The problem with Refrigerant R404A and why it may its time may have expired

It’s one of the most popular refrigerants, but switching away from R404A may boost any operator’s environmental credentials and may be even profits.

During the last 10 to 15 years R404A has become one of the most widely used refrigerants.  It was introduced in the mid-1990s as a replacement for ozone depleting refrigerants including CFCs (such as R12 and R502) and more recently as a replacement for HCFCs (such as R22).  In the supermarket sector it has become the dominant refrigerant for both chilled and frozen food refrigeration.  It is also used in other commercial systems, for industrial refrigeration and for cold storage.

It has often been wondered why R404A became so successful, because it is not a particularly good refrigerant.  It filled an urgent gap during the 1990s and it was well marketed.  End-users and refrigeration contractors became familiar with the fluid and have continued using it as the “refrigerant of choice” in many different applications.  It is still used in many new systems, even though there are other better refrigerants now available.  Now is the time to stop being complacent about refrigerant choice and to use better alternatives.  Switching away from R404A has the potential to quickly and cost effectively help the environment and reduces the running costs.  A cost effective alternative is available for all new refrigeration systems and for most existing ones.

What is wrong with R404A?

The two key problems with R404A are that (a) it does not achieve the best energy efficiency in many applications and (b) it has a particularly high global warming potential (GWP).

The relatively poor energy efficiency leads to extra running costs and also extra CO2 emissions from the power stations that generate the electricity being used.  Alternative refrigerants can give electricity savings of between 7 per cent and 12 per cent in many applications.

The GWP of R404A at 3922 is the highest of all the commonly used refrigerants.  R134a is only 1,430 and R407F (Performax LT) is 1850.  Hence leakage of 1 kg of R404A is two to three times worse in terms of global warming impact than some other HFC refrigerants.

It is interesting to remember that historically supermarkets used two different refrigerants; R12 was used for chiller systems and R502 was used for freezer systems.   Each refrigerant could be well optimised to its operating temperature.  When these ozone depleting systems were phased out most supermarkets decided to rationalise their refrigerant use – both the chiller and freezer systems in most UK supermarkets now use R404A.  That may have been convenient but it creates some degree of compromise in the plant design and leads to an overall loss of efficiency.

With some refrigerant manufacturers having announced supply of R404A will cease next year and others expected to announce further price rises for June.

An event was held in London, with presentations from various experts offering their opinions, some were leading manufacturerers of refrigerants who were also sponsoring the event. BESA were also be at the event and the event was also supported by industry certification body Refcom, which were underlining the importance of F-Gas certification.

Chillaire Limited are registered members of both BESA and Refcom.

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