Natural Refrigerants

A Look

I am a big fan of history and can never get enough of reading historical books or watching documentaries. If you don’t understand the past then how can you understand the present or even the future? While refrigerant history might not be as interesting as other historical topics it is still good to understand it. R-744 can be traced back all the way back to the nineteenth century. In fact it was one of the very first refrigerants to ever be developed and used across the world. Experiments in refrigeration began in the late seventeen-hundreds and began to pick up speed in the eighteen-hundreds. It was in 1850 that Carbon Dioxide was first proposed as a refrigerant by Alexander Twinning. In 1869 one of the very first ice machines invented used Carbon Dioxide. Then in 1897 the first Carbon Dioxide refrigerator was introduced. More and more inventions and innovations followed.

In the late 1800’s and the early 1900’s there were a few mainstream refrigerants that we saw. These were your natural and hydrocarbon refrigerants such as Ammonia, Propane, Isobutane, and Carbon Dioxide. At this time Carbon Dioxide was found in all kinds of applications ranging from display cabinets, cold storage areas, market places, home/commercial kitchens, movie theaters, hospitals, trains, and even on cargo transport ships. The other natural refrigerants weren’t used as widely as Carbon Dioxide due to their safety concerns.

It seemed that R-744 was going to reign supreme as the main refrigerant in the world. This held true until the 1930’s. It was then that a partnership was formed between General Motors and DuPont. This partnership was made with one goal in mind: To create a cheap, safety, and reliable refrigerant. While Carbon Dioxide was safe it had it’s own problems. Just like we mentioned in our Pros and Cons section R-744 systems had numerous failures due to the extreme pressure that they operated under. The technology just wasn’t there to prevent these failures either so these air conditioners and refrigerators would bey very expensive to maintain.

After some time the General Motors & DuPont partnership came out with a new artificial class of refrigerants known as CFCs and HCFCs. Some of the refrigerants in this new classification were R-12 and R-22. These new refrigerants checked all of the boxes. They were safe. They were cheap. They were reliable. There was no more constant failure due to high operating pressures. At first, the adoption of these refrigerants was slow but that was only because of the manufacturing speed of the product. It was in the 1950’s that an innovation was done that greatly increased the speed of manufacturing CFC and HCFC refrigerants.

Once the supply could be met the demand skyrocketed. It wasn’t long until CFC and HCFC refrigerants were found all over the world in various applications. They could be your home air conditioner, your automobile, your refrigerator, or your local grocery store. They were everywhere. In the 1960’s there were a few more CFC/HCFC refrigerants invented, including R-502, that led to even more explosive growth.

With the growth and dominance of these new refrigerants it seemed that R-744 had taken a backseat. It was cast aside when the newer refrigerants came to market due to the high pressure that it operated at. There was no reason to use this expensive refrigerant anymore due to the mass production and reliability of R-12, R-22, and R-502. At least for a while, R-744 had reached it’s peak. It was in the 1980’s that things began to change.

The Ozone

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 refrierants 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 refrigerants are under fire for their increase to Global Warming.

R-744 Present & Future

As I mentioned above HFCs were seen as the world’s savior from the Ozone depleting refrigerants. But, HFCs had their own problem. Instead of the Ozone this time it was Global Warming. These HFC refrigerants such as R-134a, R-404A, R-410A are known as ‘Super Pollutants,’ or ‘Greenhouse Gases.’ In order to measure their impact on the environment each of these refrigerants were given a Global Warming Potential number. The higher the number the more damage the refrigerant causes to the world. As a zero based scale for this measurement our old friend R-744 was used. Carbon Dioxide has a GWP of one. In comparison, R-404A has a GWP of three-thousand nine-hundred and twenty-two. Obviously, there is a large difference here.

I’m writing this article in 2019 and over the past ten years or so there has been a worldwide push to phase down and in some cases phase out HFC refrigerants completely. In order to phase out HFC refrigerants we have to have a replacement refrigerant. In some cases companies and countries have turned to a new classification of refrigerants known as HFOs. These HFO refrigerants are again synthetic products created by Honeywell & Chemours (Formerly DuPont). The problem with HFOs though is that they still have Global Warming Potential. Yes, not as high as HFCs… but the numbers are still there. Along with the GWP risk they also have a slight flammability risk. To me, I do not see HFOs being sustainable. I imagine the world will decide to phase them out in another ten or twenty years.

So, what is the solution you may ask? It’s R-744! Well, R-744 and other natural refrigerants. Technology has changed significantly since the last time R-744 was used widely. It’s been almost one-hundred years since we saw the mainstream use of Carbon Dioxide and now with nearly a century behind us the technology has significantly reduced the chance of component failures due to high operating pressures. We are now able to create efficient and stable R-744 systems without a large risk of failure.

While the cost of implementing R-744 systems is still quite higher then a traditional HFC system the costs have been coming down. This holds especially true in recent years as the push to innovate R-744 systems increases substantially with the phasing down of HFCs. While we are not there yet the costs are quickly shrinking the gap between HFCs and R-744.

There are many companies pushing forward with R-744 systems. Most of these are on smaller systems such as vending machines, but we all need to take baby steps. One company in particular, Coca-Cola, has installed hundreds of CO2 vending machines across the country. Along with Coca-Cola there are other grocery store chains out there using cascade R-744 systems mixed with other refrigerants such as Ammonia or lower GWP HFCs. We are even beginning to see R-744 uses in automobiles with the innovations that Daimler has made. As we completely phase down HFCs over the next ten years we will see more and more usage of R-744. It’s time has come again!

Conclusion

Sometimes history can be funny. If you have ever heard the saying, ‘Learn history or else you’ll be doomed to repeat it.’ It looks like we will be repeating history again. When refrigeration started Carbon Dioxide was one of the first refrigerants used and now again in the 21st century we are seeing R-744 come to prominence again. We’ve come full circle. For more information on R-744 please check out our R-744 Refrigerant Fact & Info Sheet by clicking here.

Thanks for reading,

Alec Johnson

RefrigerantHQ

A Look

As we all know, there is no perfect refrigerant. Each one has its own individual upsides and downsides. It could have a great efficiency but also end up being very flammable. Or, it could be non-flammable and non-toxic but have very high Global Warming Potential. The point I’m making here is that there isn’t a perfect one out there and there may never be. In this section we’re going to take a brief look at the various Pros and Cons of using R-744 as a refrigerant. I pulled this information from all over the web, but one site in particular stuck out to me. This article from Emerson has an entire page dedicated to R-744 Pros and Cons. It can be found by clicking here and then scrolling to page twelve.

Let’s take a look at the Pros and Cons of R-744:

Pros

  • R-744 is seen as the ‘perfect’ natural refrigerant as it is climate neutral and there is not a flammability or toxicity risk.  It is rated as an A1 from ASHRAE. While it is non-toxic there is still risk if a leak occurs in an enclosed area as R-744 will displace the oxygen in the room and could cause asphyxiation. It is always best to have a leak detector with you so that you can detect the problem early before anything major occurs.
  • Overall, R-744 is more energy efficient and has better heat exchange then a standard HFC based system. While it may not be as efficient as Ammonia this gap between the two refrigerants is shrunk as the evaporator temperature drops. Carbon Dioxide also has a low compression pressure ratio which can improve volumetric efficiency. In some cases CO2’s volumetric efficiency is four to twelve times better then Ammonia. (Source – under Pressure & Temperature.)
  • I mentioned this earlier, but the biggest selling point of R-744 is that it is climate neutral. It has no Ozone Depletion Potential and it’s Global Warming Potential is one. In fact, R-744 is the zero basis for the whole GWP scale. This is a huge Pro as if there is one thing that business owners are looking for it is stability and consistency. R-744 is never going away due to it being so climate friendly.
  • One Pro to R-744 operating at such a high pressure and being such a dense gas is that the overall size of the parts and components is smaller and the overall charge required for a refrigerant cycle is lessened. In some cases the compressor can be up to ten times smaller than an ammonia compressor. As far as refrigerant charges, one example I read from manufacturing.net stated that to cool a two-hundred thousand square foot warehouse you would need forty-thousand pounds of Ammonia but with CO2 you would need less than seven-thousand pounds.
  • Carbon Dioxide is readily available and the price for this refrigerant is much less then HFC refrigerants that we see today. This is a welcome relief from the instability of prices on HFCs and HCFC refrigerants that we all know about.

Cons

While R-744 is the ‘perfect’ natural refrigerant in theory there are a lot of downsides.

  • The biggest one is for Carbon Dioxide to be used as a refrigerant it has to run under extremely high pressure. As an example, R-744 operates at ten times higher pressure then R-134a. Because of this extremely high pressure everything has to be custom built for an R-744 system so that it can withstand the high operating pressure. This includes the pipes, components, and everything else that goes along with the machine. If lesser components are used then you pose risk of constant failure due to the pressure.
  • If you wish to use R-744 as a stand alone refrigerant not in a cascade system then you will have to be running it as what’s known as a transcritical system. This is because R-744’s critical temperature point is only eighty-eight degrees Fahrenheit. There are many cases where the ambient temperature could be between eighty to one-hundred degrees. If your critical point for R-744 is only at eighty-eight degrees then how can you expect to remove the heat? (You can read more on the topic of transcritical refrigeration by clicking here.)
  • Suffice to say, a transcritical system and a high operating pressure system means two things.
    • The first is that there is increased expense for these systems. Not only do you have to pay for high pressure rated materials and parts but you also have to pay for a transcritical system. This setup is different then your standard subcritical system. The good news here is that with each year that passes technology improves and the cost of these higher pressure parts goes down.
    • The second is the increased complexity. The higher the complexity means less available qualified technicians. It may be a struggle to find qualified R-744 technicians, at least here in the United States. Each year though this is getting better as more and more businesses are adopting R-744 systems.
  • I mentioned efficiency in our Pros section earlier. The reason I mention it again is that the efficiency of R-744 is highly dependent on the type of system it’s being used in and the surrounding climate. I mean, think about it for a moment. We could have a subcritical cascade system for a supermarket in Miami. Or, we could have a transcritical ice rink in British Columbia. In each example we’re using R-744 but we now have two entirely different systems as well as two entirely different climates. Because of these variety of systems and applications it is difficult to measure one single efficiency measurement.

Conclusion

As you can see from the above synopsis, there is no perfect refrigerant. It all depends on what you are looking for in your refrigerant, what application you will be using it for, and even what part of the world you are in. For more information on R-744 please check out our R-744 Refrigerant Fact & Info Sheet by clicking here.

Thanks for reading,

Alec Johnson

RefrigerantHQ

A Look

R-744, or Carbon Dioxide, is quickly becoming one of the most popular refrigerants in the world. As the usage of this refrigerant grows I can’t help but laugh as we have now come full circle. You see, if you go back one-hundred years Carbon Dioxide was one of the main refrigerants used but its usage declined in the 1930’s with the invention of synthetic refrigerants such as CFCs and HCFCs.

These new synthetic refrigerants were safe, cheap, and reliable. Because of this they took over the marketplace. It wasn’t until it was found that CFC/HCFC refrigerants actively harm the environment that we began to see more R-744 applications appears. In this article we’re going to take a look the various R-744 applications that can be found in the world today:

R-744 Applications

Let me first start out by saying that R-744 is a very unique refrigerant, more so then others.  R-744 is a natural refrigerant. But, unlike other natural refrigerants, there is not a safety concern. With hydrocarbons you have the flammability risk, with Ammonia you have the toxicity risk, but with CO2 the safety risk is minimal. Along with it being a safe natural refrigerant it also is very versatile. It is mainly used in a transcritical refrigeration system but it can also be used in subcritical systems when done through a cascade. On top of that R-744 can be used as a secondary fluid refrigeration system. (For more information on transcritical systems please click here to be taken to a recently written article on the topic.)

Between these different types of refrigeration there are a wide a range of applications such as vending machines, supermarket refrigerators/freezers, industrial refrigeration, refrigerated transport, automotive air conditioning, heat pumps, and even in sports arenas for ice rinks. In this section we are going to take a look at each of these applications:

Vending Machines

One of the first targets in the global HFC phase down was R-404A. As you know, 404A was used in a variety of applications including vending machines. In the early 2010’s there was a push from a variety of companies, including Coca-Cola, to switch their vending machines away from 404A and over to R-744 Carbon Dioxide. Now, as I write this article CO2 vending machines are found all over the United States. One of the initial struggles of these systems was finding qualified technicians as these vending machines operate as a transcritical system rather then subcritical. The good news is that as the years go by and the amount of these transcritical machines grow then the technicians will become more seasoned and experienced with working on these kinds of systems.

Supermarket Refrigerators/Freezers

The grocery store refrigerators and freezer market didn’t switch over as fast as vending machines but there is significant progress being made. While R-744 isn’t necessarily the preferred refrigerant to use in these applications there are some companies moving forward. Depending on the application supermarkets will either use a stand alone plug-in unit that is very similar to a vending machine or they will use one system that connects to all of the various refrigerators and freezers.

When it comes to using R-744 the type of application will determine if the unit will be a subcritical cascade or a transcritical system. If we look at a stand alone refrigerator/freezer then we would be dealing with a standard transcritical system. This would operate very similar to how vending machines do. On the other hand, if we look at some of the larger systems that are all connected then we would be looking at a cascade system. A cascade system uses two or more refrigerants. In the example of R-744 we would find R-744 on the low temperature side of the cycle. By having R-744 isolated to the low end of the system we can prevent the refrigerant from going past the critical point and keep it subcritical. The other refrigerant used for the high side of the system can vary. It could be Ammonia, Propane/Isobutane, or even an HFC or HFO refrigerant.

Industrial Refrigeration

The term industrial refrigeration can be quite vague and can encompass a variety of applications from chillers, to chilled warehouses, to heat extraction, and so much more. In the past, before R-22 was phased out it was one of the top refrigerants used in these larger scale operations. When R-22 was phased out some companies switched over to the HFC R-404A/R-134a only to find that these refrigerants were going to be phased out soon as well.

In Europe, in Canada, and in other countries R-717 or Ammonia is one of the top picks when it comes to industrial refrigeration such as meat packing plants. Ammonia is chosen as it is highly regarded as the most energy efficient refrigerant out there. The downside, of course, is that Ammonia is toxic and can also be slightly flammable. Whenever you see a story in the new stating that a plant had to be evacuated due to a refrigerant leak the chances are that it is Ammonia is quite high. There are many instances of this occurring here in the United States and in most cases everyone is fine. We just have to ensure that the proper precautions are followed.

While R-744 may not be as efficient as Ammonia it has another thing going for it. It’s not toxic. That being said though it appears that the use of R-744 plants and chillers is still quite rare. I spent some time looking around online trying to find stories on R-744 plant usage but wasn’t able to find anything. It seems that Ammonia still has a strong hold on the industry but as technologies change and as HFCs become completely phased out we may begin to see more active R-744 industrial applications. If you know of some active R-744 plant applications please reach out to me and let me know.

Refrigerated Transport

When I hear the words refrigerated transport I instantly think of trucking. That’s most likely because I came from the trucking industry. I remember going through pallets of R-404A for our carrier refrigerated trucks. In the case of R-744 though the refrigerated transport we are discussing is naval transport or refrigerated shipping containers. It’s not just produce or meat being refrigerated on cargo ships though. No, in some cases cruise liners have installed CO2 systems to cool their larger refrigerators and freezers. Again, I looked around for any mention of R-744 being used in refrigerated cargo transport on trucks but saw no mention of it. This may still be down the road.

Automotive Air Conditioning

This one is definitely unique. If we rewind about ten years ago there were two refrigerants to choose from for automotive air conditioning. The first was the ever popular HFC R-134a. I am sure most of you are familiar with this refrigerant. You can buy cans of it at your local O’Reillys. At this time though a new refrigerant was introduced to the automotive sector. This refrigerant known as R-1234yf, was an HFO refrigerant invented between a partnership of DuPont and Honeywell. YF was to be the refrigerant of the future. It would replace R-134a and it would be used in every car from now on.

Most of the world was on board except for Germany. The German automakers had tested with YF and found that it was flammable. In one instance during a simulated collision the lines ruptured and spilled the refrigerant onto the hot engine block. The refrigerant ignited and caused a fire. This one test scared the German automakers, especially Daimler, away from using YF. While the rest of the world pushed forward with YF Daimler set off on their own to create the first automotive R-744 application.

Years later they achieved their goals and we now have German made cars using CO2 as their refrigerant. There is now no risk of flammability with their cars and they are still being environmentally friendly. I love hearing this story again and again as it’s a prime example of forging your own way and still coming out on top.

Heat Pumps

Japan has put forth a lot of focus on R-744 heat pumps. CO2 heat pumps can produce a much higher temperature output then a traditional HFC heat pump system. This is thanks in part due to the transcritical process. These heat pumps can heat water all the way up to one-hundred and ninety-four degrees Fahrenheit. (Source) The adaption of CO2 based heat pumps is moving forward, but it has been slowed due to the extremely high operating pressures and the breakage of components. (The same story we have seen in other CO2 applications.) In the future we will most likely begin to see CO2 heat pumps in mini-split air conditioner systems. Perhaps, down the road, we may even see them in traditional split air conditioning systems.

Ice Rinks

From my experience a typical ice rink uses either Ammonia, R-22, or an HFC such as R-134a or R-404A. What refrigerant is used seems to depend on what country you are in. Outside of America the standard refrigerant has been Ammonia. As we discussed earlier in this article Ammonia is widely seen as the most efficient refrigerant. When dealing with such a large application like an ice rink efficiency is a must. The downside of course, is the toxicity. The toxicity is especially important when it comes to a public area like ice rinks. It’s not just technicians or employees who are at risk but you also have the general public.

Here in America we are always hesitant to use the more ‘dangerous’ refrigerants such as Ammonia or Hydrocarbons. Because of this hesitation we instead went the route of R-22 for our ice rinks and hockey arenas. Now though, with R-22’s phase out coming to a close in 2020 ice rink owners are looking for alternative refrigerants. Sure, there are HFC and now even HFO alternatives that can be used in these applications but each of these alternatives still have a higher then neutral Global Warming Potential (GWP). The problem with these refrigerants is that they will not stand the test of time when it comes to climate impact and phase outs.

If I was an arena owner or manager I would only seriously be considering two options. The first is Ammonia like I discussed earlier. This comes with it’s own risks but you get the low cost and energy savings. The alternative is R-744 Carbon Dioxide. R-744 has it’s own Pros and Cons which I’ll get into in our next section, but the big selling point is that you get a climate neutral refrigerant that is safe to the public in case a leak occurs. While R-744 systems aren’t widely found in the world today, they are growing. An article I was reading from 2016 had this quote, ”

“Today the number of CO2 ice rinks is growing rapidly. There are now 25-30 CO2 ice rinks in the world,” he says. 20-25 of these CO2 ice rinks are in North America, 20 of which are in Canada (mostly in Quebec) and three in Alaska, according to EKA.” – Source

Conclusion

As you can see Carbon Dioxide refrigerant is quickly being adapted across various applications here in the United States and across the world. While R-744 does have it’s downsides such as high pressure and more complex systems we have now become to overcome these challenges with new technology and adaptions. Out of all of the refrigerants that are available today I specifically advocate for R-744. This is for two reasons. The first is that it will never be phased out as it is what I like to call ‘Climate Neutral.’ Secondly, Carbon Dioxide is safe. It is non-toxic and non-flammable. These two factors alone make for a great refrigerant.

For more information on R-744 please check out our R-744 Refrigerant Fact & Info Sheet by clicking here.

Thanks for reading,

Alec Johnson

RefrigerantHQ

facts

R-744 Carbon Dioxide is one of the oldest refrigerants in the world. Its first usage can be traced all the way back to the nineteenth century. Before the popularity of CFC and HCFC refrigerants Carbon Dioxide was one of the most widely used refrigerants. Chances are if you went to a movie theatre in the 1920’s then you were experiencing an R-744 air conditioning system.

When R-12, R-22, and other HCFC/CFC refrigerants began to rise to prominence we began to see a large decline in R-744 usage. This was due to its extremely high operating pressures which caused numerous part failures. The newer artificial refrigerants were much easier to maintain. In today’s world, as we progress through the twenty-first century we have begun to see resurgence in R-744. This is due to the detrimental effects that CFC, HCFC, and HFC refrigerants have had on the environment. Carbon Dioxide on the other hand is climate neutral with zero Ozone Depletion and a Global Warming Potential of only one.

If you haven’t run into an R-744 system yet you soon will as its popularity grows with each passing year. In this article we’re going to take a deep dive and take a look at everything there is to know on R-744. If I miss something please let me know!

The Facts

Name:R-744
Name - Scientific:Carbon Dioxide
Name (2):744
Name (3):CO2
Name (4)R744
Classification:Natural Refrigerant
Chemistry:CO2
Status:Active & Growing
Future:Will Be Used All Over World in Various Applications
System Type:SubCritical (Cascade) & TransCritical
Application:Vehicle Air Conditioning & Transport Refrigeration
Application (2):Commercial Refrigerators & Freezers
Application (3):Commercial Vending Machines & Plug-Ins
Application (4):Industrial Refrigeration
Application (5):Ice Rinks
Replacement For:R-22, R-134a, R-404A, and other HFCs
Ozone Depletion Potential:0
Global Warming Potential:1
Global Warming Risk:Very Low
Toxicity Levels:A (No Toxicity Identified.)
Flammability Levels:Class 1 - No Flame Propagation
Lubricant Required:POE & PAG Oils
Boiling Point:−78 °C (-108.4 °F; 195.15 K)
Critical Temperature:31.04 °C or 87.87 °F
Critical Pressure:7,380 kpa
Triple Point:4.2 bar (60.9 psi) and -56.6 °C (-69.8 °F)
Temperature Glide:None
Molar Mass:44.009 g·mol−1
Density (2):1101 kg/m3 (liquid at saturation −37°C)
Melting Point:−56.6 °C; −69.8 °F; 216.6 K
Vapor Pressure:5.73 MPa (20 °C)
Heat Capacity:37.135 J/K mol
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:Low concentrations: none.
Odor(2):High concentrations: sharp; acidic
EPA Certification Required:No
Require Certification to Purchase?No
Cylinder Color:Unknown
Purchasing:CLICK FOR A QUOTE!

R-744 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-744 refrigerant temperature page. This can be found by clicking here.

R-744 Applications

Let me first start out by saying that R-744 is a very unique refrigerant, more so then others.  R-744 is a natural refrigerant. But, unlike other natural refrigerants, there is not a safety concern. With hydrocarbons you have the flammability risk, with Ammonia you have the toxicity risk, but with CO2 the safety risk is minimal. Along with it being a safe natural refrigerant it also is very versatile. It is mainly used in a transcritical refrigeration system but it can also be used in subcritical systems when done through a cascade. On top of that R-744 can be used as a secondary fluid refrigeration system. (For more information on transcritical systems please click here to be taken to a recently written article on the topic.)

Between these different types of refrigeration there are a wide a range of applications such as vending machines, supermarket refrigerators/freezers, industrial refrigeration, refrigerated transport, automotive air conditioning, heat pumps, and even in sports arenas for ice rinks. In this section we are going to take a look at each of these applications:

Vending Machines

One of the first targets in the global HFC phase down was R-404A. As you know, 404A was used in a variety of applications including vending machines. In the early 2010’s there was a push from a variety of companies, including Coca-Cola, to switch their vending machines away from 404A and over to R-744 Carbon Dioxide. Now, as I write this article CO2 vending machines are found all over the United States. One of the initial struggles of these systems was finding qualified technicians as these vending machines operate as a transcritical system rather then subcritical. The good news is that as the years go by and the amount of these transcritical machines grow then the technicians will become more seasoned and experienced with working on these kinds of systems.

Supermarket Refrigerators/Freezers

The grocery store refrigerators and freezer market didn’t switch over as fast as vending machines but there is significant progress being made. While R-744 isn’t necessarily the preferred refrigerant to use in these applications there are some companies moving forward. Depending on the application supermarkets will either use a stand alone plug-in unit that is very similar to a vending machine or they will use one system that connects to all of the various refrigerators and freezers.

When it comes to using R-744 the type of application will determine if the unit will be a subcritical cascade or a transcritical system. If we look at a stand alone refrigerator/freezer then we would be dealing with a standard transcritical system. This would operate very similar to how vending machines do. On the other hand, if we look at some of the larger systems that are all connected then we would be looking at a cascade system. A cascade system uses two or more refrigerants. In the example of R-744 we would find R-744 on the low temperature side of the cycle. By having R-744 isolated to the low end of the system we can prevent the refrigerant from going past the critical point and keep it subcritical. The other refrigerant used for the high side of the system can vary. It could be Ammonia, Propane/Isobutane, or even an HFC or HFO refrigerant.

Industrial Refrigeration

The term industrial refrigeration can be quite vague and can encompass a variety of applications from chillers, to chilled warehouses, to heat extraction, and so much more. In the past, before R-22 was phased out it was one of the top refrigerants used in these larger scale operations. When R-22 was phased out some companies switched over to the HFC R-404A/R-134a only to find that these refrigerants were going to be phased out soon as well.

In Europe, in Canada, and in other countries R-717 or Ammonia is one of the top picks when it comes to industrial refrigeration such as meat packing plants. Ammonia is chosen as it is highly regarded as the most energy efficient refrigerant out there. The downside, of course, is that Ammonia is toxic and can also be slightly flammable. Whenever you see a story in the new stating that a plant had to be evacuated due to a refrigerant leak the chances are that it is Ammonia is quite high. There are many instances of this occurring here in the United States and in most cases everyone is fine. We just have to ensure that the proper precautions are followed.

While R-744 may not be as efficient as Ammonia it has another thing going for it. It’s not toxic. That being said though it appears that the use of R-744 plants and chillers is still quite rare. I spent some time looking around online trying to find stories on R-744 plant usage but wasn’t able to find anything. It seems that Ammonia still has a strong hold on the industry but as technologies change and as HFCs become completely phased out we may begin to see more active R-744 industrial applications. If you know of some active R-744 plant applications please reach out to me and let me know.

Refrigerated Transport

When I hear the words refrigerated transport I instantly think of trucking. That’s most likely because I came from the trucking industry. I remember going through pallets of R-404A for our carrier refrigerated trucks. In the case of R-744 though the refrigerated transport we are discussing is naval transport or refrigerated shipping containers. It’s not just produce or meat being refrigerated on cargo ships though. No, in some cases cruise liners have installed CO2 systems to cool their larger refrigerators and freezers. Again, I looked around for any mention of R-744 being used in refrigerated cargo transport on trucks but saw no mention of it. This may still be down the road.

Automotive Air Conditioning

This one is definitely unique. If we rewind about ten years ago there were two refrigerants to choose from for automotive air conditioning. The first was the ever popular HFC R-134a. I am sure most of you are familiar with this refrigerant. You can buy cans of it at your local O’Reillys. At this time though a new refrigerant was introduced to the automotive sector. This refrigerant known as R-1234yf, was an HFO refrigerant invented between a partnership of DuPont and Honeywell. YF was to be the refrigerant of the future. It would replace R-134a and it would be used in every car from now on.

Most of the world was on board except for Germany. The German automakers had tested with YF and found that it was flammable. In one instance during a simulated collision the lines ruptured and spilled the refrigerant onto the hot engine block. The refrigerant ignited and caused a fire. This one test scared the German automakers, especially Daimler, away from using YF. While the rest of the world pushed forward with YF Daimler set off on their own to create the first automotive R-744 application.

Years later they achieved their goals and we now have German made cars using CO2 as their refrigerant. There is now no risk of flammability with their cars and they are still being environmentally friendly. I love hearing this story again and again as it’s a prime example of forging your own way and still coming out on top.

Heat Pumps

Japan has put forth a lot of focus on R-744 heat pumps. CO2 heat pumps can produce a much higher temperature output then a traditional HFC heat pump system. This is thanks in part due to the transcritical process. These heat pumps can heat water all the way up to one-hundred and ninety-four degrees Fahrenheit. (Source) The adaption of CO2 based heat pumps is moving forward, but it has been slowed due to the extremely high operating pressures and the breakage of components. (The same story we have seen in other CO2 applications.) In the future we will most likely begin to see CO2 heat pumps in mini-split air conditioner systems. Perhaps, down the road, we may even see them in traditional split air conditioning systems.

Ice Rinks

From my experience a typical ice rink uses either Ammonia, R-22, or an HFC such as R-134a or R-404A. What refrigerant is used seems to depend on what country you are in. Outside of America the standard refrigerant has been Ammonia. As we discussed earlier in this article Ammonia is widely seen as the most efficient refrigerant. When dealing with such a large application like an ice rink efficiency is a must. The downside of course, is the toxicity. The toxicity is especially important when it comes to a public area like ice rinks. It’s not just technicians or employees who are at risk but you also have the general public.

Here in America we are always hesitant to use the more ‘dangerous’ refrigerants such as Ammonia or Hydrocarbons. Because of this hesitation we instead went the route of R-22 for our ice rinks and hockey arenas. Now though, with R-22’s phase out coming to a close in 2020 ice rink owners are looking for alternative refrigerants. Sure, there are HFC and now even HFO alternatives that can be used in these applications but each of these alternatives still have a higher then neutral Global Warming Potential (GWP). The problem with these refrigerants is that they will not stand the test of time when it comes to climate impact and phase outs.

If I was an arena owner or manager I would only seriously be considering two options. The first is Ammonia like I discussed earlier. This comes with it’s own risks but you get the low cost and energy savings. The alternative is R-744 Carbon Dioxide. R-744 has it’s own Pros and Cons which I’ll get into in our next section, but the big selling point is that you get a climate neutral refrigerant that is safe to the public in case a leak occurs. While R-744 systems aren’t widely found in the world today, they are growing. An article I was reading from 2016 had this quote, ”

“Today the number of CO2 ice rinks is growing rapidly. There are now 25-30 CO2 ice rinks in the world,” he says. 20-25 of these CO2 ice rinks are in North America, 20 of which are in Canada (mostly in Quebec) and three in Alaska, according to EKA.” – Source

R-744 Pros & Cons

As we all know, there is no perfect refrigerant. Each one has its own individual upsides and downsides. It could have a great efficiency but also end up being very flammable. Or, it could be non-flammable and non-toxic but have very high Global Warming Potential. The point I’m making here is that there isn’t a perfect one out there and there may never be. In this section we’re going to take a brief look at the various Pros and Cons of using R-744 as a refrigerant. I pulled this information from all over the web, but one site in particular stuck out to me. This article from Emerson has an entire page dedicated to R-744 Pros and Cons. It can be found by clicking here and then scrolling to page twelve.

Let’s take a look at the Pros and Cons of R-744:

Pros

  • R-744 is seen as the ‘perfect’ natural refrigerant as it is climate neutral and there is not a flammability or toxicity risk.  It is rated as an A1 from ASHRAE. While it is non-toxic there is still risk if a leak occurs in an enclosed area as R-744 will displace the oxygen in the room and could cause asphyxiation. It is always best to have a leak detector with you so that you can detect the problem early before anything major occurs.
  • Overall, R-744 is more energy efficient and has better heat exchange then a standard HFC based system. While it may not be as efficient as Ammonia this gap between the two refrigerants is shrunk as the evaporator temperature drops. Carbon Dioxide also has a low compression pressure ratio which can improve volumetric efficiency. In some cases CO2’s volumetric efficiency is four to twelve times better then Ammonia. (Source – under Pressure & Temperature.)
  • I mentioned this earlier, but the biggest selling point of R-744 is that it is climate neutral. It has no Ozone Depletion Potential and it’s Global Warming Potential is one. In fact, R-744 is the zero basis for the whole GWP scale. This is a huge Pro as if there is one thing that business owners are looking for it is stability and consistency. R-744 is never going away due to it being so climate friendly.
  • One Pro to R-744 operating at such a high pressure and being such a dense gas is that the overall size of the parts and components is smaller and the overall charge required for a refrigerant cycle is lessened. In some cases the compressor can be up to ten times smaller than an ammonia compressor. As far as refrigerant charges, one example I read from manufacturing.net stated that to cool a two-hundred thousand square foot warehouse you would need forty-thousand pounds of Ammonia but with CO2 you would need less than seven-thousand pounds.
  • Carbon Dioxide is readily available and the price for this refrigerant is much less then HFC refrigerants that we see today. This is a welcome relief from the instability of prices on HFCs and HCFC refrigerants that we all know about.

Cons

While R-744 is the ‘perfect’ natural refrigerant in theory there are a lot of downsides.

  • The biggest one is for Carbon Dioxide to be used as a refrigerant it has to run under extremely high pressure. As an example, R-744 operates at ten times higher pressure then R-134a. Because of this extremely high pressure everything has to be custom built for an R-744 system so that it can withstand the high operating pressure. This includes the pipes, components, and everything else that goes along with the machine. If lesser components are used then you pose risk of constant failure due to the pressure.
  • If you wish to use R-744 as a stand alone refrigerant not in a cascade system then you will have to be running it as what’s known as a transcritical system. This is because R-744’s critical temperature point is only eighty-eight degrees Fahrenheit. There are many cases where the ambient temperature could be between eighty to one-hundred degrees. If your critical point for R-744 is only at eighty-eight degrees then how can you expect to remove the heat? (You can read more on the topic of transcritical refrigeration by clicking here.)
  • Suffice to say, a transcritical system and a high operating pressure system means two things.
    • The first is that there is increased expense for these systems. Not only do you have to pay for high pressure rated materials and parts but you also have to pay for a transcritical system. This setup is different then your standard subcritical system. The good news here is that with each year that passes technology improves and the cost of these higher pressure parts goes down.
    • The second is the increased complexity. The higher the complexity means less available qualified technicians. It may be a struggle to find qualified R-744 technicians, at least here in the United States. Each year though this is getting better as more and more businesses are adopting R-744 systems.
  • I mentioned efficiency in our Pros section earlier. The reason I mention it again is that the efficiency of R-744 is highly dependent on the type of system it’s being used in and the surrounding climate. I mean, think about it for a moment. We could have a subcritical cascade system for a supermarket in Miami. Or, we could have a transcritical ice rink in British Columbia. In each example we’re using R-744 but we now have two entirely different systems as well as two entirely different climates. Because of these variety of systems and applications it is difficult to measure one single efficiency measurement.

R-744 Past/Future

History

I am a big fan of history and can never get enough of reading historical books or watching documentaries. If you don’t understand the past then how can you understand the present or even the future? While refrigerant history might not be as interesting as other historical topics it is still good to understand it. R-744 can be traced back all the way back to the nineteenth century. In fact it was one of the very first refrigerants to ever be developed and used across the world. Experiments in refrigeration began in the late seventeen-hundreds and began to pick up speed in the eighteen-hundreds. It was in 1850 that Carbon Dioxide was first proposed as a refrigerant by Alexander Twinning. In 1869 one of the very first ice machines invented used Carbon Dioxide. Then in 1897 the first Carbon Dioxide refrigerator was introduced. More and more inventions and innovations followed.

In the late 1800’s and the early 1900’s there were a few mainstream refrigerants that we saw. These were your natural and hydrocarbon refrigerants such as Ammonia, Propane, Isobutane, and Carbon Dioxide. At this time Carbon Dioxide was found in all kinds of applications ranging from display cabinets, cold storage areas, market places, home/commercial kitchens, movie theaters, hospitals, trains, and even on cargo transport ships. The other natural refrigerants weren’t used as widely as Carbon Dioxide due to their safety concerns.

It seemed that R-744 was going to reign supreme as the main refrigerant in the world. This held true until the 1930’s. It was then that a partnership was formed between General Motors and DuPont. This partnership was made with one goal in mind: To create a cheap, safety, and reliable refrigerant. While Carbon Dioxide was safe it had it’s own problems. Just like we mentioned in our Pros and Cons section R-744 systems had numerous failures due to the extreme pressure that they operated under. The technology just wasn’t there to prevent these failures either so these air conditioners and refrigerators would bey very expensive to maintain.

After some time the General Motors & DuPont partnership came out with a new artificial class of refrigerants known as CFCs and HCFCs. Some of the refrigerants in this new classification were R-12 and R-22. These new refrigerants checked all of the boxes. They were safe. They were cheap. They were reliable. There was no more constant failure due to high operating pressures. At first, the adoption of these refrigerants was slow but that was only because of the manufacturing speed of the product. It was in the 1950’s that an innovation was done that greatly increased the speed of manufacturing CFC and HCFC refrigerants.

Once the supply could be met the demand skyrocketed. It wasn’t long until CFC and HCFC refrigerants were found all over the world in various applications. They could be your home air conditioner, your automobile, your refrigerator, or your local grocery store. They were everywhere. In the 1960’s there were a few more CFC/HCFC refrigerants invented, including R-502, that led to even more explosive growth.

With the growth and dominance of these new refrigerants it seemed that R-744 had taken a backseat. It was cast aside when the newer refrigerants came to market due to the high pressure that it operated at. There was no reason to use this expensive refrigerant anymore due to the mass production and reliability of R-12, R-22, and R-502. At least for a while, R-744 had reached it’s peak. It was in the 1980’s that things began to change.

The Ozone

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 refrierants 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 refrigerants are under fire for their increase to Global Warming.

R-744 Present & Future

As I mentioned above HFCs were seen as the world’s savior from the Ozone depleting refrigerants. But, HFCs had their own problem. Instead of the Ozone this time it was Global Warming. These HFC refrigerants such as R-134a, R-404A, R-410A are known as ‘Super Pollutants,’ or ‘Greenhouse Gases.’ In order to measure their impact on the environment each of these refrigerants were given a Global Warming Potential number. The higher the number the more damage the refrigerant causes to the world. As a zero based scale for this measurement our old friend R-744 was used. Carbon Dioxide has a GWP of one. In comparison, R-404A has a GWP of three-thousand nine-hundred and twenty-two. Obviously, there is a large difference here.

I’m writing this article in 2019 and over the past ten years or so there has been a worldwide push to phase down and in some cases phase out HFC refrigerants completely. In order to phase out HFC refrigerants we have to have a replacement refrigerant. In some cases companies and countries have turned to a new classification of refrigerants known as HFOs. These HFO refrigerants are again synthetic products created by Honeywell & Chemours (Formerly DuPont). The problem with HFOs though is that they still have Global Warming Potential. Yes, not as high as HFCs… but the numbers are still there. Along with the GWP risk they also have a slight flammability risk. To me, I do not see HFOs being sustainable. I imagine the world will decide to phase them out in another ten or twenty years.

So, what is the solution you may ask? It’s R-744! Well, R-744 and other natural refrigerants. Technology has changed significantly since the last time R-744 was used widely. It’s been almost one-hundred years since we saw the mainstream use of Carbon Dioxide and now with nearly a century behind us the technology has significantly reduced the chance of component failures due to high operating pressures. We are now able to create efficient and stable R-744 systems without a large risk of failure.

While the cost of implementing R-744 systems is still quite higher then a traditional HFC system the costs have been coming down. This holds especially true in recent years as the push to innovate R-744 systems increases substantially with the phasing down of HFCs. While we are not there yet the costs are quickly shrinking the gap between HFCs and R-744.

There are many companies pushing forward with R-744 systems. Most of these are on smaller systems such as vending machines, but we all need to take baby steps. One company in particular, Coca-Cola, has installed hundreds of CO2 vending machines across the country. Along with Coca-Cola there are other grocery store chains out there using cascade R-744 systems mixed with other refrigerants such as Ammonia or lower GWP HFCs. We are even beginning to see R-744 uses in automobiles with the innovations that Daimler has made. As we completely phase down HFCs over the next ten years we will see more and more usage of R-744. It’s time has come again!

Conclusion

Well folks, after all of that I feel like we have covered our bases when it comes to R-744.  If you only take a few things away from this article let them be this. First, R-744 is a growing market across the world and you will begin to see more applications. It doesn’t matter what section of the industry you specialize in. R-744 is so adaptable that it’s only a matter of time before you come across it.

Secondly, since R-744 has no Ozone Depletion Potential and a Global Warming Potential of only one you can be safe in assuming that Carbon Dioxide will never be phased down our across the world. It is a natural refrigerant that has been used for over one-hundred years and it will continue to be used for another one-hundred years or more.

If you find that you’re still looking for more on R-744 then please check out our sources section below. This is where we pulled most of our data from and in some cases these websites can have a ton of information.

Thanks for reading,

Alec Johnson

RefrigerantHQ

Sources

RefrigerantHQ's Pressure Charts

Regardless of what system you are working on rather it is a home air conditioner, a vehicle’s air conditioner, a supermarket refrigeration system, or a large scale industrial application they all have one thing in common: Pressure.

Yes, as we all know one of the very first steps when it comes to diagnosing a refrigeration or air conditioning system is determining the various pressures that the system is operating at. Besides a simple visual inspection knowing the operating pressures of the machine is crucial. 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 your subcool is and what is your superheat? Having and understanding these numbers is instrumental 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-744 Carbon Dioxide Pressure Chart

For those of us here in the United States coming across an R-744 Carbon Dioxide application may still be a rare occurrence. But, the world is changing and the popularity of this natural refrigerant is increasing. Along with the popularity the vast array of applications is increasing as well. You can find R-744 being used in vending machines, automobiles, supermarkets, and even in ice-skating rinks. The sheer versatility of R-744 and its climate friendliness is the reason we have seen such growth in its uses.

While we had mentioned earlier the concept of ‘subcool,’ it is important to note that in most cases R-744 applications do not have a subcool. This is because most R-744 systems operate as a transcritical system. Most refrigeration/air conditioning systems operate in what’s known as a subcritical process. This is your standard process that we are all used to. The difference with a R-744 application is that its operating temperatures can exceed the critical point temperature.  Carbon Dioxide’s critical temperature is just under eighty-eight degrees Fahrenheit. That eighty-eight degrees mark can easily be at or below the ambient temperature and when this occurs is when a transcritical system is required.

For more information on transcritical systems you can click here to be taken to our overview. The pressure and temperatures for R-744 can be found below:

°F°CPSIKPA
-68.8-5662.26429.3
-65.2-5469.13476.6
-61.6-5276.45527.1
-58.0-5084.25580.9
-54.4-4892.54638.0
-50.8-46101.33698.6
-47.2-44110.66763.0
-43.6-42120.53831.0
-40.0-40130.96902.9
-36.4-38141.98978.9
-32.8-36153.611059.1
-29.2-34165.871143.6
-25.6-32178.771232.6
-22.0-30192.341326.1
-18.4-28206.61424.5
-14.8-26221.561527.6
-11.2-24237.251635.8
-7.6-22253.691749.1
-4.0-20270.91867.8
-0.4-18288.911992.0
3.2-16307.752121.9
6.8-14327.412257.4
10.4-12347.962399.1
14.0-10369.372546.7
17.6-8391.72700.7
21.2-6414.982861.2
24.8-4439.213028.2
28.4-2464.423202.1
32.00490.653382.9
35.62517.943571.1
39.24546.293766.5
42.86575.753969.7
46.48606.364180.7
50.010638.134399.8
53.612671.124627.2
57.214705.354863.2
60.816740.885108.2
64.418777.755362.4
68.020816.035626.3
71.622855.765900.3
75.224897.036184.8
78.826939.956480.7

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

Sources

A Look

I’ll be the first to admit that I know very little when it comes to a transcritical system. I have seen it mentioned numerous times and have also seen that it is starting to become a trend in certain newer environmentally friendly applications. In an effort to educate myself I’m going to take a look at transcritical systems and how they work in this article.

We are all familiar with subcritical refrigeration process. This is the same process that is used in most every air conditioner or refrigerator across the world. It consists of four specific processes known as evaporation, compression, condensation, and expansion. A subcritical system has ALL of it’s processes occur below the refrigerant’s critical temperature.

When parts of the cycle process take place at pressures above the critical point and other parts below the critical pressure the cycle process is referred to as transcritical cycle. Transcritical systems are found when using R-744 Carbon Dioxide refrigerant. This is due to R-744 having an extremely low critical temperature of thirty-one degrees Celsius. As a comparison, R-134a has a critical temperature of one-hundred and one degrees.

There are many cases where the ambient temperature could be between twenty-five to thirty degrees Celsius. If your critical point for R-744 is only at thirty degrees then how can you expect to remove the heat?

Difference of Subcritical & Transcritical

The key difference with transcritical systems is that the heat rejection process is different. There is in fact no condensation. This is due to the low critical temperature of certain refrigerants. In transcritical systems the heat rejection takes place at temperatures above the refrigerant’s critical temperature.

When a refrigerant reaches a temperature above it’s critical point it is no longer known as a gas or a liquid but instead known as a fluid. This fluid condition is also known as a gas condition or state. So, when rejecting heat with a transcritical system it is known as ‘gas cooling.’ Therefore the heat exchanger in an transcritical system is known as a ‘gas cooler.’

Besides the difference in heat rejection though the rest of the refrigerant cycle remains the same. We will go into the transcritical process in our next section:

The Process

A transcritical process begins with the compressor just like it does with a subcritical system. The difference here though is that as the compressor compresses the vapor refrigerant the temperature rises and rises until it reaches past the refrigerant’s critical temperature. This is where the state change differs. Instead of a liquid we get a state in between liquid and vapor known as fluid.

The next step in the process is the rejection of the heat gained from compressing the vapor. The heat exchanger, or gas cooler, expels the heat all the while having the temperature staying above the critical point. During this process you will also have the temperature vary between the point it left to the compressor to when it goes to the expansion valve.

Next, as you know, is the expansion process. At the time the refrigerant comes into the expansion vale it is above the critical temperature and in a fluid state. When leaving the expansion valve the refrigerant is no longer above the critical temperature and it is a mixture state of liquid and vapor.

Lastly, we are at the evaporator. In the evaporator the refrigerant comes in as a liquid at a constant pressure. Obviously, during the evaporation cycle we change states again to vapor that is slightly superheated. The vapor then makes it’s way to the compressor to start the process over again.

One thing to note that with a transcritical system superheat and subcooling temperature aren’t as important. While they can still be helpful, most folks only look at evaporating and condensing temperatures. In fact, with a transcritical system there is no condensation process and therefore no subcooling.

Questions

Are There CO2 Systems That Aren’t Transcritical?

  • Yes, most often these are found in what’s known as cascade systems. These systems contain two types of refrigerants. In these examples the CO2 refrigerant is used during the low temperature stage of the refrigerant cycle. This ensures that the refrigerant does not rise above the critical temperature.

Are there other popular transcritical refrigerants?

  • From what I have researched CO2/R-744 is the only transcritical systems used today. I also went through a list of all refrigerants and their critical temperature and only found a few that were very low. R-744 was the only common one that I found that is used today. If you know otherwise, please reach out and let me know.
    • One reader reached out to me and informed me that in some cases R-410A can be used in a transcritical system. That is because 410A’s critical temperature is only one-hundred and sixty-two degrees Fahrenheit. If you are in a warmer climate, in the summer, and the sun is beating down on a rooftop condenser then temperatures could very well come close tot hat one-hundred and sixty degrees mark.

How often do we use transcritical systems?

  • With constantly improving technology and the push to move the worlds towards greener refrigerants we are seeing a substantial rise in transcritical systems across the globe. Most of these new systems are found in Europe and other countries but the United States is making inroads as well. We’re always just a bit behind Europe though…

Are transcritical systems more expensive?

  • Yes, they are when compared to traditional HFC systems. This is especially true here in the United States as there aren’t as many technicians who are familiar with the technology and the parts aren’t as readily available. In the US these systems are nearly twice as expensive but in the EU they are only around thirty percent more.
  • The good news here is that CO2 systems are slightly more efficient then HFC systems and the cost of R-744 refrigerant is significantly cheaper then HFC refrigerants.

Why Should I Choose a Transcritical CO2 System?

  • Yes these R-744 systems are more expensive but you get peace of mind with a transcritical CO2 system. They are never going to be phased out like a R-404A application will be. CO2 has a negligible environmental impact and will be around for decades to come. It is a safe investment in the future of your business.

Conclusion

Well folks I learned quite a bit during writing this article. I had to dig through some articles to educate myself. All of my sources articles can be found below. If you have further interest in learning about transcritical systems then I highly recommend the first two sources from ACHRNews & Danfoss. These articles are great and go in-depth on the transcritical process as well as including diagrams and illustrations to help drive the points home.

Thanks for reading,

Alec Johnson

RefrigerantHQ

Sources

Well folks, as most of you know today is Earth Day. Personally, I don’t do anything to celebrate it besides walking around my property and enjoying the view. I just cleared an area by our pond this weekend and now I’ve got a nice quiet place to relax after a day’s work.

As I was reading the news today I saw a plethora of Earth Day stores. One that stuck out to me though was that the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) announced that they had launched a website in honor of Earth Day. This website aims at identifying retailers within the United States who have begun to use natural refrigerants instead of HFCs. The goal here is to have the companies who have started moving forward with natural refrigerants to be recognized for leading the pack.

Before we get to the website, let’s take a look at who the Environmental Investigation Agency (IEA) is. I have not heard of them before, and when I haven’t heard of something I like to research it. EIA is a non-profit organization that was founded back in 1984 out of the United Kingdom. Today they have offices in London and in Washington DC and focus on environmental crime and abuse across the globe. Their main website can be found by clicking here. They work on wide variety of things from endangered animals and poaching all the way over to climate change and refrigerants.

The new HFC website that EIA created can be found by clicking here. At first glance when looking at this website and the map that shows you where the natural refrigerant supermarkets are within the United States I couldn’t help but laugh. Nearly every location is in California or New York. This was expected as California usually leads the way in environmental progress, but still it was quite funny to see that the closest one to me is about one-thousand miles away (I’m in Kansas City).

Regardless of how far away they are progress is progress. According to IEA there are five main companies that have been pushing their locations to move away from HFCs and switch over to natural refrigerants. These companies are: Target, Aldi, Ahold Delhaize, Whole Foods Market, and Sprouts. Each of these companies has their own innovative ways of applying these alternative refrigerants. These range from:

  • Transcritical CO2 systems
  • Cascade or indirect systems using a combination of two low-GWP refrigerants
  • Micro-distributed systems using hydrocarbon condensing units on a chilled water or glycol loop
  • Stand-alone display cases using hydrocarbons

I won’t get into the details of what every company has done over the past few years to make this listing, but instead give you a quick highlight from each company. If you wish to read more on the subject feel free to visit our ‘Sources’ section at the bottom of this article to continue reading.

Aldi has been one of the leaders here in the United States. This isn’t surprising in the slightest as they are a European based company and have European ideals. (Europe is always ahead of us when it comes to environmental changes.) According to IEA Aldi has over two-hundred stores with transcritical R-744 systems with plans to add another one-hundred by the end of 2019. Along with that they have launched R-290 propane self-contained refrigerators/freezers and they have transitioned their warehouses over to R-717 ammonia based systems.

Target is another big driver of change. So far they have over one-thousand stores using self-contained hydrocarbon refrigerators/freezers (R-290 and R-600a). They have also begun experimenting with CO2 applications. They are piloting a transcritical R-744 application in two stores and they have also begun using CO2 cascade systems in their larger stores. Also, just like Aldi, they are using ammonia R-717 in their food distribution warehouses.

The other stores haven’t done as much as Aldi and Target, but they are still making strides to cleaner refrigerants. Whole Foods, now owned by Amazon, has begun distributing propane stand-alone refrigerators/freezers across their entire store network. They have also been piloting a transcritical CO2 system in their Brooklyn, New York store. The company Ahold USA was the very first store ever in the United States to begin using a transcritical CO2 system. Lastly, Sprouts was the first grocery store in the United States to use a R-744 ejection refrigeration system.

Conclusion

Along with these companies being environmentally friendly and being recognized by such agencies such as the IEA they also get the added benefit of increased energy efficiency. More often than not natural refrigerants are far more efficient than your standard HFC refrigerant. Ammonia, for example, is the most efficient refrigerant out there. All of this efficiency means decreased monthly energy bills for these stores and companies. So, while there may be a larger expense up front with a natural system the business owner will make it back month to month with lower operating expenses. They also get the peace of mind knowing that natural refrigerants will never be phased out by the Environmental Protection Agency as they have no, or extremely little, impact on the climate and the Ozone layer.

While looking at the map of all of stores using natural refrigerants was comical, we do all have to start somewhere. I’m willing to bet though that the map isn’t covering every store in the country. There’s a Whole Foods and an Aldi not far from me and I bet one of those stores are using a propane based refrigerator. With each year that passes the chance of running into these systems increases. If you haven’t already familiarized yourself with them I would recommend looking into it soon.

What is interesting though was after reading this I saw very little mention of HFO refrigerants from Honeywell and Chemours. Are the HFO refrigerants being eclipsed by natural refrigerants?  Will we begin to see the mass conversion away from R-404A before HFOs can be fully rolled out? Time will tell.

Thanks for reading,

Alec Johnson

RefrigerantHQ

Sources

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

 

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

 

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.

Donald Trump's Affect on the Refrigerant Industry

Regardless of your politics last month’s election was definitely a surprise. Obviously, the election of Donald Trump will have a profound impact on the country and the rest of the world. The question I ask to you is what kind of impact will he have on the United States’ refrigerant market?

Now, we all know what kind of affect Barack Obama had on the market. While he didn’t preside over the phase out of HCFCs like R-22 he did preside over the beginning stages of phasing out HFC refrigerants such as R-134a, R-404A, and R-410A. All of his actions were in response to his Climate Change Action Plan. (This link to whitehouse.gov will show more detail.) Obama used the Environmental Protection Agency to impose new regulations on HFCs and to eventually phase them out entirely. His goal was to replace all of these refrigerants with the less potent, but more flammable, HFO refrigerants such as 1234YF. On top of that he also pressured other countries to do the same. (India, China, Pakistan, and others.)

R-404A is the first to go away and the process has already begun. In 2015 the EPA listed R-404A as unacceptable in newly manufactured machines as of 2017. This covers all supermarket refrigerators and freezers. Vending machines get a bit more of a break and have a deadline of 2019. I wrote an article about this at the time of the release and it can be found by clicking here. Next on Obama’s list was R-134a. The EPA has listed 134a as unacceptable in new vehicles as of the year 2020. (2021 model years.) The goal here is to switch everyone over to 1234YF or to other natural refrigerants.

So we know what Obama did and wanted to do the question is what do we predict Trump doing over the next four years? While I am not a fortune teller I believe the answer can be drilled down to two main points:

Tariffs on Imports

Before President Trump was even a pipe dream there were already anti-dumping law suits filed against Chinese companies importing their R-134a refrigerant in mass. The complaint was that the Chinese companies were being subsidized by the Chinese government which caused their price to lower to unheard of levels. Since this cheaper import was being flooded into the United States market it caused the US refrigerant manufacturers to drop their price as well. While this may sound good for the consumer it was actively hurting the manufacturers such as Honeywell, DuPont/Chemours, and Mexichem. Along with hurting US companies it also allowed for impure 134a product from China to enter the market. (Not all of the Chinese product was one-hundred percent 134a.)

The three companies I just mentioned joined together in a group called the American HFC Coalition. The coalition filed a suit with the US government’s International Trade Commission. The Trade Commission took over a year to decide and so far nothing official has happened but the signs are all pointing to an imposed tariff on the imported 134a.

The commission is due to hold another hearing on February 23rd, 2017 on it’s decision. (Link about it can be found here.) The rumor is that there will be around a two-hundred percent tariff imposed on new product. This tariff may in fact even be retroactive on previous imports. So, if you imported 134a in the past you may be at risk of having to pay the tariff or fine on your old product. This has many small business owners very nervous.

Donald’s Stance

Throughout the campaign Donald Trump has stated again and again that he is against China. In his words they have been doing a trade war with the United States and they have been winning. He has also said that he is in favor of large tariffs on companies that move jobs overseas. It only seems logical that he would be in favor of anti-dumping tariffs on Chinese imported refrigerant.

I foresee that when he becomes President that he will push this even more than it already is. Chemours and Honeywell will grab his ear and he will push his Trade Commission hard and fast to approve the tariffs. If this does get approved the price on a cylinder of R-134a could reach upwards to $150-$200 a cylinder perhaps even higher than that.

Climate Change Skepticism

Well that first part was the bad news. Are you ready for the good news now? Donald Trump has stated again and again that he believes Climate Change to be a hoax. Believe it or not, this is good for the price of refrigerants. On top of his stance on climate change he has also stated that he will be getting rid of regulations across the board. Combining these two stances I could see Trump reversing course on the EPA’s decision to phase out 404A and 134a.

The whole reason they are being phased out is due to their Global Warming Potential and how they contribute to Global Warming. If Trump doesn’t believe in Global Warming in the first place why would he instill these hardships on businesses across the country? It just doesn’t make sense.

I don’t see this being a top priority for Trump right away but I feel as time goes on into his term and his consultants bring this to his attention that he will make the move to stop the HFC phase out before the deadline hits.

Conclusion

Having Trump is a mixed bag for the refrigerant industry. On one hand you get the Climate Change skepticism and the most likely remaining of HFC refrigerants. On the other hand though you have his hatred of China and their trade war. Over the next few years I predict we’ll see:

  • Tariffs installed not only on 134a but on other refrigerants as well. (410A and maybe even 1234YF.) These tariffs will force companies to make their product here in the US.
  • Reduction or total cancellation of HFC phase outs. (Including 404A, 134a, and 410A.)

Thanks for reading,

Alec John Johnson

Owner.

Australia to phase out HFC refrigerants by 2036.

While there still hasn’t been a formal amendment added to the Montreal Protocol to phase out HFC refrigerants across the world there are many countries that are taking pro-active steps to phase out HFC refrigerants such as R-410A, R-404A, and R-134a. The United States announced phase-out measures that they would be taking in the summer of 2015. The European Union has been even more proactive and has already completely phased out R-134a refrigerant across their various countries.

Australia has now committed to phase down their HFC refrigerant usage by eighty-five percent by the year 2036. This scheduled phasedown will begin in the year 2018 and is predicted to be completed over an eighteen year period. The Montreal Protocol’s HFC amendment is expected to pass towards the end of 2016 and implementation to begin in 2018 or 2019. Australia is just getting a head start before the mandate is pushed down to the rest of the world.

At this time the go to replacement products are HFO refrigerants such as 1234YF or Natural Refrigerants such as CO2. New HFOs are being developed to this very day by companies like Honeywell and Chemours. Using natural refrigerants, like CO2, is ironic for us as when the refrigeration market was first being developed CO2 was one of the FIRST refrigerants used in large commercial buildings like movie theatres. When refrigerant was discovered, a much cheaper alternative, CO2 began to go away and be replaced by the much cheaper R-12 and eventually R-22.

Even though it seems we just started using HFC refrigerants, and regardless what anyone thinks about them, the world powers have deemed that HFCs are bad and that they will be going away over the next decade. The question is are you, or your business, ready for the change?

Thanks for reading,

Alec Johnson

Owner.

Sources:

 

 

Montreal Protocol 2015 Meeting in Dubai

In just a month from now one-hundred and ninety-seven countries will meet in Dubai for the twenty-seventh meeting of the Montreal Protocol Treaty. The meeting is to start on November 1st and is expected to last most of the week.

Unlike in the past where these meetings were held to discuss the damaging of the O-Zone layer and the coordinated phase outs of ChloroFluroCarbons and HydroChloroFluroCarbons this meeting will be focused not on the O-Zone but instead on the Greenhouse gases and Global Warming caused by HydroFluroCarbons. Over the course of 2015 there have been four different amendments submitted to the Montreal Protocol to globally phase-out HFC refrigerants such as R-134a, R-404A, and R-410A. These amendments are as follows:

  • Mexico, Canada, and the United States submitted one earlier this year.
  • The European Union formally submitted one this year as well. It’s important to remember that this is most of Europe.
  • ‘Micronesia,’ nations submitted an amendment as well. These countries include Kiribati, Palau, Philippines, Maldives, Marshall Islands, Mauritius, Samoa and Solomon Islands
  • The big change this year is that of India, one of the biggest protestors of the HFC phase-out, submitted an amendment at the beginning of this summer. On top of India, China has also declared support for the HFC phase out. I wrote an article on the Indian amendment earlier this year and it can be found by clicking here.

Will the Phase Out Amendment Pass?

Western nations have been pushing for this phase out for the past few years and with each month that passes the resistance dissolves little by little. There were two big steps towards progress that happened earlier this year. The first being that India is now on board and had even submitted an amendment. The second being that China has agreed to phase out their HFCs as well. With these two behemoths out of the way it only leaves a few smaller countries resisting to the phase out.

These countries are as follows:

  • Saudi Arabia
  • Kuwait
  • Pakistan
  • Miscellaneous smaller middle eastern countries.

There were informal talks earlier this year in Paris. The hope was to hammer out the details and get any opposition out of the way then so when the time came for the November meeting there would not be any resistance. The middle eastern countries, including Saudi Arabia, I believe will bow to pressure at next month’s meeting. Saudi Arabia was already receiving significant pressure from the ‘United African Group,’ about their opposition. It is only a matter of time before they join everyone else. Once Saudi falls the other smaller middle eastern countries will follow suit.

The country to look out for is Pakistan. During the July talks in Paris Pakistan outright blocked any further talks on an HFC amendment to the protocol. The reason they gave was that alternative refrigerants such as HFOs or natural refrigerants would not work as efficiently in their hotter environment. It seemed like a superficial complaint as many other countries with just as hot climates are on board with the phase out. The real question is will Pakistan continue it’s resistance during the November meetings, or will they bow to pressure and let he amendments pass?

Staggered Approach

When the amendment passes, and it most likely will, it is important to keep in mind that the usage and production of HFC refrigerants will not instantly be shut off like a light switch going from on to off. The same staggered approach that was used for phasing out HCFCs will be used here as well. In fact the United State’s Environmental Protection Agency has already begun the phase-out of HFC refrigerants already. Early this summer the EPA announced that they would begin the phase out of R-134a in automotive applications and R-404A in vending machine and transported carrier applications. I wrote an article about this here.

So, when the amendment passes know that it’s not the end of the world. Your government will adopt a staggered approach that will most likely be mapped out in this same November meeting.

Summary

As of today there is nothing to panic or be alarmed about. The end of HFCS is coming and the amendment will most likely pass next month but I do not predict any large price increases coming, at least not for quite a while. If I was a betting man I would bet that the R-404A will be the first price to significantly rise over the next few years. (It is scheduled to be phased out in 2017.) If you fast forward a few more years R-134a will start to climb as we approach the 2021 deadline. All in all, keep an eye out and your ear to the ground and you’ll be fine.

Thanks for reading and if you enjoyed the article please take the time to subscribe to our newsletter or like us on Facebook.

Alec Johnson

Owner.

Sources