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Why natural refrigerants?

Lower-GWP solutions are the future – here, Danfoss Learning explores five natural refrigeration market trends, with insights provided by an international group of experts working for Danfoss

Trend 1: Refrigerants have changed throughout history

One hundred and eighty years have passed since Jacob Perkins patented the vapour compression cycle, which uses refrigerant as a fluid to transport heat from the cold to the hot side of a refrigeration system (and subsequently to a heat pump or air conditioning system as well).

We use essentially the same thermodynamic cycle to this day, but history has been a learning path away from the flammable and toxic refrigerants to safe but long-term sustainable solutions.

Technology developments, together with safety standardisation, have eventually made it possible to move towards real long-term solutions with zero Ozone Depletion Potential (ODP) and low Global Warming Potential (GWP) refrigerants.

Trend 2: Environmental issues

In the beginning, all refrigerants were environmentally friendly by definition, as they could be found in nature.

In the 1930s, it became obvious that there were safety issues involving many of these refrigerants and many examples of fires and poisoning based on leakage.

At this time, the synthetic safety refrigerants called the CFCs (Chlorofluorocarbons) were invented and were widely used on a global basis. During the 1950s partly chlorinated refrigerants (HCFC) and the well-known R22 were introduced. In the early 1970s, it was discovered that these refrigerants not only have a very long breakdown time in the atmosphere, but that they also cause destruction of the ozone layer.

The CFCs have a particularly high Ozone Depleting Potential, while HCFCs are modest.

As a consequence, the Montreal protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer was established, which is considered a global success on reducing dangerous chemical substances.

The substitute refrigerants, HFCs, have zero ODP but medium-to-high GWP.

Due to the threat of climate change, usage of HFCs is now being scrutinised to reduce their impact on the environment.

Scientific investigations show that while the impact of HFC leakages may not be a major contributor to global warming presently, their growing consumption, especially within air conditioning in developing countries, will eventually make HFCs a top contributor.

The question of how to phase out high GWP HFCs is the subject of an ongoing debate, which has already led to the reintroduction of natural refrigerants and to the development of low-GWP unsaturated HFCs, commonly referred to as HFOs.

Trend: 3 Sustainability

Sustainable solutions are in the best interests of all stakeholders in the refrigeration industry.

They safeguard long-term investments and ensure compliance with corporate social responsibility.

In retrospect, it is clear that the refrigerant choices once regarded as ‘sustainable’ were not.

So when talking about refrigerants and long-term sustainability, there are three main parameters that must be aligned to accomplish a sustainable balance: affordability, safety and environment.                       

Trend: 4 Regulatory forces 

In Europe, in the spring of 2014, a new amended F-Gas regulation was adopted. This indicates that by 2015 there will be a phasedown on HFCs.

By 2018 it is expected to fall to 63 per cent of current usage, a significant drop.

The final target of 21 per cent of today’s usage is expected by 2030. This creates a significant challenge for the industry.

The phasedown is managed by quota allocations and specific sectorial bans on high-GWP HFCs.

Besides the refrigerant phasedown and phase-out mechanisms, governments are applying other measures for reducing refrigerants that have a heavy impact on the environment.

In North America, the Significant New Alternatives Program (SNAP), includes the hydrocarbon R290 as an alternative for small-charge refrigeration applications.

Trend: 5 Lower-GWP solutions are the future 

Our sustainability measure tells us that there is no doubt that the environment will continue to play a very important role when defining the development of the usage of refrigerants.

System manufacturers require long-term solutions that are environmentally friendly.

In looking at the different alternatives, everything points to lower-GWP solutions. Natural refrigerants are by definition low-GWP solutions and they will become the preferred choice whenever possible.

However, safety will still be an important factor in regulating the usage of certain refrigerants.

Our international group of experts within Danfoss has made a projection on the refrigerant outlook within the main sectors and regions.

This outlook reveals CO2 will be a widely used refrigerant in industrial refrigeration and commercial racks. We believe that this trend, which started in Europe, will reach the rest of the world.  

The white paper Refrigerants options now and in the future is  available at refrigerants.danfoss.com. The website also features a free natural refrigerants training course. This consists of a series of e-lessons about understanding CO2, hydrocarbons and ammonia, advantages of using natural refrigerants, legislation overview and safety aspects

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