Hydrocarbons — A Natural Next Step For IIAR

Many hydrocarbons such as Propane, Propylene, and Iso-Butane, make great refrigerants. They are natural, have zero ODP, GWP less than 4, and are categorized as non-toxic. Compared to the HFC’s and HFO’s (also known as “F-Gases”) they have:

  • High COP
  • High Latent Heat
  • Low Liquid Density
  • Low Cost
  • Similar Working Pressures

The hydrocarbons are compatible with copper and with many low-cost components, such as hermetic and semi-hermetic compressors, expansion valves, and heat exchangers used in the HVAC and commercial refrigeration industries. Compatibility with standard compressor lubricants, desiccants, and elastomers is also excellent. The hydrocarbons are already in wide use – for cooking, heating, transportation, and power generation. Based on these characteristics the hydrocarbons are the only natural refrigerants that can match or beat the F-gases in commercial refrigeration systems on the basis of first cost and energy efficiency. Given the above, one must ask: “Why are we not making more use of the hydrocarbons as refrigerants?” The answer of course is flammability and the concern for safety. Safety standards do exist which allow for certain appliances having no more than 150g of a hydrocarbon refrigerant to be manufactured and installed. In fact, propane and iso-butane are increasingly being used in domestic refrigerators and in self-contained supermarket cases. The relatively small 150g charge limit has however restricted the use of hydrocarbons in larger systems where they make sense, such as in the high side of a supermarket cascade rack or in a packaged chiller.

Interest in the use of hydrocarbons and other natural refrigerants in commercial refrigeration applications has grown quickly driven by the imminent phase-out of the F-gases in an increasing number of states including; California, Massachusetts, New York, Connecticut, Maryland, New Jersey, and Washington State. Because of our expertise and ability to write ANSI-certified safety standards, the IIAR was approached by the North American Sustainable Refrigeration Council (NASRC) and others involved in the commercial supermarket refrigeration industry to consider developing the safety standards needed to allow the safe application of hydrocarbon refrigerants in larger commercial applications.

A Task Force composed of IIAR Board members and industry experts was appointed by the IIAR Chairman, to examine these issues and return a recommendation to the Board regarding opportunities for IIAR. The recommendation was to proceed with development of a new hydrocarbon safety standard titled “Safety Standard For Closed Circuit Refrigeration Systems Utilizing Hydrocarbon Refrigerants.”

I am pleased to report to you that work on this new safety standard is well underway – currently being taken up by members of the IIAR Standards Committee. The Hydrocarbon Standard Subcommittee is busy examining other existing North American and European standards, refining the scope and purpose for the new standard, and beginning to structure outline and content. If you have an interest in this topic, feel you can contribute to the development of the new standard, or just want to educate yourself on safe application of hydrocarbon refrigerants, I would encourage you to attend the IIAR Standards Committee meetings and get involved in committee activities.

Hydrocarbon refrigerants, applied safely, offer the prospect of extending the reach of natural refrigerants to many applications in the HVAC and commercial refrigeration markets currently dominated by the F-gas refrigerants. IIAR is uniquely qualified to develop the needed safety standards, facilitate their adoption by the model codes, advocate with local and national government agencies, and educate and develop competency with industry practitioners through the Academy of Natural Refrigerants. Hydrocarbons are a natural next step for IIAR!