Today the HFC R-404A is one of the most commonly used refrigerants in the United States and in the world. You can find it most commercial refrigerators/freezers, in vending and ice machines, in refrigerated transport, and in specific industrial applications.
404A was originally implemented as a replacement option for the now banned CFC R-502. R-502 was widely used throughout all of the applications we mentioned above until 1995/1996 when it was phased out entirely due to it’s Ozone Depletion Potential (ODP). While 404A has been around for decades it’s future may be short lived due to it’s high Global Warming Potential (GWP).
In this post we are going to take an in-depth look at R-404A. In our first section we’ll cover all of the facts, then the pros/cons, points of note, and the history of R-404A.
|Name - Scientific:
|Blend of R-125, R-143a, & R-134a
|HFC Refrigerant - Blend
|R-125 Pentafluroethane (44%)
|R-143a 1,1,1-Trifluoroethane (52%)
|R-134a 1,1,1,2-Tetrafluoroethane (4%)
|Phasing Down Across The World
|Will Be Phased Out in 10 Years
|Low to Medium Temperature Systems
|Supermarkets, Gas Stations, Vending/Ice Machines
|Refrigerated Transport & Industrial Refrigeration
|CFC R-502, R-12, & R-22
|Ozone Depletion Potential:
|Global Warming Potential:
|Global Warming Risk:
|A (No Toxicity Identified.)
|Class 1 -No Flame Propagation.
|Synthetic Oil - Polyol Ester Oil or POE
|-46.6° Celsius or -51.88° Fahrenheit
|72.14° Celsius or 161.852° Fahrenheit
|3.735 MPA or 541.716 PSI
|Auto ignition Temperature:
|Various Including: Honeywell, Chemours, Arkema, Mexichem, Chinese, etc.
|All Over Including: USA, Mexico, EU, China, and others.
|Colorless Liquid & Vapor
|Faint Ethereal Odor
|EPA Certification Required:
|Yes, 608 certification required by January 1st, 2018.
|Require Certification to Purchase?
|Yes, 608 certification required by January 1st, 2018.
|Cylinder Design (2):
|Twenty-four pound cylinder
|Medium - $70-$160 a cylinder.
|Buy R-404A in Bulk
R-404A 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-404A refrigerant PT chart.
R-404A Pros & Cons
Regardless of what refrigerant you are looking at they all have their own pros and cons. There is no perfect refrigerant. There may never be. Ammonia for example is deemed one of the best refrigerants in the world… but it’s extremely toxic and can be deadly in high amounts.
R-404A has it’s own pros and cons. Let’s take a look at some of them.
- R-404A provided an immediate replacement product for both R-12, R-22 and R-502. This allowed the world to stop using Ozone depleting refrigerants. R-404A operated at comparable physical and thermodynamic properties that R-502 did which made transitioning to new systems or retrofitting older systems a much easier task.
- 404A is rated as an A1 from ASHRAE. That means that it is non-toxic and non-flammable. While this may not seem like a big deal for HFC refrigerants, this rating is becoming more and more important when it comes to looking for a more environmentally friendly replacement refrigerant.
- The biggest con with R-404A is it’s extremely high Global Warming Potential (GWP). It’s GWP rating is three-thousand nine-hundred and twenty. This number makes it one of the absolute highest GWP refrigerant that is widely used in the world today.
- In some applications 404A is not the most efficient. There are other refrigerants that can save five to ten percent efficiency. (R-134a for example.) The lost efficiency with 404A can translate into more energy and more money spent when compared to other refrigerants. Refer to our ‘R-404A Potential Replacements’ section for some of these more efficient refrigerants.
Notes on R-404A
Just like with our other facts sheets I’d like to take some time in this section and go over some facts and other points of note on R-404A refrigerants:
- R-404A began seeing usage in 1996 after the phase out of CFC R-502 due to it’s Ozone Depletion Potential.
- R-404A is a ternary refrigerant blend consisting of the HFC R-125 (forty-four percent), HFC R-143a (fifty-two percent), and HFC R-134a (four percent).
- R-404A is used across a variety of low and medium temperature applications including super market freezers/refrigerators, vending machines, ice machines, refrigerated transport, and industrial refrigerant systems.
- Starting in 1996, 404A was the primary refrigerant for the above mentioned applications for over twenty years.
- R-404A is non toxic and non flammable and has an A1 rating from ASHRAE. Note that if 404A is pressurized after being mixed with air the chance of flammability increases. You should never mix 404A with air under.
- R-404A is heavier then air and will displace oxygen in a room if a large enough quantity is leaked. This can be said for various types of refrigerants though and is not unique to 404A.
- When charging systems with R-404A the refrigerant must be in a liquid state. If done in a gaseous state you risk damaging the entire system.
- In some cases R-404A can replace R-22 systems when the proper retrofitting is done, but this may not make sense in the long run due to my next point.
- R-404A is being phased down and in some cases completely phased out due to it’s high Global Warming Potential and it’s detrimental effect on the climate.
- In many cases R-404A is the first HFC refrigerant targeted for phasing down HFCs due to it’s extremely high GWP of nearly four-thousand.
- Some refrigerant manufacturers and distributors have already announced they will no longer be making or selling R-404A.
- Europe will input a ban on any new stationary 404A systems in the year 2020. (Along with any other refrigerants that have a GWP higher then twenty-five hundred.)
- Along with the ban on new systems the European Union has also issued import and production limits on R-404A.
- Due to these production/import limits Europe has seen crazy prices come on R-404A. At some points in the past few years it rose over seven-hundred percent in one season.
- Prices in the United States have remained relatively stable the past year or so, but in 2017 there was a large increase due to a shortage of flurospar in China.
R-404A Possible Replacements
In the initial switch from CFC/HCFCs over to HFCs in the 1990’s there was a rush to find a quick and fast alternative refrigerant. Before HFCs a lot of supermarkets were using both R-12 and R-502 for their systems. (R-12 was used for the refrigerators and R-502 was used for freezers.)
At the time the world switched over to R-404A there was little other choice and most business owners and contractors consolidated their refrigerators and freezers over to one refrigerant to simplify things. That is why you see 404A nearly everywhere in these types of applications.
When we do completely phase out R-404A it will not be like it was in the 1990’s again. No folks, this time we are going to go about it smarter. (This is me being optimistic.) Instead of superseding every machines and application to a new specified refrigerant we will be looking at each application specifically an determining the best refrigerant for it’s needs. This is why we’ll see R-290 propane used in some 404A applications and an HFO refrigerant used in a different 404A application. When it’s all said and done we should see a diversified refrigerant market in place of the standard 404A that we see today.
At this time it’s impossible to list every 404A alternative or option out there. Things are always changing and evolving. The ‘perfect’ replacement may be discovered one month from now.
All that being said, let’s take a look at some of the possible R-404A replacements listed below. Just keep in mind that none of these are a ‘fix all’ solution. These refrigerants range from natural refrigerants, to HFOs, and the occasional HFC.
To understand the history of R-404 we first have to travel back to the 1960’s. It was then that the CFC refrigerant R-502 was invented. R-502 was a blended refrigerant using HCFCs and CFCs. It was comprised of of R-22 (48.8%) and R-115 (51.2%). This new refrigerant R-502 offered a lower discharge temperature and improved capacity when compared to R-22.
Once invented R-502’s usage exploded across low and medium temperature applications. Over the next thirty years R-502 was the dominant refrigerant for a variety of applications including super market refrigerators/freezers, industrial refrigeration, vending machines, and in refrigerated transport.
For thirty-five years R-502 reigned supreme, but like all good things it had to come to an end. In 1995 and 1996 R-502 was phased out for all new machines. 502 was just another one of the many CFC and HCFC refrigerants that have been phased out over the past twenty to thirty years.
These refrigerants were phased out due to the chlorine that they contained. When the refrigerant was vented or leaked it would move into the atmosphere where the chlorine would damage the Ozone Layer. While there wasn’t an official ‘hole’ in the Ozone there was a thinning of the layer above Antarctica. The Ozone layer protects us from radiation and a thinning of said layer can result in a whole host of problems including various cancers.
Scientists noticed this thinning in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s. Once the seriousness of the problem was revealed world leaders got together in Montreal and signed a treaty that most all of us know by now, The Montreal Protocol. This treaty aimed at phasing down and eventually completely out Ozone damaging chemicals. This included insulation, pesticides, refrigerants, and many other applications.
When R-502’s turn for phase down came in 1995 a new alternative refrigerant needed to be chosen. At this time the world turned towards HFC refrigerants. One of the very first phase outs was R-12 for automotive applications. It’s replacement was the HFC R-134a. It was a logical move to use R-404A as R-502’s replacement as 404A was an HFC and it partly blended from R-134a.
Once R-404A was implemented in the 1990’s it was the standard bearer for the next thirty years. But now, just like R-502, it’s time has come.
Today, as I write this article in 2019, R-404A is being phased down and in some cases completely out across the world. The European Union has import and production limits set on R-404A and have plans to completely phase it out over the next few years.
This time though folks the phase out has nothing to do with the Ozone Layer. This time it has to deal what’s known as Global Warming Potential (GWP). GWP is a measurement of how much heat a greenhouse gas traps within the atmosphere. The higher the number the worse the product is for the environment. Like with every scale there has to be a zeroing measurement. In this case it is Carbon Dioxide (R-744). The GWP on R-744 is one. The GWP on R-404A is nearly four-thousand.
That number alone is why the world is pushing to get rid of R-404A as fast we can. Out of all of the HFCs R-404A is one of the absolute highest when it comes to GWP. While the European Union has already begun taking steps of a complete phase out the United States is quite a bit behind.
Originally, the Environmental Protection Agency issued a rule in 2015. This new rule was under the EPA’s SNAP and was titled, ‘Rule 20.’ This new rule aimed at phasing down HFCs across the country. They did this by deeming certain refrigerants would no longer be acceptable in specific applications. As an example, one of the stipulations was that R-134a would no longer be acceptable in 2021 model year vehicles. R-404A, along with R-134a, was one of the prime targets in these new regulations.
Over the next few years the industry moved on expecting these changes laid out in Rule 20 to take effect. It was in the summer of 2017 that a surprise ruling by a federal judge overturned all of the EPA’s SNAP Rule 20. The judge ruled in favor of Mexichem and Arkema (Two refrigerant manufacturers). While other companies, such as Chemours and Honeywell, appealed the ruling they eventually got nowhere and the judge’s ruling stood. It went as far as going to the Supreme Court but the Supreme Court refused to hear the case.
Now, as of 2019, there is no set phase down schedule of R-404A or other HFC refrigerants. The only bright spot is what’s known as the ‘United States Climate Alliance.’ This alliance formed after Trump pulled the US out of the Paris Climate Accord. Their goal is to have a gathering of states that will enforce their own climate policy.
Regardless of the politics across the United States and the world we can all be assured of one thing: R-404A is going away. When exactly it goes away is a different story though. Within the United States I predict us having a patchwork of different laws and regulations across the various states. While this is disorganized and confusing it does have some positive effects as well.
With the lack of a central federal policy on HFCs we have states taking matters into their own hands. If enough states get on board with these HFC phase down changes then air conditioning and refrigerator manufacturers will eventually throw in the towel on HFCs and began transitioning over to lesser GWP refrigerants. After all, it wouldn’t make sense to make a system that could only be sold in half of the country. Instead these companies will start manufacturing based on the states that have HFC phase down policies. This will allow them to still sell into all fifty states and prevent them from doing double work.
As we mentioned in our potential replacements section, there is not yet a perfect R-404A replacement option. Instead, we are having a variety of refrigerants show up as replacements for specific R-404A applications. As an example, instead of 404A in vending machines we will start using propane or isobutane. But, these refrigerants will not work for refrigerated transport or in larger charged systems.
Among these alternatives to 404A a war is brewing between natural refrigerants and HFO refrigerants. While HFOs have significantly lower GWP then HFC refrigerants they are still not perfect and still do have a GWP that is higher then the neutral carbon dioxide point. It is this reason why groups are pushing to skip HFOs and go with natural refrigerants entirely. At this time there is no saying what refrigerant will win the ‘war,’ but the predicted outcome I see is a good mix between the two. We’ll see all of the smaller to medium charged systems start using natural refrigerants and the larger systems still using fluorinated refrigerants such as HFCs and HFOs.
There may come a time in the not too distant future that a ‘perfect’ 404A alternative is discovered. But, for now, we are all stuck with our patchwork of alternative refrigerants. If you haven’t run into some of these already it’ll only be a matter of time.
Well folks, that about covers it for R-404A. I tried to cover absolutely everything that I could when it came to this refrigerant. If you find that I missed something or that if something is inaccurate please reach out to me and let me know.