A-Gas product manager for refrigerants Roger Smith has some advice on what to do when choosing an alternative low GWP gas for a system.
14 December 2018

Making the right choices

If you were to write a progress report on the F-Gas step-downs it would be fair to say that 'so far so good' would sum up the achievements made by the industry. The UK has reacted well to the call to move away from high GWP refrigerants. End users, contractors and suppliers like ourselves have been working together to make change happen.

Despite this year's 37°/o cut in the production of virgin high GWP gases, prices have levelled out and there are plentiful supplies of R404A available.
Differing sectors of the industry have taken on the message that we have to re-use much of what we have to avoid shortages.
Left field solutions are still emerging, and at Chillventa there was talk that R290 (propane) will be having a greater influence on the market as an alternative to R404A in new equipment, but its high flammability may dissuade many from believing that this gas will have a serious influence.
As always, the challenge for installers and specifiers is to decide which is the best route to take when switching to alternative low GWP refrigerants. It will almost certainly be a choice that will feature the three Rs: re­use, retrofit or replace.

When deciding on an alternative refrigerant there are a number of key steps to take before making any decision. The first, and most important, is to get advice from your refrigerant supplier.
If you are looking to re-use as a solution, reclaimed product is already on the market and exempt from the F-Gas quota.
A- Gas has invested heavily in reclamation facilities and we do not want to waste a single drop of this precious commodity.

Our Rapid Recovery reclamation service is proving popular with installers and this fast and efficient way of preserving gases highlights how the industry is looking for more sustainable solutions.

With a retrofit, the operational conditions of the existing equipment will be an important factor. The easiest way to make the right choice is to complete the A-Gas refrigerant selection form. This easy-to-use online tool is a great starting point and will lead you in a direction which will assist you in making the right choice.
Our experts analyse the information you supply and run this data through our software to look at how your system is performing currently.
From that, we will recommend up to four alternative refrigerants, one of which may be the right one for your current equipment. This also allows us to predict where you may have issues and gives you an informed choice to go back to the customer with.

It all depends on the original gas, but if you are looking at R134a in a chiller you could be considering R450A or R513A as viable alternatives. Both of these still fall within the Al category, meaning that they will not give you a flammability problem, and with their low GWPs of just over the 600 mark they are a good alternative.
In the air conditioning market, there is not a retrofit for R410A. R32 is an A2L and can only be used in new equipment.
That having been said, there is plenty of information out there so I would encourage you to do your research or speak to the experts if you are unsure about using an A2L.

There are moves afoot to introduce a low GWP A1 product, N41, also known as R466A, but this is a work in progress. Although this may be available in the middle of next year, it is important to note that this is not a retrofit for existing R410A equipment.
A2Ls are not suitable as a retrofit solution, and this takes us nicely to replacement alternatives.
When replacing refrigerant in a system, it is always prudent to consider an alternative that has the lowest GWP.

These alternatives will give you longevity, which is a key factor when you consider that the stepdowns will continue until 2030 and are likely to stretch beyond this.
In some cases, you may be in the realms of single digit GWP figures. For example, R1234ze in a water chiller installation will take you down as low as 7, which is an impressive achievement considering where we were a few years ago.

On a supermarket installation, with the correct pack size you could be seeing gases with a GWP of between 145 and 260 as an option. 

To go lower still and travel down the naturals route, CO2 and ammonia are versatile alternatives. They do have their advantages and disadvantages, which have been well documented.

Making these important decisions is not a time for knee-jerk reactions. Work closely with the customer to find out which gas will give them the best fit.
Ultimately, the customer will give you a good idea of what is needed. Beware, however, that if you do not listen carefully then they may decide to go elsewhere. Information is king here, and without all the right material, you will find it difficult to make the correct choice.
Is the existing kit good enough retrofit? Will it run happily for another three years on the same sort of gas? Will only a full-blown replacement be the most cost-effective answer in the long run? As an installer or a specifier, these are the key questions to ask yourself.

However, if you do get stuck, you always have the option to ask the experts. Your refrigerant supplier will be more than happy to guide you along that tricky route to finding the correct alternative refrigerant.

Looking for More Sustainable Solutions

Need help selecting a refrigerant? Our technical experts will compile an alternative product report. Click here

As seen in ACR News