The Environmental Protection Agency’s SNAP program approved five new alternative refrigerants at the end of February 2015. These newly approved chemicals will provide alternatives to the high global warming potential HFCs that are currently on the market today.
Before I get too far into what refrigerants are now available for use I’d first like to take a moment and do a quick overview of the EPA’s SNAP program.
What is SNAP?
SNAP, or Significant New Alternatives Policy, is a program whose goal it is to evaluate and regulate substitutes for O-Zone depleting chemicals. In the refrigeration industry this was mainly targeting CFCs or HCFCs. (Mainly R-12 and R-22) In the beginning of phasing out CFCs/HCFCs we began using HFCs in their place. The problem with this was that HFCs while they do not harm the O-Zone they have a EXTREMELY high global warming potential and contribute significantly to Global Warming.
There is now a big push to find substitutes for HFCs. At this time there is not a ‘go to’ replacement for HFCs but many companies are working hard to find the perfect solution. There are some who are leaning towards HFO refrigerants, or Hydrofluroolefins. At this time HFOs are mainly being used for automotive applications but they may expand into other applications and may eventually replace R-404A as well as 134a.
The Environmental Protection Agency and their SNAP program are charged to publish lists of acceptable and unacceptable refrigerants. For example, the EPA ruled in favor of HFO refrigerants being used in motor vehicle air conditioning in May, 21st 2012. (Link to all of their approvals can be found here.) This approval allowed American manufacturers to begin using the HFO refrigerant in newer models.
In late 2014 the Obama administration has put pressure on the EPA to find suitable alternatives to the high GWP HFCs, and as a result the EPA ruled in favor of five new alternative refrigerants just last week…
What is the Ruling?
At the end of February the EPA signed a new rule classifying five new hydrocarbon refrigerants as acceptable. An excerpt from the ruling pretty much sums up the gist of it:
What are the New Refrigerants?
- Ethane -Ethane has a very low temperature refrigeration and non-mechanical heat transfer. It has been ruled as acceptable for use in room air conditioners for residential and light commercial air conditioning.
- Isobutane – (Also referred to as R-600a.) It is now acceptable for substitute use in retail food refrigeration units. It is important to note that this refrigerant should only be used in new stand alone refrigeration equipment only.
- Propane – (Also known as R-290.) Propane is now accepted in use in residential and light commercial air conditioners for room AC units and portable AC units designed for a single room. Again, please note that this can only be used in new units.
- R-441A – 441A has been approved for use in retail food refrigeration, vending machines, and single room AC units.
- HFC-32 -HFC32 has also been approved for use in retail refrigeration, vending machines, and single room units.
These newly approved refrigerants are a Hydro Carbon blend. Hydrocarbons are known to be extremely flammable. There was some debate on approving these new refrigerants due to their flammability factor. If handled incorrectly it could lead to serious harm or death to a technician or operator. So, these refrigerants have a very low or non-existent global warming potential you should be aware of their risk. Only fully trained technicians should deal with units that contain these refrigerants.
Quick excerpt from the EPA’s website about flammable refrigerants:
While these refrigerants are new to the United States they are being used successfully in Europe and Asian markets. It’s rare that the EPA likes to be the first to try a new refrigerant… it seems we usually leave it other countries to give it a trial run. If it looks good then we approve it. (Nothing wrong with that either, seems like a smart move… Let them do the work first.)
Now, I’m not sure if these refrigerants will take off and be the new standard. I have a feeling the flammability risk on these will scare a lot of people off… but who knows we may be looking at a turning point in the industry.