Time to act on R290

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Published: 31 March 2021


Haier Europe Managing Director Bob Cowlard explains why this refrigerant needs to fall under the jurisdiction of the F-Gas Regulation if it’s to be a key player in the future of heat pumps.

 R32 is widely recognised as a superb refrigerant for heat pumps. As a single component, zero ODP gas with a GWP of 675, R32 offers the right environmental and energy savings to make a good mid-term fix for end users looking for low carbon heating, cooling and hot water systems.

This versatility makes R32 a great choice for air-to-water heat pump systems in the domestic sector where the switch from fossil fuel boilers is gathering pace.

The days of fossil fuel boilers are numbered. The installation of gas and oil boilers in new builds will be outlawed from 2025. The Government has made no secret of the fact that it wants to be ahead of Europe in the race to be carbon neutral. It wants big changes low carbon wise from us all by 2030, while the European Union is setting 2050 as a benchmark.

Less harmful refrigerants

As we make the move towards a low carbon society, R32 is viewed as a half-way house and there are already refrigerants emerging for heat pumps that are less harmful to the planet.

One that is lesser known but could make a big impact in the future is R290 – a propane grade refrigerant offering an impressive GWP of two. All refrigerants should be handled with care but in the case of R290 with its high flammability this should be doubly so.

In terms of performance R290 is every way as good as R32 but currently it is not covered by the F-Gas Regulation and this concerns me. This lack of legislation means that any Tom, Dick or Harry can buy and work with the gas.

R290 is a suitable replacement for high GWP gases in air-to-air heat pumps and has potential usage for air-to-water heat pumps too. I am perfectly in tune with the decision to develop products that use R290 as a low GWP alternative but as it is not covered by any legislation for those working with it the consequences could be dire.

Dangers ahead

An end user can buy the refrigerant from a website and decide to use it in an AC or heat pump system. An untrained person could choose to do the work, may decide to have a cigarette during the installation, there is a refrigerant leak and boom… we have a tragedy on our hands – something nobody wants.

There is absolutely no restriction on who buys or installs R290. It’s hard to believe that people are actively selling R290 for AC units without any safeguards in place but they are. Training and legislation are needed in Europe and the UK to prevent accidents happening.

Highly flammable refrigerants should not be available for use if they are not regulated. Under the F-Gas Regulation all installers need to be trained to handle and work with the refrigerants falling under its jurisdiction.

Haier will not bring R290 to Europe to use in heat pumps until we have the legislation in place to protect people. So far, legislation has not been in-acted on R290 for fear that it would have to include barbecues which also run-on propane.

But they are two different animals. You can still legislate for a gas in an application – as with heat pumps – and that should be the case for R290. All engineers working to the F-Gas Regulation have to undergo safe refrigerant handling training and this should apply for R290.

If this happens, and with the legislation in place, I can see no reason why R290 should not become a long-term replacement for higher GWP gases in heat pumps and so it is definitely one to keep an eye on for the future.

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