Hydrocarbons such as Propane, Propylene, and Isobutane are great natural refrigerants that are successfully used in commercial refrigeration appliances today. Hydrocarbons can boast the low global warming potentials regulators are looking for without being Ozone depleting. So why don’t they get as much airtime as other natural refrigerants such as ammonia and CO2? Perhaps the biggest reason is that Hydrocarbons tend to be more flammable than traditionally utilized refrigerants and therefore come with a greater safety risk if not handled properly. While these refrigerants have seen some utilization in applications where only a small quantity is required, like vending machines, they haven’t seen widespread adoption in large quantities for that reason.
Another reason we haven’t seen as much adoption of hydrocarbons is due to the lack of information available and the lack of usable standards. While innovation is always commendable, safe and reliable systems will always be CSR’s primary goal, and many contractors feel the same. However, as traditional commercial HFC refrigerants become delisted or prohibitively expensive, new natural refrigerant solutions will become more important. If the challenges can be overcome safely, natural refrigerants will always be the optimal choice. Recently the International Institute of Ammonia Refrigeration (IIAR), which does excellent work with ammonia and CO2 refrigerants, has announced they are closer to releasing a standard for Hydrocarbon refrigerants. The standard will help normalize the use of hydrocarbons as well as educate consumers and contractors on how to safely do so.
As with anything new, it will take some time for contractors and manufacturers to learn and adapt to a different set of refrigerants. Nonetheless, the engineers at CSR are excited about the concept of utilizing promising natural refrigerants in new ways. Hopefully with the release of an industry standard combined with the ever-stricter policies on HFC refrigerants the refrigeration industry will move closer to finding a natural solution to the HFC/HCFC carousel of the past few decades.