EU: Basket of low-GWP refrigerants can replace HFCs by 2020 in 20 sub-sectors

By Alexandra Maratou, May 30, 2012, 14:24 5 minute reading

As the EU is considering revisions to the F-Gas Regulation, a new report shows that a complete phase-out of HFCs is possible in 20 sub-sectors by 2020 and maintains that bans of HFCs in new equipment is the most effective way of reducing HFC emissions. Hydrocarbon refrigerants, their blends or their combination in systems with other low-GWP refrigerants, are among the available alternatives to replace HFCs in different applications.

Titled ‘Availability of Low-GWP Alternatives to HFCs: Feasibility of an Early Phase-Out of HFCs by 2020’, the report has been authored by refrigeration technology expert Prof. Michael Kauffeld of the Karlsruhe University of Applied Sciences, with the support of the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA). Based on the availability of low Global Warming Potential (GWP) technologies, the report outlines a clear timetable, setting out the dates by which the use of HFCs can be banned in new equipment, with a complete phase-out possible by 2020 in 20 sub-sectors including:
  • Domestic refrigeration (already possible by 2015)
  • Commercial refrigeration: centralised systems, condensing units or stand-alone equipment
  • Transport refrigeration: vans
  • Stationary air conditioning (AC) and heat pumps: Moveable type AC, single split type AC, multi-spilt AC (with few exemptions), ducted rooftop, displacement chillers, heating only heat pumps
  • Mobile AC: Cargo ship, bus (with few exemptions), truck (with few exemptions)
  • Foams (already possible by 2015): XPS foam HFC-134a, XPS foam HFC-152a, spray foam, other PU foam
  • Aerosols (with few exemptions)
  • Fire protection HFC23 (already possible by 2015)

“As well as offering lower direct emissions from the refrigerants used, many alternative technologies also provide additional indirect emissions savings through increased energy efficiency, as compared to traditional HFC technologies” according to the report. “While investment costs are often higher for alternatives to HFCs, these costs are often absorbed by lower running costs over the lifetime of the equipment.”

No single low-GWP technology to replace HFCs in all applications

“Crucially, there is no single alternative that will replace HFCs in all applications, just as there is no single fluorinated greenhouse gas that can be used in all applications” reads the report. “The low-GWP technology that is most appropriate will depend on a number of factors including the local economic and regulatory situation, as well as climatic and other factors. Nonetheless the evidence is clear that the use of HFCs can be phased out in the majority of sectors by 2020, with safe, affordable and energy efficient alternatives”. The report provides an overview of the availability and suitability of the various low-GWP solutions as well as case studies on the use of:
  • Hydrocarbon isobutane
  • Hydrocarbon propane
  • Hydrocarbon pentane
  • Hydrocarbon propylene
  • Various hydrocarbon blends such as the butane-isobutane-propane-ethane blend (R441A) approved under EPA's Significant New Alternatives Policy Program (SNAP) for household and small commercial refrigerators and freezers
  • Ammonia
  • Carbon dioxide (CO2)
  • Combination of natural refrigerants in cascade systems
  • Water
  • Unsaturated HFCs

Hydrocarbons part of the “basket” of low-GWP technologies

The suitability of different hydrocarbons or their blends as part of the “basket” of low-GWP technologies for different applications is recurrently mentioned in the report. For example:
  • Commercial refrigeration - stand-alone (plug-in) units: Stand-alone (plug-in) units built with hydrocarbon are approximately 10-15% more energy efficient than comparable HFC-units. An estimated 800,000 hydrocarbon units have been manufactured so far.
  • Commercial refrigeration - condensing units: HFC alternatives for condensing units besides CO2 include hydrocarbons (mainly propane R290). From a technical point of view, hydrocarbons could cover the entire range of condensing units with 5-10% lower energy consumption than HFC condensing units, however hydrocarbons (mainly HC-290) are only feasible in direct evaporation in smaller systems due to safety concerns and national regulations.
  • Commercial refrigeration - centralised systems: Alternative refrigerants used besides ammonia and CO2 include hydrocarbons, mainly propane (HC-290) and propene (HC-1270). Like ammonia, hydrocarbons require secondary loop (indirect) systems in the areas with public access that confine the refrigerant to the machinery room or an outdoor installation. Indirect systems with hydrocarbons or CO2 cascade solution are technically feasible, with many such systems found in supermarkets all over the world, with concentrations in Scandinavia, Luxemburg and Canada. Distributed systems whereby the compressors are installed close to the display cases, a type popular in the US, can also use hydrocarbon refrigerants.
  • Transport refrigeration: The use of HC-290 in truck refrigeration units has been tested with a small number of vehicles both in the UK and Germany. Safety concerns have until now prevented a wider application, even though many trucks are equipped with an auxiliary heating system running on hydrocarbons. A new refrigerated truck with propene was developed by a German company and is now in field tests for a supermarket chain in Germany.
  • Stationary air conditioning: “Hydrocarbons are a perfect alternative in many ACand heat pumps systems. It seems that the number of producers using hydrocarbons as refrigerants has decreased during the last few years. One important reason for this seems to be the limited supply of compressors, which is at least partly a result of the new Pressure Equipment Directive. Another significant factor is the increasingly strict requirements that are specified within European and International safety standards that make it difficult to design systems with a competitive market price.”
  • Split Air Conditioners: Hydrocarbons are being used with existing safety standards, especially for wall and ceiling mounted single-split units up to approximately 7 kW cooling capacity. Although technically feasible and even one to two percent cheaper, flammability risk associated with larger refrigerant charges prohibits the use of hydrocarbons in larger systems in occupied spaces under current safety regulations, therefore hindering their wider use in ACsystems. Nonetheless, in China and India, at least five major manufacturers have introduced R290 production lines, adding to two UK, one Australian and one Italian manufacturer of such units.
  • Chillers: Ammonia and hydrocarbon chillers are already on the market, with increased energy efficiency of about 10% in small hydrocarbon chillers to 20% for small ammonia chillers.
  • Heating only Heat Pumps: For space heating heat pumps hydrocarbons are a technically feasible option with excellent energy efficiency. Heat pumps with HC-290 or HC-1270 were used in the 1990s and 2000s when CFCs were banned, however the majority of production was stopped due to the introduction of the Pressure Equipment Directive which imposed additional certification of the types of compressors normally used, incurring additional cost implications for manufacturers. Today heat pumps with hydrocarbons (HC-290, HC-600a) are available for capacities <20 kW from at least 18 European manufacturers. Industrial heating only heat pumps can be based on either HC-600a or ammonia.  


By Alexandra Maratou

May 30, 2012, 14:24

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