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Navigating the New Refrigerant Landscape

RajanRajendran Rajan Rajendran | V.P., System Innovation Center and Sustainability

Emerson Commercial & Residential Solutions

This blog summarizes an article in our most recent E360 Outlook, entitled Navigating the New Refrigerant Landscape.” Click here to read it in its entirety.

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The EPA’s phase-down of hydrofluorocarbon (HFC) refrigerants is underway. Over the next several years, these high-global warming potential (GWP) substances will no longer be permitted in a variety of commercial refrigeration equipment. As part of its Significant New Alternatives Policy (SNAP) program, the EPA has also listed new synthetic blends and natural refrigerants as suitable alternatives.

These new alternatives have different performance, servicing and handling requirements than their predecessors. To govern their safe use, the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) has designated safety classifications that denote varying degrees of toxicity and flammability:

  • A1: lower toxicity; no flame propagation
  • A2L: lower toxicity; lower flammability
  • A3: lower toxicity; higher flammability
  • B2L: higher toxicity, lower flammability

The performance (pressure and capacity) characteristics of common A1 HFCs are used as a baseline for the development of new lower-GWP alternatives. For example, R-448A/449A and R-449B are among the “R-404A like” (medium-pressure) options, while R-513A and R-450A are “HFC-134a like” (low-pressure) substitutes. These all have relatively lower GWPs than their HFC counterparts (350 to 1,300 GWP) and are EPA listed as acceptable for use in specific applications.

Several “future proof” options are currently undergoing the EPA’s SNAP approval process. To achieve very low-GWP levels below 150, these HFO blends all fall under the A2L (mildly flammable) classification. Among the medium-pressure alternatives include R-455A, R-454C and R-457A, while HFO-1234yf/ze and ARM-42 comprise the low-pressure options. Look for future SNAP ruling updates to verify their specific use parameters.

There are also a few very low-GWP, high-performance natural refrigerant alternatives that have been EPA listed as acceptable for use. Ammonia (refrigerant name R-717), propane (refrigerant name R-290) and carbon dioxide (CO2 or refrigerant name R-744) all occur naturally in the environment and have a long history of commercial use.

  • Ammonia — as a B2L, R-717 use requires careful adherence to safe use procedures. Its suitability in low-temperature applications has made it a mainstay in industrial, process cooling, cold storage and ice rink applications. Today, some supermarkets are trialing it in CO2 cascade systems to significantly reduce their carbon footprints.
  • Propane — R-290 is a high-capacity, energy-efficient refrigerant with superior performance characteristics. R-290 adoption has increased significantly as an alternative to HFCs R-404A and HFC-134a. Applications typically have a charge limit of 150 grams, making it well-suited for self-contained, reach-in display cases.
  • CO2 — Non-flammable and non-toxic, CO2 has proved a very effective alternative in both low- and medium-temperature applications, especially in regions with lower ambient temperatures. Its unique operating characteristics have led to the development of cascade, secondary and transcritical booster system architectures — all of which have been successfully deployed in commercial and industrial applications in both Europe and the U.S.

This blog summarizes an article in our most recent E360 Outlook, entitled Navigating the New Refrigerant Landscape.” Click here to read it in its entirety.

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