Propane Refrigeration Coming to a Unit Near You…

A few days ago I did a post about how CO2, or R-744, is making a comeback in recent years and is being widely used in vending machines as well as other units. Well, keeping with the trend of alternative refrigerants the Environmental Protection Agency recently approved the use of propane, or R-290, as a refrigerant in refrigerators, freezers, vending machines, and small room air conditioners in both the residential and commercial markets.

The EPA’s announcement can be found on their website. They also announced some other refrigerants that were approved.

Pros & Cons of R-290

R-290 (Propane) has a lot of advantages and disadvantages for refrigeration purposes. Let’s have a look.


  • Propane has zero Ozone Depletion Potential, or ODP.
  • Propane’s Global Warming Potential, or GWP, is 3. For reference, R-410A has a GWP of 1725.
  • Great thermodynamic properties which leads to high efficiency and low operating cost to consumers.
  • Low charges allowing smaller heat exchangers and piping.
  • Low toxicity to technicians/consumers.
  • You can vent Propane.
    • Yes, that’s right you are eligible to vent propane into the environment. The EPA has seen no detriment to venting propane refrigerant.


  • Hmmm… I wonder what the con of using Propane as a refrigerant could be. Should I poll the audience? Yes… Yes… Oh, I have it! IT’S EXTREMELY FLAMMABLE!!!
    • Handling and maintaining a unit with R290 requires the utmost safety and knowledge on how the system and the refrigerant work with each other. (Also, don’t smoke while working on a unit….) It seems that as the market moves more and more towards climate friendly refrigerants the industry is getting more and more specialized. I’m not sure how I feel about this as the pay for technicians will become quite higher over the years but it also will make it difficult for new technicians to come into the market. It’s similar to how the automotive technician job has been going lately. I have a feeling in twenty or so years technicians will be as respected as doctors or pharmacists. They may even have to go to school for as long just to learn all of the technology.
  • Another con of using R290 is that it is not recommended to retrofit a system over to propane as the majority of the system will have to be swapped out. If your customer is interested in a propane unit I would recommend replacing the existing unit entirely rather than retrofitting. This will prevent you the hassle of doing the retrofit and the remove the chance of missing a step when switching the unit over.

Guidelines for Use of R290

I was searching online for some guidelines and tips on how to utilize R-290 and came across a few great resources for you to review:


I don’t want to get to lengthy on this post today. I just wanted to spread the news that propane has been approved for use and you will begin seeing more applications with R290 as it’s refrigerant.