Craig Dolan, product manager for renewable systems UK at Vaillant Group, explains why natural refrigerants offer a better solution than other alternative substances on the market
Significantly cleaner and more efficient than traditional fossil fuel boilers, heat pumps have long been a central part of the decarbonisation conversation. However, R410A – which has traditionally been used as the refrigerant in heat pumps – is currently being phased out of the market under the F-Gas regulation due to its high Global Warming Potential (GWP).
Lower environmental impact
At present, many heat pump manufacturers are either using, or planning to use, R32 as a more environmentally friendly alternative to R410A. However, whilst R32 is an improvement on R410A, it still carries a Global Warming Potential (GWP) of 675. By contrast, some natural refrigerants only have a GWP of 3. This means that natural solutions are less damaging to the environment, both when a heat pump is operational and at the end of its life when the unit is recycled.
Heat pumps which utilise natural refrigerants are able to use less volume per kW, allowing them to achieve the same, or greater results than counterparts, more efficiently. What’s more, natural refrigerants allow higher flow temperatures in a heat pump. With that in mind, a heat pump using natural refrigerant could conceivably offer performance similar to that of a boiler, but with zero emissions at point of use. This also means that heat pumps using natural refrigerant could potentially be retrofitted without significant change to an existing heating system, bringing down the capital cost of installation.
It’s also important to bear in mind that the golden rule for all heating systems is that the lower the flow required, the higher the efficacy, and the better the system design, the better the performance, both in terms of comfort and running costs.
R32 is undoubtedly a greener solution - it has a GWP of 675 – as opposed to R410A, which has a GWP of 2088. The likely rate of growth for the heat pump market means that R32 may be unacceptable under the refrigerant phase down by as early as 2024-26. In contrast, selected natural refrigerants - which have a much lower GWP than R32 - will likely be used in relevant future products. Vaillant’s aroSTOR hot water cylinder, for example, uses a natural refrigerant with an extremely low GWP of 3, which offers outstanding performance.
Natural refrigerants and hydrocarbons provide a low carbon, low running cost substance for heat exchange in heat pumps, with minimal environmental impact at end of life. If these refrigerants, when paired with the right technology, can offer performance akin to a gas boiler, and significantly reduce the cost of retrofit, they could allow us to enjoy the environmental benefits of heat pumps now and long into the future.
The opinions expressed are those of the advertiser and do not necessarily reflect the views of RAC Magazine’s editorial team.