Taking a Look at R-32

Oct. 2, 2020
The Environmental Protection Agency has proposed R-32 as a SNAP approved refrigerant to replace R-410A at some time in the future. Here, from R-32 developer Daikin, are some facts related to R-32’s features and benefits.

Following the implementation of the Environmental Protection Agency’s January 1, 2020 ban on production and importation of R-22 refrigerant to be used in HVAC  systems, the HVACR industry is now focused on when it will call for a ban on refrigerant R-410A in new systems, which industry experts say will happen eventually, it’s just a question of when. 

R-410A was banned for certain low- and medium-temperature commercial retail refrigeration applications, in January 2019 and January 2020.

But always progressive California is not waiting around to see what other states will do. State environmental authorities in California have proposed banning R-410A for direct systems as of January 2023 and in chillers in January 2024. They say they will have final rules ready at the end of calendar year 2020.

Among the replacement refrigerants that will be available as effective R-410A alternatives is R-32.  But the implementation of R-32 will not be a reality without its own concerns that the industry is now considering.

CLICK HERE for additional information related to R-32 refrigerant.

There will be other competitive products that contain R-32 as the key ingredient. This article will explain why Daikin refrigerant experts believe pure R-32 is a superior R-410 replacement.

Historical Record
R-32 is not a “new” refrigerant. R-32 has been in use worldwide since the 1990s.  It is a crucial component in many of today’s refrigerants, including R-404A, R-407A, R-407C, and R-410A. Daikin was the first HVACR manufacturer to introduce air conditioning and heat pump technology using R-32 refrigerant in Japan in November of 2012. Additionally, its use in window air conditioning units in North America began in 2016, by multiple manufacturers, and continues today. “R-32 is the refrigerant of choice throughout the world, used in more than 90 countries, including India, Australia, and countries in Asia, Europe, Southern Africa and the Middle East, and more. R-32 is used safely and effectively in more than 100 million HVAC systems, including residential split systems, variable refrigerant flow (VRF), scroll chillers, rooftop units and window units,” said Tatsuro Kobayashi, Senior Vice President, Strategy & Business Development, Daikin U.S. Corporation.

Based on the research and development findings, Daikin spokespeople listed numerous benefits offered by using R-32 refrigerant. Those include double-digit efficiency, cost-effectiveness, ozone depletion reduction, and global warming potential (GWP).

Specific findings include:

Efficiency: “Test data in Daikin’s labs of inverter-driven compressors for rooftop units and water-cooled chillers found that full-load and partial-load efficiency rating metrics can be improved by up to 12% using R-32 instead of R-410A,” advised Phil Johnston, PEng, GM, Low GWP Program Leader at Daikin Applied.

Cost-effectiveness: R-32 is widely available, manufactured by numerous refrigerant producers in the U.S. and Asia, and distributed globally. Phil Johnston reported to Contracting Business that there are no active patents on the basic molecule, and that R-32 refrigerant historically has a lower price per pound than R-410A, and a much lower price per pound than most available proprietary low-GWP blends.

“Because R-32 has excellent thermodynamic properties and a single-component refrigerant, there are other potential cost benefits associated with R-32,” added Johnston. Those benefits include:

Reduced usage: specific R-32 systems could have up to 40% less charge than similar R-410A systems. 

“R-32 can be topped up and recharged in the field, in both liquid and gas phases, without changes in composition. It can be cleaned and reused on-site, without a complex cleaning process,” said Kobayashi, 

The procedures involved with refrigerant recovery and recycling have often impeded timely refrigerant changeovers or has also been an excuse (even though it is against EPA regulations) for venting refrigerant into the atmosphere to save time on a service or replacement call. 

That benefit is significant, in that Sec. 608 of the Clean Air Act allows appliance owners to reuse recovered refrigerant in other equipment under the same ownership. A single component refrigerant can’t lose its composition like many blended refrigerants and will retain its quality over time.

Because R-32 has a GWP of 675 and can be used at a reduced charge in specific systems, direct emissions from those systems can be up to 80% lower than similar R-410A systems. 

“During recycling, R-32 can be reclaimed and recycled off-site by a simple cleaning process, as compared to blends containing HFOs (hydroflouroolefins), which would require reclaim by being distilled and then remixed,” explained Kobayashi. 

“When you combine the low cost for R-32 per pound and the low charge quantity with low electricity consumption, R-32 can yield a low total cost of ownership,” added Nathan Walker, Senior Vice President, Goodman Manufacturing. “Add in easier handling from recharging in the field as compared to non-azeotopic blends, and it adds up to potential impressive savings.”

Daikin experts said R-32 has a zero ozone depletion potential. Regarding global warming potential, total life cycle refrigerant impact measures the direct emissions from the refrigerant, as well as the indirect emissions from electricity consumption. Because R-32 has a GWP of 675 and can be used at a reduced charge in specific systems, direct emissions from those systems can be up to 80% lower than similar R-410A systems. 

“And, because R-32 can obtain higher efficiencies than many blends, units can be designed to be smaller, which reduces materials needed or it can consume less electricity over the lifetime of the equipment. The result is fewer carbon emissions that contribute to climate change,” Walker indicated.

About Flammability
Refrigerant flammability has arisen as a concern for refrigerants classified as A2L, or “mildly flammable,” which is the case with R-32. There are, however, mitigating facts that should help contractors have an easier time explaining mild flammability. Those include past safe usage, domestically, and globally.

“R-32 has been safely deployed in over 100 million units in the U.S. and around the world. In more than 90 countries, mechanical contractors and service technicians are already knowledgeable and skilled in its safe and effective handling in many HVAC applications, including residential splits, VRF, scroll chillers, rooftops, and window units. R-32 has become the de facto global standard to replace R-410A in many HVAC applications,” said Henry [Skip] Ernst, Trade Association & Regulations Manager, Daikin Applied. “The industry is committed to training stakeholders with a keen focus on service technicians about safe handling practices, the same way they currently handle high-voltage electricity, natural gas, and propane during the installation of any heating and cooling system.”

On the surface, it appears as if R-32 will present complications, in that there will be competitive blends to R-32. However, it’s helpful to recall that during the transition away from R-22, R-410A was waiting in the wings in 1991, and there were no major competing gases. But that may not be the case with this next pending transition due to the existence of blends containing R-32.

“After extensive research and consideration, Daikin, Goodman, and Amana HVAC brands have endorsed R-32. In evaluating R-32, we took a holistic approach that included safety, energy efficiency, and cost-effectiveness for our product users. Importantly, R-32 is not new to the HVAC industry. It’s become the de facto global standard to replace R-410A. And the majority of contractors already have experience with it – R-32 is 50% of the R-410A blend,” explained Walker.

Will brand loyalty be an advantage when contractors make the change to a new refrigerant? That could be true unless contractors consider other factors that combine to influence their brand selections. 

“Refrigerants represent only one dimension regarding brand loyalty expressed by an HVAC contractor. Many other features combine to determine future loyalty. That’s why we’re encouraging contractors to look at all the benefits of either alternative. They’ll see that R-32 is the easy choice for so many reasons,” said Walker.

No Drop-ins Available
According to Daikin experts, R-32 and competitive blend products containing R-32 will only work in systems designed to accept those specific gases. Any refrigerant change in an air conditioning system will require some degree of modification to mitigate the differences. 

“Any system designed for an ASHRAE 34 safety group A1 refrigerant, such as R-410A, will require a design evaluation for compliance with product safety requirements for safety group A2L refrigerants, and some design changes will be required,” said Johnston, who added that, “a manufacturer must compensate for differing properties of the refrigerant as well as design requirements captured in the safety standards. That being said, any HVAC system appropriately designed to use R-32 refrigerant will perform efficiently and effectively regardless of the manufacturer because of its excellent thermodynamic properties and material compatibility, as evidenced by the fact that more than 40 companies around the globe use non-proprietary R-32 refrigerant.”

Messaging Has Begun
Daikin, Goodman, and Amana brands are endorsing a multi-media campaign providing facts about R-32 refrigerant. The campaign began in August and is part of a multi-year marketing program. 

“Because not all manufacturers may be using the same refrigerant, there is a tremendous need to help educate HVAC dealers, contractors, engineers, and others regarding the benefits of R-32. As part of the program, we’ll offer training programs, too, to make this transition as smooth as possible for all stakeholders,” said Walker.

Speed to Market Factors
What is impossible to message at this time is the process and timing that will be involved with rewriting building codes to accommodate the use of R-32, a “mildly flammable” refrigerant, either alone or as a blend component. That critical factor has been discussed at HVAC industry events during 2019 and the first quarter of 2020, before travel reductions and canceled meetings due to the pandemic.

One additional and important factor that could possibly speed the approval of modified building codes, is R-32’s favorable profile in the minds of environmental watchdogs. After the EPA scaled back its timeline for reducing refrigerant usage, some states have taken action independent of the federal government, to ban HFCs and adopt choices such as R-32.

“States are taking or started to take actions to encourage the refrigerant transition. The U.S. Climate Alliance—a bipartisan coalition of 24 states and Puerto Rico—was formed in 2017 to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in line with the goals of the 2015 Paris Agreement, from which the United States is set to withdraw later this year. As such, several of these states have begun addressing short-lived climate pollutants (SLCPs), including HFCs,” said Kobayashi. 

“The state of California has taken a leadership position in proposing HFC phasedown regulations. The California Air Resources Board (CARB) has held several stakeholder events on its draft language and is set to release its notice package this fall before the December Board meeting. Other states moving ahead with legislation include Washington, Colorado, Maryland, Delaware, Vermont, and New York,” Walker said.

Therefore, it is possible that the pressure exerted by those states’ actions could put building code acceptance of R-32 on a faster track, in time for the California 2023 ban of R-410A for new direct systems (excluding chillers). 

Contracting Business will continue to cover the phaseout of R-410A in the coming months.