As the world moves towards more environmentally friendly changes, demand for natural refrigeration options continues to rise. Transitioning to natural refrigerants allows us to begin eliminating ozone damaging products from our daily use. Found naturally in the environment, natural refrigerants offer a more environmentally friendly and sustainable alternative to the synthetic refrigerants commonly used.
So, what, exactly, are natural refrigerants and how do they help?
Let’s start by defining important terms when looking up natural refrigerants:
GWP - stands for Global Warming Potential. This rating shows the impact of a specified refrigerant on global warming. More specifically, it measures the global warming impact relative to the effect of the same amount of carbon dioxide over a period of 100 years. The higher the GWP rating, the greater the effect.
ODP - stands for Ozone Depletion Potential. This rating indicates the amount of damage that a substance can cause to the ozone layer. These substances fall on a scale from 0 to 1. Like GWP, a higher ODP rating means more damage done.
ODS - stands for Ozone-Depleting Substances. These consist of chemicals, or compounds, which contribute to the depletion of the stratospheric ozone layer.
Refrigerant consists of a compound typically found in a gas or fluid state that can easily absorb heat from its environment. This means it works well as a heat transfer system in refrigeration and HVAC systems such as home air conditioners or heat pumps, as well as in vehicle air conditioning and refrigeration compressors.
Common types of refrigerants include:
Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) - includes R12 refrigerant, also called CFC-12 or sold under the trademarked name Freon. These refrigerants were banned in 1994 due to their high contribution to the greenhouse gas effect.
Hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs) - includes R22 refrigerant. Though slightly less damaging to the ozone than R12, use of these refrigerants was completely phased out by 2020. However, existing air conditioners and refrigeration equipment may still use it.
Hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) - includes R410A, R404A, R134A. They lack chlorine, which makes them safer for the environment. However, they still cause some damage and hold a fairly high GWP rating.
Sometimes called high-GWP gases, these refrigerants come with a high GWP rating, often in the thousands. The EPA states that carbon dioxide refrigerant offers a GWP rating of 1 “regardless of the time period as it’s the gas used as reference.” It features an ODP rating of 0, meaning it doesn’t deplete the ozone layer. In comparison, R22 refrigerant, an HCFC, holds a GWP rating of 1,810 and an ODP rating of 0.5.
Natural refrigerants are considered natural because these substances occur in nature. Commonly used natural refrigerants include ammonia (R717), carbon dioxide (CO2, R744), and hydrocarbons like refrigerant-grade propane (R290) or isobutane (R600A).
Following the Montreal Protocol, the United States began phasing out CFCs in the 1990s, and currently continues to phase out HCFCs and HFCs. Due to their high GWP and ODP ratings, synthetic refrigerants pose a threat to the environment. The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) continues to phase out damaging refrigerants. According to the EPA, damaging refrigerants “reach the stratosphere where they deplete the stratospheric ozone layer.” This damages the environment as the ozone layers helps to “protect us from harmful ultraviolet (UV) radiation that can cause skin cancer and cataracts.”
Natural refrigerants provide a more environmentally friendly and sustainable alternative to high-GWP refrigerants. According to Better Buildings, a U.S. Department of Energy initiative, natural refrigerants provide a zero or near-zero GWP rating. They can decrease “energy, gas, and water consumption” while “permanently reducing greenhouse gas emissions from refrigeration.” Additionally, they don’t damage the ozone layer.
By switching to natural refrigerants, we can help protect the environment. Natural refrigerants see use in a variety of home uses, such as air conditioners, heat pumps, and refrigeration compressors. But don’t worry! Many manufacturers of these items continue to switch to more natural options. HomElectrical carries a selection of refrigeration compressors, including options that use natural refrigerants, like this R-290 compressor, and more.
A leader in the cold chain since 1971, Embraco pioneered variable speed and natural refrigerants in their cooling solutions. Read about and shop Embraco products at HomElectrical today!
A refrigerator compressor works to compress and control the flow of refrigerant. Read our guide to learn about the pros and cons of each type of compressor and find the one that works best for you.
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