R32 is a low GWP (Global Warming Potential) HFC refrigerant which is back on the agenda and provoking some discussion in the ACR industry. There are air conditioning manufacturers that view R32 as the next cab off the rank to replace R410A – a high GWP gas which under the F-Gas Regulations will eventually be phased out.
Any gas with a GWP higher than 750 will be banned from use in low-charge split air conditioning systems from 2025. R32 is a single component, zero ODP gas with a GWP of 675, significantly less than R410A which tops the 2000 mark.
Effective and environmentally friendly
A credible R410A alternative
It has also been rejected in Europe in the past because of worries about its operating pressures but as the F-Gas Regulations have been ramped up, the popularity of R32 has grown and the gas is emerging as a credible option for R410A.
R32 is more efficient than R410A and has an ASHRAE classification of A2L or mildly flammable. Ironically, R410A is a mixture of R32 and R125 – the R125 suppressing R32's flammability. To my mind engineers and end users should not get stuck on the flammability issue. Now is the time to consider R32’s full potential.
The flammability question
Legislation surrounding flammable gases is very black and white – they appear to be highly flammable or not flammable at all. No allowance is made for refrigerants like R32 that fall into the “grey area” of mild flammability.
R32 is particularly difficult to ignite. Flame speeds are very low and typically, if there is a problem, often or not the flame will die before causing any further issues. With this in mind, I believe that legislation on the amount of flammable refrigerant allowed in a public space needs to catch up with the needs of the industry. I am not alone in suggesting that changing safety and building codes is vital for the HFC phase-down.
R32 in VRF systems
I also suspect that R32 will be used in VRF systems before too long but as this happens air conditioning engineers will have to become more adept at risk assessing systems and their suitability for R32. Clearly, engineers will need more training in this area and to some extent a new PR offensive is needed in persuading the industry that R32 is a safe alternative to R410A in larger size systems.
Attitudes to R32 elsewhere
The industry is also ready for the switch from an equipment perspective. Manifolds and hoses for R32 are already on the market – and there are recovery units and dedicated recovery cylinders available off the shelf that can deal with issues posed by R32.
Where R32 is already making its mark is in developing countries. Here refrigerant legislation is less advanced and this is where two thirds of R22 production ends up. R32 equipment is emerging as the popular candidate to replace R22 equipment in a straight swop. In Thailand R32 systems are widely advertised and in countries like this change is likely to happen rapidly.
It is fair to say that lower GWP is very much a trade-off with mild flammability. Lowering GWP inevitably raises flammability and vice-versa but it should not be an issue that cannot be managed. If you are an engineer or an end user, start to understand that R32 is part of the future. The legislative pressure will not be too taxing on the industry but change will happen and I would advise that you should plan for it. So wise-up to flammable refrigerants – they are going to be around for some time.