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662932599463da001e6d45fa Fact And Myth

Unraveling the Myths About HFOs and 'Natural' Refrigerants

April 24, 2024
Myths related to natural refrigerants and HFO refrigerants can lead to un-informed decision making. Here are six refrigerant myths in need of clarification.

In today’s refrigerant arena, we see hydrofluoroolefins (HFOs) in one corner and so-called “naturals” in the other. But in truth, these refrigerants have coexisted for some time, each serving specific needs of the HVACR industry. “Naturals”—that is, industrial gases including hydrocarbons, sulfur dioxide, ammonia, and carbon dioxide—once were broadly used, but their purpose and practicality in our world has diminished considerably due to HFO innovations. HFO refrigerants sit at the intersection of performance and sustainability, offering critical solutions for decarbonization, circularity, safety, and a business’s bottom line.

So-called 'natural' refrigerants will have a place alongside HFOs in today's HVACR industry. However, they cannot come close to matching the innovation of HFOs in terms of balancing the growing list of demands placed on refrigerants today.

By steering clear of the myths about HFOs and “naturals,” shop owners, contractors, and technicians can help customers make informed decisions when it comes to replacing systems at the end of life, as well as during new construction and installations. Here are what I consider the six biggest myths out there.

Myth 1: It comes down to a choice between a synthetic or natural solution.

All refrigerants—including those marketed as “naturals”—are synthetic. While it’s true that small amounts of ammonia or hydrocarbon molecules can be detected in our environment, refrigerant-grade products such as R-717 (ammonia), R-290 (propane) and other “naturals” are produced in industrial processes. Like HFOs their production requires energy and feedstock consumption, purification, packaging, warehousing, and transport. However, producing ammonia, for example, consumes a significant amount of energy and results in an enormous carbon footprint.

Myth 2: “Naturals” offer the best option for all applications.

Anyone in HVACR knows our industry is highly complex and consists of an untold number of applications. From home and mobile air conditioning to ice rinks and grocery superstores to refrigerated warehouses and transport, each application requires unique refrigerant properties. “Naturals” can meet some of the demand. But HFOs—born in chemistry and its adaptability—offer a greater ability to meet changing needs driven by evolutions in HVACR equipment and global sustainability requirements.

Myth 3: “Naturals” are futureproof.

Thankfully, nothing is future-proof, which means even the best solutions of today can get better for the demands of tomorrow. This is certainly true for HFOs. “Natural” refrigerants, however, were first adopted more than 100 years ago, then broadly abandoned due to HFO innovation as well as concerns over safety, energy consumption, and other factors. HFOs solve many of these issues and support a number of sustainability megatrends including decarbonization and circularity.

Myth 4: All flammable refrigerants are the same.

HFOs are reliable, have undergone rigorous regulatory approval processes, and are considered safe for their intended uses. Lower flammability A2L HFOs that are commercially available and OEM-approved are about four times less likely to form flammable concentrations during an accidental leak than highly flammable (A3) alternatives such as propane and butane. Commonly used HFO blends are also far more difficult to ignite. Moreover, hydrocarbon applications are far more restricted, due to allowable charge sizes and building codes.

Myth 5: The “naturalness” of “naturals” naturally supports circularity.

HFOs, unlike many “naturals,” are recovered, reclaimed, and reused—supporting maximum resource efficiency, minimal waste, and lower emissions. HFOs are critical to advancing circularity across the many industries they touch and create a path to decarbonization.

Myth 6: There is an endless supply of “natural” refrigerants.

The supply chain of HFO refrigerants is extremely strong and positioned to support the A2L transition around the world. More readily available than “naturals,” HFO refrigerants offer a secure and reliable supply chain for today’s many and various HVACR applications. In addition, there’s a much heartier pool of HFO technicians than “natural”-refrigerant technicians—a critical need, given current workforce shortages.

So-called “natural” refrigerants will have a place alongside HFOs in today's HVACR industry. However, they cannot come close to matching the innovation of HFOs in terms of balancing the growing list of demands—such as safety, performance, climate impact, and total cost of ownership—that are placed on refrigerants today and will continue to influence the future.

Charles “Dr. Chuck” Allgood, Technical Fellow with Chemours holds a PhD in chemistry, has more than 30 years of experience in the HVACR industry, and is a respected speaker at many industry events. In addition to Chemours, he’s worked for the National Institute of Standards and Technology. Dr. Allgood has held a variety of research, development, business, technical service, training, and applications development positions with Chemours. Most recently, he has focused on the development of low-GWP refrigerants—including Chemours Opteon™ brand refrigerants—and educating industry professionals about the changing regulatory landscape and A2L refrigerants on the market.

About the Author

Charles Allgood | Technical Fellow with Chemours

Charles “Dr. Chuck” Allgood, Ph.D., is aTechnical Fellow with Chemours.