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Path To Net Zero: Everything You Need to Know About R32 Refrigerant Systems

Path To Net Zero: Everything You Need to Know About R32 Refrigerant Systems

As part of our ongoing Path To Net Zero series, we have taken a look at Heat Recovery Variable Refrigerant Flow systems (VRF) and how they have made significant strides towards a sustainable future for buildings. These HVAC solutions are cost-effective and energy-efficient, making them ideal for reducing environmental impact.

VRF systems typically consist of multiple indoor air handling units, an outdoor inverter compressor, and low-temperature and high-temperature gas and pressure lines. VRF uses refrigerant as its primary heating and cooling medium, transferring heat by circulating refrigerant between the indoor and outdoor units. Indoor units monitor their individual surroundings and effectively shut off the supply of heat coming from the outdoor compressor when temperatures are at a desired level, or the room is unoccupied, creating a very energy-efficient system.

Along with the mechanical advances in technology that have led to contemporary VRF systems, refrigerants have also been a key part of the development process. As the medium through which the VRF system conveys heat, refrigerant constitutes a significant share of the VRF process. The ability of a system to reduce its carbon footprint is only possible through the sum of its parts, so developing a greener medium is vital.

 

The Evolution Of Sustainable Refrigerants

Over the years, there have been many types of refrigerants. Unfortunately, they have had negative environmental impacts, to the point where they have been banned from use. Early refrigerants in the VRF process were made from chlorofluorocarbons, the now-infamous CFC gas. These were phased out in the late 1980s and replaced by hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs), from which a common and recognised refrigerant called Freon (R12) was widely manufactured and put into use. Although it made for some reduction in global warming potential (GWP - the unit developed as a metric to compare, relative to Carbon Dioxide, the ability of each greenhouse gas to trap heat in the atmosphere), it did not go very far.

Refrigerants R410A and R22 were initially put into mainstream use as they featured either a zero, or very low Ozone Depletion Potential (ODP) rating, but their GWP remained unacceptably high, to the point where they too are now in the process of being phased out. With an EU ban on the use of these refrigerants by 2025 looming, the race to develop a solution was on.

NetZero R32 blog strip

Image source: www.daikin.com

Necessity being the mother of invention, the end result has been an elegant solution called R32. With a GWP below the prohibited 750 watermark, a high level of energy efficiency, and lower costs to produce, R32 has now become the prominent refrigerant for HVAC use - and the only non-prohibited option in Europe as of January 2025. The previous refrigerants have been the subject of a phase-out plan over the last few years, culminating in the full ban. For building managers and developers in the UK, the adoption of this legislation following EU withdrawal means choices will have to be made when readying themselves for the switch.

 

How R32 Compares To Previous Refrigerants
  • Global Warming Potential (GWP): R32 has a lower GWP (657) compared to R22 (1810) and R410A (2088). The lower GWP of R32 means it has a lower impact on the environment compared to R22 and R410A
  • Energy efficiency: R32 has a higher energy efficiency compared to R22 and R410A, which means that air conditioning systems using R32 require less energy to operate and can result in lower electricity consumption and cost
  • Flammability: R32 has a lower flammability compared to R22 and R410A, making it a safer option for air conditioning systems
  • Toxicity: R32 is considered to be less toxic compared to R22 and R410A, but it should still be handled with caution to avoid potential harm to humans and the environment
  • Pressure: R32 operates at a lower pressure compared to R22 and R410A, which can result in smaller and lighter components for air conditioning systems
  • Cost: R32 is generally less expensive compared to R22 and R410A, making it a more cost-effective option for air conditioning systems
Refrigerant R32 R22 R410A
Global Warming Potential (GWP) 657 1810 2088
Energy Efficiency High Low Moderate
Flammability Low Moderate Moderate
Toxicity Low Moderate Moderate
Pressure Low High High
Cost Low High Moderate

 

Making The Change To R32

Fortunately, there is good news for managers and developers. The R32 refrigerant is backward compatible, meaning that it may be possible to retrofit existing systems built to use the R22 or R410a so that they can use R32. By making an initial inspection of the VRF system in place, our HVAC specialists can determine whether an existing system can be adapted to R32. We will also advise on how we can upgrade or retrofit new components to bring your building's HVAC system fully up to regulatory compliance.

Should it be possible, retrofitting your system is an inexpensive option when compared to a full replacement. This further lowers the overall expense of an R32 when combined with its reduced operational costs. Get in touch today and discover whether Watsons can help you convert your system.