GWP. Global Warming Potential is a measurement of how much heat a greenhouse gas can trap within the atmosphere. HFC refrigerants are green house gas or super pollutants. The higher the GWP number the more impact the refrigerant has on Global Warming. As a base for the GWP scale we use the natural refrigerant carbon dioxide (R-744). Carbon Dioxide has a GWP value of one whereas the popular HFC R-404A has a GWP of nearly four-thousand.

The use of HFCs across the globe could not continue. This much was certain. What was uncertain though is what would replace HFCs? Would the world go to the natural/hydrocarbon refrigerant route, or would they trend towards a new class of fluorinated refrigerants known as Hydrofluroolefins.

While the world hasn’t phased out HFCs entirely yet, we are well on our way. Europe has already phased out R-134a and are in process of phasing out R-404A and R-410A. California, New York, and other States have announced their plans to phase down HFC refrigerants. This is the only the beginning folks. HFCs will be going away soon.

Hydrocarbons Today

As I mentioned above, the next question is will the world pivot towards HFOs or towards natural refrigerants like hydrocarbons? At this time it’s difficult to say. If I was to make an educated guess I would say that we’re looking at about half and half. Some companies and countries are pushing entirely towards the new HFO refrigerants or even to lower GWP HFC refrigerants such as R-32. Other areas have begun developing new technologies to allow for easier use of natural refrigerants such as Carbon Dioxide.

When it comes to hydrocarbons we can find their usage scattered around the globe in various applications. Due to the flammability risk we find most hydrocarbons are in systems that require smaller charges. Obviously, the smaller the charge the less the risk. This is why that in Europe hydrocarbons are the dominant refrigerant for refrigerators. There are over fifty million refrigerators using isobutane (R-600a) across the European continent. Even with all of these refrigerators there are no reported accidents with these ‘flammable’ systems. (If you know otherwise, please reach out to me.)

Going right along with the smaller charged systems like refrigerators we can also find hydrocarbons in vending machines and ice machines. This initial push of using propane and isobutane in vending machines began with our eastern neighbors Japan and Korea. In recent years we are now beginning to see hydrocarbon vending machines being produced and distributed throughout the United States.

Another market that hydrocarbons have their sights on is the supermarket and convenience store refrigerators and freezers. With the current HFC systems that we use today they are all connected and managed through a control room. In order to keep all of these units cool and working a rather large refrigerant charge is needed. Hydrocarbons provide an alternative solution. A hydrocarbon unit will come standalone. It is not connected to a main control room. In fact, it’s plug and play. You can move it to wherever you need within the store and then plug it in. Super market managers love this feature as it makes that much easier to display their sale items to their customers. Along with the ease of use, managers will also notice an efficiency savings by switching to hydrocarbons.

The big selling point though by having their units as a stand alone system is the much smaller charge. Just like with refrigerators and vending machines, the lesser the charge the lesser the risk. Hydrocarbons just wouldn’t be feasible to use in a HFC super market system. The charge would be too large.

These hydrocarbon systems are gaining more and more popularity in supermarkets across the US, Europe, and Japan. The Whole Foods chain has over one-hundred stores using hydrocarbons, Target more then nine-hundred stores, and Aldi over two-hundred stores. On top of these grocery chains we have also seen a rise of gas stations switching to hydrocarbons.

While smaller air conditioners seems to be the logical next step the United States’ Environmental Protection Agency has not deemed hydrocarbons acceptable in air conditioner use.

The good news is that in recent years the EPA has begun to relax some of their charge restrictions on hydrocarbons when it comes to refrigerators and freezers. A SNAP rule was issued by the EPA on their changes back in 2018 and can be found by clicking here.

Conclusion

For most of the twentieth century the outlook for hydrocarbon refrigerants was grim. They had been eclipsed by CFCs and HCFCs in the early 30’s and then eclipsed again with the rise of HFCs. However, it seems that in the twenty-first century the world will fall back in love with hydrocarbons.

The hydrocarbon market is growing by leaps and bounds and with each year that passes the possible market expands. Regulations and restrictions are being relaxed to allow hydrocarbons to pave a path to a bright and cleaner future. Chances are if you haven’t run across a hydrocarbon system yet you will very soon.

Thanks for reading,

Alec Johnson

RefrigerantHQ

Sources

I am all for getting back to our roots. So many times nowadays it seems that we over complicate things. The same thing can be said when it comes to refrigerants. If we go back to the infancy of refrigeration and air conditioning we can find natural refrigerants as the primary refrigerant.

Natural refrigerants are just that, natural. They occur naturally within the environment. They are not created in a laboratory like some of the other refrigerant classifications such as Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), Hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs), Hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), and Hydrofluoroolefins (HFOs). Because natural refrigerants already exist in nature they are very environmentally friendly. None of them have any Ozone Depletion Potential (ODP) and they also have very little Global Warming Potential (GWP).

In today’s world natural refrigerants have begun to make a comeback in various applications due to fluorocarbon refrigerants either being phased out or phased down. Some of the most popular natural refrigerants used today are carbon dioxide, ammonia, and hydrocarbons. (I won’t get into hydrocarbons in this article. If you wish to read our hydrocarbons article click here.)

All of the natural refrigerants can be found in our listing below:

  • Ammonia (R-717
  • Carbon Dioxide (R-744)
  • Hydrocarbons (Click here for our Hydrocarbon Page)
  • Water (R-718)
  • Air (R-729)
  • Methylamine (R-630)
  • Ethylamine (R-631)
  • Hydrogen (R-702)
  • Helium (R-704)
  • Neon (R-720)
  • Nitrogen (R-728)
  • Oxygen (R-732)
  • Argon (R-740)
  • Nitrous Oxide (R-744A)
  • Sulfur Dioxide (R-764)
  • Krypton (R-784)

Natural refrigerants are used in a variety of applications from large scale industrial operations such as a meat packing plant all the way to a dormitory refrigerator. Ammonia for example is used in storing/processing of food/beverages, supermarket refrigerators/freezers, convenience stores, ice rinks, and much more.

Should you, or your company, consider natural refrigerants? What does the future look like for them? Are they sustainable? In this article we’re going to dive into the pros and cons of these types of refrigerants as well as take a look at their past, present, and future.

Natural Refrigerant Pros & Cons

When considering a refrigerant it is always best to review their pros and cons. As most of you know there is and probably never will be a perfect refrigerant. Each refrigerant you deal with rather it be a synthetic model or a natural one will all come with pros and cons. Take the famous R-12 and R-22 CFC/HCFC refrigerants. They were very efficient and cheap to produce but they damaged the environment greatly with their Ozone depletion.

Natural refrigerants have these sames ebbs and flows only magnified. With R-12 we could all safely say that all CFC refrigerants, including R-12, damaged the Ozone and had to be phased out. Natural refrigerants are a different story as each refrigerant has it’s own specific set of drawbacks.

Before I get into the cons though let’s first take a look at some of the benefits. The biggest and most impactful benefit these refrigerants have to offer is their environmental friendliness. Every natural refrigerant comes with a zero Ozone Depletion Potential (ODP). While ODP isn’t as big of a problem today as it was twenty years ago it is still a point worth considering when reviewing what type of refrigerant you need. The other environmental point are natural refrigerants Global Warming Potential (GWP). For the most part these refrigerants have a very low GWP or a neutral GWP. As an example, carbon dioxide has a GWP of one. (R-22 has a GWP of one-thousand eight-hundred and ten)

Now these next pros that I’m going to mention are refrigerant specific, meaning they do not apply to ALL natural refrigerants. Depending on the natural refrigerant that you choose you could find extremely high efficiency. Ammonia is a great example of this. In many circles ammonia is deemed as the most efficient refrigerant there is. This makes for very low energy costs. This is one of the main reasons larger plants and factories use ammonia as their main source of cooling. Sticking with ammonia, you will also find that ammonia itself is very low in cost when compared to other synthetic refrigerants. This is mainly due to only a small percentage of ammonia supplies are used as a refrigerant. The rest of it ends up going towards fertilizer production. (Source from EPA)

Cons

Alright folks so we’ve taken a look at what these natural refrigerants have to offer. They’re friendly to the environment and in some cases they are extremely energy efficient. The question now though is what are the downsides? Well, as I mentioned before each type of natural refrigerant has it’s own specific sets of drawbacks. In this section I’l briefly touch on each of these.

Let’s start firstly with ammonia. It’s widely known as the ‘best’ refrigerant but there is still a lot of hesitation when it comes to using it, especially in a commercial or public area. Ammonia is rated as B2L from ASHRAE. The ‘B’ rating indicates that ammonia is toxic if inhaled. (You can read more about ASHRAE’s refrigerant safety rating by clicking here.) If not handled properly, or if there is an accident, ammonia can be deadly.

Most of the time when a leak does occur it’s captured right away and it doesn’t make headlines. That being said, I do see every few months a report of an ammonia leak at a factory or ice rink and a square block is evacuated by the fire department as a precaution. In one drastic example from 2017 in Canada three fatalities were recorded due to a leak of an ammonia system at a small town’s ice rink. You can read about this sad story by clicking here. While ammonia is dangerous, it doesn’t mean it can’t safely be used. There are more and more innovations each year that makes for safer ammonia use. I’ll get into these further in our next section.

Another one of the most common natural refrigerants out there is carbon dioxide. Just like with ammonia, carbon dioxide dates back all the way to the 1800s and was one of the very first refrigerants. The good news is that carbon dioxide is non toxic and is rated by ASHRAE at a A1. There is no toxicity risk and no flammability risk. The downside though with carbon dioxide is the pressure at which it operates. Carbon dioxide operates at ten times the pressure levels then ammonia or the HFC R-404A. This increased pressure requires systems to be specifically designed to withstand it. That means thicker and more durable components. This leads to more cost of the overall system and also deters some manufacturers from even trying a carbon system. Along with the increased cost there is also higher chance of breakage or part failure due to the increased strain.

The last big con that I wanted to mention mainly focuses on hydrocarbons but the same can be said about ammonia as well. Hydrocarbons are known for their flammability. After all two of the most prominent hydrocarbon refrigerants are propane and isobutane. While the flammability risk does scare away a lot of people from installing these types of systems it should be noted that with a small of charge the risk is shrunk significantly.

I won’t get into every other natural refrigerant option in this section as I could go on forever. Instead, I’ll dive deeper into the more obscure ones when I do a refrigerant fact sheet on each of them. As a brief synopsis though besides toxicity, high pressure, and flammability we also run into problems of corrosion and energy inefficiencies with certain natural refrigerants.

Natural Refrigerants Today & Future

Most of the time when you hear someone talking about natural refrigerants they typically talking about only a few refrigerants. It’s either ammonia (R-717), carbon dioxide (R-744), or hydrocarbons (Propane or Isobutane). While there are some applicable practices of water (R-718) and air (R-729) you normally don’t see these in a standard vapor compression system that we are all used to.

To understand where natural refrigerants today we first need to understand the history of refrigerants. Luckily, history is our next section. The reader’s digest version though is that in the beginning natural refrigerants were the very first refrigerants used. Then, as technology progressed fluorocarbon refrigerants were invented. Since the 1930’s up until present day fluorocarbons have been the dominant refrigerant in the marketplace. Fluorocarbons aren’t perfect though and cause harm to the environment either through Global Warming or through Ozone depletion.

In order to find a more environmentally friendly refrigerant the world has begun to turn back to natural refrigerants. Well, let me put that another way. At this time the industry is at a crossroads. Countries and companies can either move towards the new fluorinated class of refrigerants known as hydrofluoroolefins which has significantly lower GWP then their HFC counterparts, or they can move towards natural refrigerants and hydrocarbons. It’s tough to say who will win the battle between these two refrigerants, or if we’ll end up with a fifty fifty split market.

Even today companies are announcing steps they are taking to be completely HCFC and HFC free. One example of this is Ajinomoto Frozen Foods out of Japan. (Source from Ammonia21.com) This food manufacturer announced that they plan to phase out all of their HCFC and HFC machines by the year 2030 and replace them with natural refrigerant options or other very low GWP options.

In order to make natural refrigerants and hydrocarbons more competitive against their HFO rivals manufacturers have begun looking for ways to reduce the charges required. This is an attempt to make ammonia based systems and hydrocarbon based systems safer for general use and more residential/commercial use. If the charge is small enough that even if a leak does occur the danger is minimal or even non-existent then why wouldn’t you go with a natural based system?

An example of this can be found in some grocery store refrigerator and freezer systems. In our hydrocarbons article we touched on the newer standalone R-290 refrigerators for grocery stores. These stand alone units allow a much smaller charge then a centralized system. But, there are also solutions for centralized systems as well. Newer systems can come with both a primary and a secondary refrigerant. In the main control area ammonia is used and in the display area harmless carbon dioxide is used. This way, if there is an ammonia leak it is isolated to the control room and customers and the general public are unaffected.

Because of these innovations and inventions the world is seeing more and more natural refrigerant applications. This is only expected to rise as older R-22 systems finally begin to retire. Business owners are looking for an alternative refrigerant that will last more then a few years. HFCs are on the way out and it wouldn’t make sense to install a newer HFC system. No, this is why we are seeing more and more ice rinks and other larger plants moving away from R-22, R-134a, and R-404A over to either ammonia or carbon dioxide.

In a completely different sector innovation is still happening with natural refrigerants. This time with carbon dioxide. Daimler, the vehicle manufacturer out of Germany, has developed a carbon dioxide system for their vehicles. This all stemmed back to a battle years ago between Daimler and the rest of the European Union. The EU was pushing to move over to the new HFO 1234yf automotive refrigerant. Daimler resisted, stating that the yf refrigerant was highly flammable. They fought and fought the EU and during this fighting they were also innovating. They now have the first ever automotive carbon dioxide air conditioning system. A story about their latest vehicle, a city bus model known as Citaro, can be found by clicking here. (Source from R744.com)

As the years go by and technology improves we can only expect the natural refrigerant market to grow and grow and to also move into new and previously undeveloped markets. Aiding in that growth are certain governments and states across the Americas and Europe that are offering business owners incentives and tax breaks for replacing their older HCFC or HFC systems with natural refrigerants rather it be ammonia, carbon dioxide, or hydrocarbons like propane.

Natural Refrigerant History

Alright folks, now for the history lesson. I’ll spare you the read up front if you already read our hydrocarbon page’s history section. It’s going to be about more or less the same as, let’s face it, they have right about the same history.

While the concept of ice harvesting had been around for hundreds of years it was only until the 1800’s when the first real refrigerant systems began to appear. In the 1830’s an inventor known as Jacob Perkins filed a patent. This patent was one of the first vapor compression refrigeration systems in the world. Perkin’s patent had all of the basic parts that we see today: Compressor, condenser, expansion, and the evaporator. In these very early days of experimentation Perkins used the hydrocarbon refrigerant ether. (R-E170) Nearly thirty years later a different patent was taken out by Charles Tellier. This patent built off of Perkin’s vapor compression system but this time Tellier was using methyl ether as a refrigerant.

As the years went by more and more advancements were made in the standard vapor compression system. In the 1860’s a carbon dioxide (R-744) system was designed by Thaddeus Lowe. In the 1870’s an Ammonia based system was invented by David Boyle and improved upon by Carl Von Linde. Shortly before the beginning of the twentieth century another refrigerant was patented over in France known as methyl chloride. (R-40) This new refrigerant was the grandfather to the modern day halocarbon refrigerants that are used across the world.

The 20th Century

In the early twentieth century industrial refrigeration was growing by leaps and bounds across the world. The refrigerant of choice was ammonia. As most of you know, ammonia is seen as the ‘perfect’ refrigerant. It is the most efficient refrigerant out there. The only problem is it’s toxicity. Ammonia is deadly when released in large volumes or in an enclosed area. This is why the industrial application was using it and there was hesitation in the residential and commercial sectors. The commercial sector was growing with limited ammonia systems but not nearly as fast as industrial. The chance of potentially deadly accidents scared off a lot of business and home owners.

At this time most homes still relied on ice boxes and other manual ways to store their food. The homes that did have refrigerators were often quite wealthy. These homeowners used a variety of refrigerants such as ammonia, methyl chloride, sulphur dioxide, and propane. Between all of these refrigerants though the safest and the ones with the least amount of incidents were the hydrocarbons. While Propane and Isobutane are flammable the small charge in each system helped to mitigate the risk. In the 1920’s it seemed that hydrocarbons would be the standard refrigerant for most home and commercial refrigerators.

Hydrocarbons would have been the future except for the lobbying of ice companies and union laborers. These companies lobbied the government about the dangers of hydrocarbon refrigerants and they were successful. Strict safety regulations were implemented on hydrocarbons. An alternative refrigerant had to be used.

Rise of CFCs/HCFCs

In the early 1930’s General Motors and the DuPont Corporation formed a team. This team aimed at one thing: To create a ‘perfect’ refrigerant that could be mass produced, was cheap, safe, efficient, and not flammable. After some time one of the team members, Thomas Midgley Jr., invented the new classification of refrigerants we know today as Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and HydroChloroFluoroCarbons (HCFCs). Two of the most prominent refrigerants to come out of these new refrigerant classifications were R-12 and R-22.

These new refrigerants were revolutionary. No longer could only the rich afford refrigerators and air conditioners. These refrigerants put it within reach of the common man. Shortly after the invention more and more air conditioners and refrigerators were produced. In the 1950’s a better synthesization method was discovered. This improved process caused the market to explode. Demand was everywhere and soon enough there were refrigerators in nearly every home across the country. Air conditioners weren’t far behind either.

This meteoric rise of CFC and HCFC refrigerants caused the usage of hydrocarbons to drop and drop across the world. After all, why would anyone use hydrocarbons if there was a cheaper and safer alternative readily available?

Fall of CFCs/HCFCs

It was in the 1980’s that a problem was discovered. Two American scientists, Mario Molina and Shepwood Rowland, from a California university were the first to notice Chlorine’s effect on the atmosphere. (Remember now folks, all of these CFCs and HCFCs contain Chlorine.)

These two scientists found that when a CFC refrigerant was exposed to ultra-violet irradiation that the Chlorine atom would detach itself from the CFC molecules. The remaining residue is oxidized resulting in the creation of a Chlorine oxidized molecule and a new residue. The Chlorine atom and Chlorine oxidized molecule move their way up to the stratosphere. Within the stratosphere there is a layer called the Ozone layer. This Ozone layer protects the Earth from ultra-violet rays and irradiation. What these scientists found out is that all of this Chlorine from CFC and HCFC refrigerants was working it’s way to the stratosphere. When it reached the stratosphere the Chlorine began to attack and weaken the Ozone layer.

Over decades of using CFCs and HCFC refrigerants Chlorine began to accumulate in the stratosphere and overtime a hole began to form in the Ozone layer. Now, I say hole but this wasn’t a hole per-say. Instead, there was a weakening of strength in the layer. So, while there was not a hole, the thickness of the Ozone was decreasing and decreasing rapidly thanks to the CFC and HCFC refrigerants.

The Ozone prevents harmful UVB wavelengths of ultra-violet light from passing through the Earth’s atmosphere. Without it, or with a weakened version of it, a variety of bad things could happen. Some of these include a much higher increased chance of Skin Cancer, more severe sunburns, more chances of cataracts, and a whole host of other problems.

After discovering the weakening of the Ozone layer nations banded together in what is seen as one of the greatest and most effective treaty’s every made. In 1986-1987 the Montreal Protocol was created and signed by over one-hundred nations across the world. This Protocol was an international treaty designed to protect the Ozone layer and to completely phase out the chemicals responsible for the weakening of the Ozone. The treaty went into effect in 1989.

Soon after that date marked the beginning of the end for CFC and HCFC refrigerants across the globe. The industrialized countries, like America, began to phase out the refrigerants first. R-12 was phased out in the early 1990’s along with all of the rest of the CFC refrigerants. The HCFC refrigerants such as R-22 or even R-502 were given a bit more time. Heck, R-22’s true phase out didn’t even begin until 2010.

Out with the old and in with the new, so they say. The refrigerants that were proposed to replace CFCs and HCFCs were known as HFCs, or Hydroflurocarbons. These refrigerants contained no Chlorine so there was no chance of them hurting the Ozone layer. Some of these refrigerants include popular refrigerants today known as R-134a, R-404A, and R-410A. But, now these HFCs refrigerants are under fire for their increase to Global Warming.

HFCs

During the transition away from CFC/HCFC refrigerants most countries moved towards HFC refrigerants. Again, HFCs were the easy solution. They were safe, they were cheap, and they didn’t harm the Ozone layer. Although there were some countries and companies that opted towards natural refrigerant and hydrocarbons, the majority of the world switched over to HFCs.

Just like with previous fluorinated refrigerants HFCs were inherently flawed. It wasn’t chlorine this time though folks. With HFCs the big concern was Global Warming Potential, or GWP. Global Warming Potential is a measurement of how much heat a greenhouse gas can trap within the atmosphere. HFC refrigerants are green house gas or super pollutants. The higher the GWP number the more impact the refrigerant has on Global Warming. As a base for the GWP scale we use the natural refrigerant carbon dioxide (R-744). Carbon Dioxide has a GWP value of one whereas the popular HFC R-404A has a GWP of nearly four-thousand.

The use of HFCs across the globe could not continue. This much was certain. What was uncertain though is what would replace HFCs? Would the world go to the natural/hydrocarbon refrigerant route, or would they trend towards a new class of fluorinated refrigerants known as Hydrofluroolefins.

While the world hasn’t phased out HFCs entirely yet, we are well on our way. Europe has already phased out R-134a and are in process of phasing out R-404A and R-410A. California, New York, and other States have announced their plans to phase down HFC refrigerants. This is the only the beginning folks. HFCs will be going away soon.

Conclusion

Natural refrigerants began in the nineteenth century, fluorinated refrigerants had the twentieth century, and natural refrigerants will rise again in the twenty-first century. Unlike CFCs, HCFCs, and even HFCs we can be assured that natural refrigerants will never be going away. They are climate friendly and we will only be moving forward with them as technology advances.

For a business owner or manager looking to replace their aging HCFC or HFC system natural refrigerants are the…. natural choice. (I meant to do that!) On top of being environmentally friendly they also can give you the peace of mind knowing that there is no risk of phase downs or phase outs with natural refrigerants. If there is one thing business owners love is a low risk investment.

Who knows folks, there may come a time where it is only natural refrigerants that are used around the world and our beloved HFCs are a thing of the past.

Thanks for reading,

Alec Johnson

RefrigerantHQ

Sources

 

The grocery store chain Aldi has announced their intention to switch all of their stores in the United Kingdom to CO2 refrigerant. (Also known as R-744.) Their goal is by the end of the year 2018, just over twelve months from now, that one-hundred of their stores will be fully converted over to R-744. This is a twenty million Euro investment for the German based company. That’s equal to about twenty-three and a half million dollars. This is just the start for their conversion as Aldi has over seven-hundred stores in the United Kingdom and plans to open up another three-hundred over the next couple years. All of these stores will be using CO2 as their main refrigerant source.

There are two main reasons Aldi has made this decision. The first is to become compliant with the European Union F-Gas regulations that come into effect in 2030. (For more information on the EU’s F-Gas Regulation please click here.) Like most other countries around the world the European Union has agreed to phase-out HFC refrigerants entirely. These refrigerants include R-404A, R-410A, and R-134a. (There are others, but these are the most popular.) The plan is to cut the availability of HFC refrigerants by seventy-nine percent between the years 2015 and 2030. Only companies with approved EU quotas will be able to supply, manufacture, or import HFC refrigerants. A full schedule of the phase-out can be seen in the picture below:
F-Gas HFC Phaseout

The second reason Aldi made this decision was for it’s impact on the environment. Sure, you can say that the environment was their primary reason but they are a business and they weighed the pros/cons and the cost involved in switching now or switching later when they got closer to the 2030 deadline. Switching now made more financial sense. By switching over to CO2, or R-744, Aldi will be reducing their gas carbon emissions down by ninety-nine percent and will see an annual decrease of over fifteen-million in Global Warming Potential. CO2 refrigerant has a GWP of 1. That is a HUGE difference when comparing it to the commonly used R-404A refrigerant which has a GWP of 3,922! You can begin to see why governments have been pushing to phase these HFC refrigerants out.

CO2 R-744 Refrigerant

R-744 refrigerant is becoming increasingly popular across the world. It’s ironic really as CO2 was one of the first widely used refrigerants in the world. Let’s go back one-hundred years. Chances are if you went to a movie theater on a hot summer day in the 1920s that the movie theater would have been cooled by CO2. You’d step in from the heat and feel the cool and relaxing air and then watch yourself a Charlie Chaplin film.

The problem with CO2 back then, and today, is that it requires an extremely high pressure to operate in a refrigeration cycle. This high pressure caused units and parts to break repeatedly. It was during the depression when a new cheaper alternative refrigerant was discovered. The CFC R-12. The moment R-12 was discovered it took off and was soon found in every application across the globe. Next came R-22, and so on and so on.

So, we went from CO2 > CFCs > HCFCs > HFCs > and now back to CO2. We’ve come full circle folks. The difference here is that with today’s technology, new parts, and equipment the extremely high pressure of CO2 is no longer a problem. We have stronger, tougher, and better tools and parts to compensate for this pressure. Now the big concern is danger to the earth and the climate. R-744 is one of the most logical answers here.

Conclusion

Like it or not folks natural refrigerants, like CO2, are going to be part of our future. HFCs are going away and the HCFCs are pretty much gone already. We have two choices. We are either going all in on the new HFO refrigerants or we are going back in time to the days of Natural Refrigerants such as CO2 or Ammonia. Which do you prefer?

If and when you do come across a CO2 unit just think of yourself as honoring the past. You’re honoring the memories of your grandparents and maybe even their parents. The people who pioneered this technology we are now using today.

Thanks for reading,

Alec Johnson

RefrigerantHQ

Sources

Alternatives to R-410A?

Rather you like it or not folks R-410A will be going away and it’s going to be happening a lot sooner than everyone thinks. In 2015 the Environmental Protection Agency announced that they will beginning the initial steps of phasing out R-404A in July of 2016, January 2017, and 2018. Along with that they also announced that the tried and tested R-134a will begin being phased out in the year 2020. (2021 model years.) HFCs are quickly coming to an end.

On top of the EPA’s actions on phasing out HFC refrigerants there was an amendment added to the Montreal Protocol only a few months ago in November of 2016. More than one-hundred countries met in Kigali, Rwanda. The United States, the European Union, and many other countries have been working tirelessly on getting an HFC phase out amendment added to the Montreal Protocol for years. Well the last holds out finally gave in and everyone’s dreams finally came true in late 2016. The goal of the agreement was to ban all HFC refrigerants across the world by the year 2100. The United States along with all of the other countries happily signed the agreement.

Under the signed amendment developed countries, including the United States, must reduce their use of HFC refrigerants by ten percent by 2019 from 2011-2013 levels, and then by eighty-five percent by 2036. Along with this developed countries will also have to comply with a freeze of HFC consumption levels in the year 2024. By the late 2040’s all developed countries are expected to consume no more than fifteen to twenty percent of their baselines. In order to meet these guidelines developed countries have already begun phasing out the other HFCs as we discussed above. 410A is not on the chopping block yet but it will be soon.

Everything, and I mean everything, is pointing in the direction that 410A will be no more. The only thing that I could see stopping the phase out of 410A in the near future is the presidency of Donald Trump. Now, keep in mind that this is all speculation, but Trump has said before that he doesn’t believe in Climate Change. So, if you don’t believe in something than why would your country pledge and sign a treaty saying that you would phase something out because of Climate Change? It doesn’t make sense. No one knows what Trump will do though. He may leave things the way they are or he may go back and try to renege on the treaty.

The Four Rules

The race to find an alternative refrigerant for R-410A is on. After all, 410A has to be one of the greatest used, if not the greatest, refrigerant in the world. Everyone needs a cool house and most of the time they’re either using R-22 or R-410A. Finding an alternative has proven difficult though as there has been no perfect match so far. There are four considerations companies have to consider before they can sign off on a golden ticket replacement product. These four ‘rules’ or considerations are Environment, Energy Efficiency, Safety, and Economy.

  1. If we look at the first criteria of environment we have to consider two things. One being that the new product can’t contain Chlorine like the old CFCs and HCFCs of the past. We don’t want a repeat of the O-Zone damage that we went through the eighties and nineties. The second being that the replacement cannot have a large Global Warming Potential like the HFC refrigerants used today. The whole point is to have a refrigerant that does NOT damage the environment, or at least, does not damage the environment as much as the current HFCs do.
  2. Energy Efficiency pretty much explains itself. Obviously we do not want have a gas that would be used across the world that is terribly inefficient. What good would it do to if we’re just wasting energy and impacting the environment in another way? The whole robbing Peter to pay Paul mentality. It doesn’t make sense.
  3.  Safety is another consideration that has to be factored in when finding the ‘perfect’ refrigerant. One of the major risks here is flammability. Each refrigerant has a flammability rating and some are much higher than others. If you have proper training on dealing with flammable refrigerants than there is nothing to worry about. The danger comes in if the R-410A replacement is highly flammable. Commercial units are usually left alone. Only professionals ever attempt to maintenance them. With a home unit you run the risk of having novices or ‘Bubbas,’ trying to maintenance or even install their own machine. Imagine the risk they could be taking if the refrigerant they were dealing with was extremely flammable? (Like R-290.) The other aspect of safety is the toxicity levels of the refrigerant. If you have a leak and it is in a confined area what effect will that have on the people in that area? Will there be permanent damage to them after breathing it, or even death?
  4. Economy is the last and final aspect when looking for an alternative. What good is an alternative if no one can afford it? If a ten pound cylinder is north of $1,000 how is anyone going to be able to afford it? Cost is a large factor when considering an alternative. Truth be told I believe we’re seeing the cost problem now with the 134a replacement. The HFO 1234YF is nearly $700 for a ten pound cylinder. Imagine the cost involved if you had to refill your car after a repair? It’s quite the difference between the $100 cost of a thirty pound cylinder of 134a.

Ok, so with those four considerations in mind let’s review the possibilities of the future for replacing R-410A.

Hydroflurocarbons (HFC’s)

Yes, yes I know. R-410A is an HFC so why would we replace it with another HFC? Well, there is a push to change from 410A over to R-32 refrigerant. The thinking is that this wouldn’t be a permanent solution but more of a temporary until something better comes along. R-410A’s Global Warming Potential (GWP) is 1,725 times that of Carbon Dioxide. This large number is why 410A is being pressured to be phased out. While R-32 is an HFC it’s GWP is only 675. That is about a sixty percent decrease. It’s not a perfect bullet but it would help with the battle against Global Warming.

There are a few benefits to R-32 one of which I mentioned above. The first being the lower Global Warming Potential. The second benefit is that consumers will see a ten percent reduction in their energy usage when switching to R-32. Another pro for R-32 is the cost. It is overall much cheaper than R-410A and is readily available to purchase now. R-32 has seen wide usage across Australia and in July of 2015 was approved for limited usage by the United State’s Environmental Protection Agency. (Visit link to their website here.)

Ok, so we have see the pros of HFC-32 now let’s take a look at some of the downsides.  R-410A is classified as ‘Non-Flammable,’ according to the Safety Data Sheets. The flammability rating on 410A is ruled as class 1. When looking at the same data for R-32 we find that it is ‘Extremely Flammable,’ and is classified under a level 4 for flammability. Both of these come from each products Safety Data Sheets which can be found by clicking here for R-410A and here for R-32. And to think people were freaking out about the flammability of 410A a few years ago!

Another downside to R-32 that companies have complained about is the toxicity of breathing in the product. Proponents have rebutted saying that R-32 is no more toxic than any other refrigerant when breathed in. Which I believe is a perfectly valid point. The last downside and one that is extremely difficult to prove is that R-32 causes cancer. There has been no conclusive tests on this theory and so far it is speculation. The belief is that this rumor started in California due to their strict environmental laws.

So, in review on R-32 we have a cheaper alternative refrigerant to R-410A and one that has nearly sixty percent reduction in Global Warming Potential. But, this replacement product is extremely flammable and may put people at risk. In my opinion I do not believe this refrigerant meets the four conditions to be accepted as an acceptable substitute. (Safety comes to mind.) If we do start using HFC -32 here in the United States than I could see it being only temporary until a better HFO refrigerant comes along. I wouldn’t put money on seeing this at your next service call.

Sources on R-32:

Hydrocarbons?

Hydrocarbons are a different story. They have been around a lot longer than the HFOs and even HFCs. Everyone is at least somewhat familiar with them and even a laymen has heard of most of them. (Propane, Isobutane, Carbon Dioxide.) Some of these refrigerants go all the way back to the nineteenth century if you can believe it. Before the rise of CFCs such as R-12 Hydrocarbons were widely used in various establishments. One of the first air conditioned movie theaters in the early twentieth century was cooled by Carbon Dioxide.

Alright, that’s enough of a history lesson. Let’s dive in and take a look at the possible scenario on each one:

R-290 (Propane)

Alright so let’s get the selling point of R-290 out of the way now. Propane has zero O-Zone depletion potential and only a GWP of only 3. Yes, that’s right. 3. Humongous difference when comparing to 410A’s GWP of 1,725.  Right out of the gate R-290 meets the environmental criteria for an alternative. Overall it is rather energy efficient and the cost is relatively cheap coming in at right about the same cost as a thirty pound cylinder of R-410A. (A little over one hundred dollars a cylinder.) We’re three for four on propane passing the feasibility test. There is just that last one. That one that we overlooked, safety.

The disadvantages are the flammability risk, safety standards/codes, and ensuring each technician is properly trained before handling. If propane is handled in the right way and by a properly trained technician than everything will be fine. However, if ‘Bubba,’ tries to install his own unit or retrofit his own machine with propane that is where things get dangerous. A common occurrence over the years since R-22 has grown more expensive is for companies to market their R-290 product as a drop in replacement for their R-22 units. This is a dangerous practice since the R-22 machines were not meant to use propane. The end result can result in injury or an explosion.

R-290 is already seeing widespread use in India and China and now the middle eastern countries such as Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and others are expressing interest for R-290 due to it’s better performance in higher ambient temperature environments. The Environmental Protection Agency has approved R-290 for use in stand alone small charge units including retail food refrigerators and freezers. All that being said though I do not foresee seeing R-290 being widely used as a replacement for R-410A.

R-290 Sources

R-744 (Carbon Dioxide)

R-744 has no harmful environmental effects. I mean, there is nothing more natural than Carbon Dioxide. There is no O-Zone depletion potential and the Global Warming Potential is minimal. In fact as I mentioned earlier R-744 was one of the very first refrigerants used in the world only losing popularity once the easier to use R-12 was introduced.

R-744 requires very low energy to run, is non-toxic, and non flammable. The problem that comes with R-744 is not the dangers of flammability like that of R-290 but instead with economy. R-744 runs at an extremely high pressure during operation. The pressure is so high that the efficiency of the compressor suffers greatly and the durability and thickness of the pipes needs to be increased to compensate. The thickened pipes and the custom high pressure equipment increases the overall cost of R-744 for most uses.  Some could also make the argument that Carbon Dioxide refrigerant due to it’s increased pressure of 2,000 pounds per square inch also makes it dangerous to work on. That’s a tally of two out of four.

While R-744 is seeing usage in other smaller applications like that of refrigerated cases I do not foresee it being used as an alternative to R-410A due to the additional cost of the higher pressure equipment and the potential safety risk of the high pressure.

R-744 Sources

R-717 (Ammonia)

Ammonia or R-717 is often regarded as the most efficient refrigerant gas on the market today. Along with it’s energy efficiency aspect it also has no O-Zone depletion potential and has a Global Warming Potential of zero. The cost for R-717 is much lower than other HFC refrigerants on the market today creating a cost savings if someone was to switch over to R-717.

If we refer to the four rules again that I stated above we are three for four so far. The fourth rule, and honestly one of the most important, is safety. R-717 is not the safest refrigerant… by any means and it is one of the reasons why it is not commonly used in today’s residential market.

Like R-290 R-717 is highly flammable. Don’t let me say it though, let’s take a look at the exact wording on the safety data sheet on R-717: “Flammable. Toxic by inhalation. Causes burns. Risk of serious damage to eyes. Very toxic to aquatic organisms.” – Source. So we have a highly flammable product that has high toxicity and can cause damage to your skin and eyes. I can see why this hasn’t taken off.

While R-717 does have the safety detriments it is still widely used today in many types of manufacturing plants such as dairies, ice cream plants, frozen food production, cold storage warehouses, and meat processing plants.  I’ve said this before but I’ll say it again. This potentially hazardous material works because it is being used in a large commercial setting. The Jo Schmo do-it-yourselfer is never going to tamper or try to fix one of these commercial machines. If something goes wrong at one of these businesses they call in a professional. If R-717 becomes a mainstream refrigerant found in every home in the country than the risk of do-it-yourselfers accidentally burning themselves or worse causing an explosion goes up exponentially. For that reason alone I do not foresee R-717 being used as a suitable R-410A replacement.

R-717 Sources

Hydrofluoroolefin (HFO’s)

HFO’s are already seeing large usage in the European Union and now beginning in the United States. Most of the applications have been under the HFO 1234YF used in automobile applications. As of January 1st, 2017 cars can no longer be manufactured with R-134a systems in the EU. The United States isn’t too far off either with our final date being 2020. (2021 model year.) 1234YF is quickly replacing the R-134a market that we know today. To some it’s 1994 all over again where we phased out the R-12 in place of R-134a.

The selling point on the new  HFO’s are the environmental impact. The goal here was to create something as similar as they could to the current HFCs on the market but without the high Global Warming Potential that comes with them. For example, the 1234YF refrigerant has a global warming potential of four. For comparison, the Global Warming Potential of R-134a is over 3,000. There is a significant difference and the climate will be greatly affected if the whole world switches over to these new HFO refrigerants. (Or Hydrocarbons.)

The problem with HFOs is that they are all in developmental stage. The two conglomerate companies DuPont/Chemours and Honeywell have been putting endless hours and money into developing new HFO refrigerants that could take the place of the beloved R-410A. The other complication with HFO’s is that since they are being invented by only a few companies these same companies hold the patents on the new product. This creates an almost monopoly type setting where Honeywell and Chemours can set whatever price they want on their new Opteon and Solstice brands. Now, I’m not attacking these companies for having a high priced product. There is cost involved and I am sure it is quite high to create these new refrigerants. The reason I bring it up is for you the consumer or the business owner to realize just how expensive these refrigerants are. For example, a ten pound cylinder of the HFO 1234YF goes for about $700. For comparison a thirty pound cylinder of R-134a goes for about $120.

While there are MANY HFO refrigerants under development and available today I am only going to be looking at the possible 410A alternatives. With the introduction out of the way let’s dive into the various HFO refrigerants available today:

Opteon DR-55 (R-452B)

R-452B passed the flammability and toxicology review required by the ANSI/ASHRAE in March of 2016. Upon it’s approval it was given a preliminary ASHRAE number of R-452B. While this new alternative refrigerant from Chemours still has a somewhat high Global Warming Potential of 676 it is still sixty-five percent lower than it’s R-410A counterpart. It also comes with a lower flammability rating than other proposed R-410A solutions. (R-290 for example.)

Along with it being friendlier to the environment  and safe to use R-452B matches the capacity of R-410A allowing it to be compatible with currently used R-410A equipment. This allows for a quick and easy change of refrigerants on existing 410A units in the field.

While this refrigerant is still in the preliminary stages I could definitely see this becoming mainstream once it goes to market. It has right around the same GWP of R-32 but comes with a lower flammability rating. My only concern on this new refrigerant from Chemours is the cost. How much is this going to cost per cylinder when it rolls out this year or next? HFO’s are notoriously known for their high cost. Let’s hope that this new refrigerant doesn’t fall into that same category.

R-452B Sources

Opteon XL41 (R-454B)

R-454B is another new HFO refrigerant that was developed by the Chemour’s company. This refrigerant has the lowest GWP of all of the drop in R-410A replacements out there today. It comes in at a GWP of 466, that is seventy-eight percent lower than 410A. The formula on the refrigerant itself is a very close match to 410A and has been proved to be higher performing than 410A in some instances.

The downside of this new refrigerant is it’s mildly flammable status. While flammable refrigerants are perfectly safe when used in the right hands they can be extremely dangerous in the hands of a novice. Even though this refrigerant is in fact the lowest GWP alternative out there today I do not foresee it becoming a mainstream alternative to 410A simply because of it’s flammability rating. The chances of a homeowner hurting themselves is just too great.

R-454B Sources

SOLSTICE REFRIGERANTS?

I spent some time digging through Google and Honeywell’s website looking for mentions of a feasible R-410A alternative. The best that I found was a press release from 2013, four years ago, saying that they were working on a new 410A alternative. I haven’t been able to find much more news on these refrigerants. When I reviewed their website, which can be found by clicking here, I found four new Solstice HFO alternatives… but they were not for R-410A. Instead they were for R-134a, R-404A, and R-22.

I may be mistaken here and missed the boat on finding their alternatives to R-410A. If I have please let me know by sending me an e-mail and I’ll update this article. (Follow this link and scroll to the bottom to send me an e-mail.)

What’s Winning?

At this point it is hard to say but if I was to put my money down I would be betting on two refrigerants. Over the next few years we are either going to see a push for the Hydrocarbon R-32 or the new Opteon DR-55 (R-452B). As I said before I have a feeling that the cost of the new R-452B will be quite a bit higher than what we are used to today. The consideration that has to be made is the lower cost of R-32 when compared to R-452B worth the risk of extra flammability? Is it worth saving money but having that risk of flammability?

Conclusion

Even though the R-32 and the R-452B refrigerants may be the new normal when it comes to home air-conditioning it is important to realize that they will not last. They are good viable alternatives to the R-410A used today but they are not perfect. They still have a somewhat higher Global Warming Potential. R-32 is too flammable for some people’s taste. R-452B will most likely be to expensive for others. Who knows what the next alternative will be?

There’s no telling what the final answer will be at this point in time. The only certainty is that everything is fluid and the refrigerants that we are using today could change this year or next and that I’ll do my best to keep everyone informed! If you see anything that is incorrect or not factual please take the time to e-mail me by clicking here and I will correct as soon as I can.

Thanks for reading and if you enjoyed the article please take the time to subscribe to our mailing list by navigating to the top right of the page and registering your e-mail. Thanks again!

Alec Johnson

Owner.

Target R-290 Refrigeration

In 2015 the Obama Administration held a summit at the White House where various large companies in the United States were invited. The purpose of this summit was for Obama to gain pledges from each of these companies on beginning to phase out their HFC refrigerant usage. (R-134a, R-404A, and R-410A) Each of these companies agreed to a specific pledge. One of these companies was the retail chain Target. An excerpt from Target’s corporate website can be found by clicking here or reading below:

Part of our American Business Act on Climate Pledge is to drive implementation of refrigerants free of hydrofluorocarbons (HFC)—which contribute to climate change—in our food distribution centers and stand-alone refrigerated display cases. Recently, we opened two new food distribution centers that employ an HFC-free refrigerant, eliminating 900 metric tons CO2e—the equivalent of CO2 emissions from consuming 101,272 gallons of gas. We also require all new and replacement stand-alone coolers use a natural, HFC-free refrigerant (R290) to meet this commitment. We’re joined by more than 50 food retailers in the EPA’s GreenChill program to reduce refrigerant emissions and their impact to climate change.

As you can see above Target publically pledged that they would begin transitioning their refrigerated cases to R-290 beginning in January of 2016. Well, here we are now in January of 2017 and Target has shown tremendous results. Target now has propane units in five-hundred and eighty stores out of their eighteen-hundred stores. That’s thirty percent of their stores that now use propane refrigeration. Regardless of how you feel about the change it is rather remarkable for them to change that much in only a year.

In 2017 Target plans to operate some of their stores on nothing but R-290 refrigeration. Target is leading the way on Hydrocarbons in the United States.

Why R-290?

While R-290 is rare here in the United States it is actually quite popular in Asia and some European Countries. Let’s take a look at some of the reasons Target decided to make the switch over to propane:

  1. Target had a choice when they pledged to do away with their R-404A/R-134a usage. They could wait for Honeywell and Chemours to develop a new HFO refrigerant or they could use a refrigerant that is already in the market and that has already been proven to be effective. They chose R-290. There were no extra research and development costs involved. It was the easier choice.
  2. Propane is the environmentally friendly choice. In the past we had the CFCs and HCFCs such as R-22 and R-502. When leaked or vented these refrigerants actively damaged the O-Zone layer. The world made the switch to HFCs in the 90s and 2000’s. All was well with these until we figured out that HFCs are a ‘super gas’ when it comes to greenhouse gases.  This affect on the environment is measured by Global Warming Potential, or GWP. The GWP of R-404A is 3,922 times that of Carbon Dioxide. In contrast the GWP of R-290 is 3. Yes, that’s right 3. Quite the difference, huh? It’s easy to see why this is the environmentally friendly choice.
  3. R-290 is around fifty percent more efficient than the current HFCs being used today. What that translates to is lower power and energy bills for all of the Target stores that are using the new refrigerant. Referencing the article from Hydrocarbons21.com they say that if Target replaces ten cases with propane over one-hundred stores they will save an annual amount of $42,920. Now, maybe it’s the cynic in me, but $42,000 in savings over a year across one-hundred stores is VERY minimal. The thing that you have to think about is what is the cost Target is having to put forward to buy all of these new units? What is the labor to have them all installed? My guess would be hundreds of thousands of dollars across all of their stores. $42,000 doesn’t sound like much now does it? It makes me wonder how long it will take for Target to fully recover their investment on this more efficient refrigerant.

Flammability

Flammable Refrigerants
Flammable Refrigerants

I would be amiss if I didn’t mention this. I’m sure it is on everyone’s minds. R-290 is propane. As everyone knows Propane tends to explode. Just the other day I wrote an article about two technicians who were killed by a propane refrigerant explosion. (It can be read by clicking here.)  Do you know why this accident happened? It was because of recklessness. These two techs did not know what they were doing. Propane had been put into a unit that was not meant for propane. On top of that it was mixed instead of being flushed and to top it all off they were smoking while they were working on the unit. It was the perfect storm for an explosion.

I’m not trying to be insensitive here. Two men lost their lives and that is never a good thing. The point that I am trying to make here is propane is not dangerous if you know what you are doing. How many of you get nervous when you light your gas grill up and throw some burgers on? I know that I don’t. I don’t because I know what I am doing. I’m not going to pull the gas line out and light a cigarette with it. The same goes with propane refrigeration units. As long as you know what you are doing and you have done your research you’ll be fine. There’s a reason these are used all over the world.

Conclusion

Donald Trump's Affect on the Refrigerant Industry
Donald Trump’s Affect on the Refrigerant Industry

As I said before Target is leading the way on hydrocarbons here in the United States. In my eyes I don’t see this as Target being an innovator but instead Target being bullied by the Obama Administration. You make these changes, or else. (I’ve said in previous articles how I feel about these changes, but I won’t get into it here.) Target realized the risk to profits and to their business so they bit the bullet and began investing the money into the newer machines. It only made sense. If I was a business owner faced with that decision I would be on the side that made the government happy.

The irony of this is that Target started switching everything over in 2016. IF they had waited one more year all of this may have been null and void. Trump comes to power in only a few weeks and he has said multiple times that he thinks Climate Change is a Chinese hoax. Rather you believe him or not you have to look at it from a future perspective. I’m sure that when Trump gets into office the pressure for companies to switch away from HFCs and over to HFOs or Hydrocarbons will be gone.

Regardless of the politics of the issue, I still feel that Hydrocarbons will start to become more and more popular here in the United States. If you haven’t already trained on them I would suggest you take the time and do some research. It is only a matter of time before you come across a propane unit and if you’re servicing a Target location it may end up being tomorrow!

Thank you and if you enjoyed reading the article please take the time to subscribe to our mailing list which can be found on the very top right of the page. I will also be writing a future article on the pros and cons of R-290. Stay tuned.

Thanks again,

Alec Johnson

Owner.

Sources

 

Flammable Refrigerants

An explosion in a hotel in Victoria, Australia left two men dead in June of 2014. This week the cause of the explosion was agreed upon by expert investigators including an expert in chemical arson. The air conditioning unit was located in the basement of the hotel with no proper ventilation, warning signs, or anything else. The two men working on the unit, Barry Purtell, 34, and Dave Lobb, 52, were not trained on how to handle refrigerants or air conditioning units. One of them was a diesel mechanic by trade and they most likely assumed that they knew what they were doing.

Their objective was to remove the unit from the basement either to be replaced or repaired. Here is where things get a little fishy. The two men attempted to remove the compressor’s wiring. Through this process they cut into the copper tubing of the unit causing the flammable refrigerant to be released into the basement. There were no gas sensors and no ventilation. There was no indication that the two men recovered the refrigerant from the unit before trying to remove the compressor. To top it all off both men were smokers and at the scene of the explosion investigators found a cigarette lighter along with many cigarette butts. Couldn’t get much worse than that. One man died immediately in the explosion and the other died two weeks later in intensive care.

While the cause of the explosion could have been prevented it is worth noting that it wasn’t all from just that one day of them clumsily removing the compressor. In the past they refilled the unit with HyChill automotive refrigerant gas. The articles that I have read doesn’t say exactly what refrigerant they used but when I looked up the name HyChill refrigerants I found their website. After reviewing their products I clicked on the automotive application and got this page. Surprise. Surprise. The refrigerant that they used is a mixture of R-600a and R-290. So, we have a mixture of Propane and Isobutane. Sounds just a little flammable, huh? See below excerpt on the two refrigerants that I found here:


R600a and R290 are hydrocarbons. These refrigerants are flammable and are only allowed for use in appliances which fulfil the requirements laid down in the latest revision of EN/IEC 60335-2-24. (To cover potential risk originated from the use of flammable refrigerants). Consequently, R600a and R290 are only allowed to be used in household appliances designed for this refrigerant and fulfil the above-mentioned standard. R600a and R290 are heavier than air and the concentration will always be highest at the floor. R600a must only be stored and transported in approved containers and must be handled according to existing guidelines.
Do not use open fire near the refrigerants R600a and R290. The refrigeration systems must be opened with a tube cutter.


So, not only did they use a flammable mixture of R-290 and R-600a they also used a specifically designed automotive refrigerant in a stationary commercial building application. A year or so later after they had filled the unit with the HyChill mixture another technician topped the unit off with SP34E refrigerant. From what I have read on the SP34E it is not flammable and has no flash point. (Source from ACHR News.) There was now a mixture of the HyChill R-600a/R-290 mixed with SP34E in this one unit before these guys even went down there to work on the machine. I do not blame the SP34E for the explosion but instead the HyChill Hydrocarbon mixture and two men who did not know what they were dealing with.

While the loss of two lives at any time is sad it is even sadder to know that it was preventable. If they had taken the proper precautions. If they had a properly trained technician. If they hadn’t been smoking. If they hadn’t used the propane/isobutene mixture. If there were gas sensors or alarms in the room. Any one of these could have stopped the explosion and saved lives.

Conclusion

As the years go on and the world moves to more and more alternative refrigerants it is up to the technicians to know what they are dealing with and what to anticipate. The days of laymen repairing, working on, or installing their own air conditioning unit are quickly coming to an end. I have said this before and I’ll say it again in a decade or more air conditioning technicians will be an extremely specialized trade with more and more schooling required to learn how to engage and interact with all of the various machines and refrigerants out there.

While this took place in Australia with a hydrocarbon refrigerant it is worth noting that as the HFCs begin to be phased out we will begin seeing more and more hydrocarbon refrigerants enter the United State’s market. There may come a time in the near future where you come across an R-290 unit. If you do, word of advice… don’t smoke while you’re working on it.

I’ll close this article with saying that if you do not know the details of the refrigerant you will be working on then stop! Stop until you are familiar with it. The days of guessing your way through it and potentially venting refrigerant into the air around you are over. Hire a technician who knows what they’re doing. Yes, it will cost more money but what is more important? Money, or safety?

Thanks for reading,

Alec Johnson
Owner.

Sources

Singapore company fined $150,000 for Hydrocarbon

A company out of Singapore was fined $150,000 as a direct result of a hydrocarbon refrigerant explosion that killed one worker and injured two others. The event happened back in 2012 at a factory where three workers were tasked with converting a unit away from the Hydrocarbon refrigerant and over to a safer, less flammable, refrigerant.

Typically when evacuating refrigerant a recovery cylinder is used to prevent the refrigerant from escaping into the air as well as allowing reuse or recycling of the old refrigerant. I’m not sure why, but the workers in this case did not use a recovery cylinder but instead vented the entire refrigerant into the confined utility room that they were in. The only place for the refrigerant to escape too was a small open window. They even had the door to the utility room closed.

Hydrocarbon refrigerant gas is denser than air and thusly will settle on the ground floor of a room. In this case the only way for the refrigerant to escape was the open window that sat higher than ground floor. At one point during the job one of the workers, Abadul Jaynal Sikder, switched on a shop vacuum to do a clean up of the site before they wrapped things up.

The switching on of the vacuum cleaner caused a spark, like it always does. The spark ignited the refrigerant that was pooled on the ground and caused a flash of fire to fill the room. His two colleagues escaped through the open window while Abadul Sikder left through the main door. All three technicians suffered severe burns and four days after the incident Mr. Sikder passed away.

Their company was fined for inadequate training of their technicians as well as not providing their techs with the safety data sheet of the particular hydrocarbon refrigerant that they were working with. Hydrocarbons are in the process of being phased out across Singapore and by the end of 2016 it is predicted that most units will be using alternative refrigerants such ash HFCs or HFOs.

Their seems to be a constant battle waging between the usage of HFCs, HFOs, and natural refrigerants. At this point it is anyone’s guess as to who will come out on top.

Thanks for reading,

Alec Johnson

Owner.

Sources: