New opportunities for natural refrigerants

written by Pavel Makhnatch (under supervision of Rahmatollah Khodabandeh and Björn Palm)

Published Oct 31, 2013

The discussion regarding the future of fluorinated gases (F-gases) is under way even during quiet summer months. A number of countries, including the EU, USA and China have expressed their will to limit usage of F-gases, including a number of commonly used hydrofluorocarcon (HFC) refrigerants. Extending the number of countries willing to mitigate usage of HFCs will affect refrigerant selection in the future.

The way to HFC-free refrigeration is full of constrains

Back in 2006, EU has adopted ambitious MAC Directive requiring use of low GWP refrigerant in all cars type approved after 2011. Even considering that the Directive came into force 2 years later than planned initially, companies manage to bypass the Regulations by utilizing the loopholes in the legislation. Daimler, who is using R134a instead of R1234yf in its new A-, B- and SL-class models, has managed to get permission for this from German federal authorities by receiving so-called modified vehicle approvals instead of those it got after 2011 [1]. Other manufactures try to make use of this loophole as well [2].

Ambitious F-Gas Directive proposal is one step closer to being adopted

Not yet in legal force, the new F-gas Regulation proposal is gradually moving towards adoption and has recently passed the vote by European Parliament Committee [3] and awaiting the Parliament 1st reading next January. According to the current edition of the proposal, EU expects to decrease F-gases through banning high GWP F-gases in a number of equipment and consequently to phase-down the maximum quantity of HFCs to be placed on the market by 2030 to 16% of average quantity annually produced and imported into the EU during 2009-2012.

More countries express their will to limit F-gases

EU is not alone in its attempts to phase down the HFCs. In fact, a total of 108 countries (including EU and US) have indicated support for including HFC control and phase-down within the Montreal protocol [4]. China, India, and Brazil are not within these 108 countries and have been blocking a joint proposal since 2009 [5]. Recently China has changed its position and agreed to work together with other countries to use the expertise and institutions of the Montreal Protocol to phase down the consumption and production of hydrofluorocarbons [6]. The use of Montreal Protocol mechanisms is also supported by position of the EU. European Comissions’ representative Artur Runge-Metzger says “that the best framework for implementing the phase-down is the Montreal protocol” [7], which showed to be effective in replacing hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs) and chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs).

Other countries look around to adopt best practices in F-gas regulation. The Australian Institute of Refrigeration Air Conditioning and Heating, for instance, notices that “many European countries have introduced legislation to restrict high GWP HFC refrigerant gases. It seems unnecessary for the Australian HVAC&R industry to try to duplicate efforts if there are relevant and tested existing tools and methodologies available from overseas. Many countries have developed models or programs that could be adapted for Australian use” [8].

It is not too late to keep global warming below 2 °C level

While HFCs are not the only source of global warming, they are significant contributors. Due to their short lifetime of around 15 years on average, HFCs more rapidly contribute to global warming. Therefore mitigation of their emissions will lead to almost instant positive effects on the environment. According to the recent study [9] replacing high-GWP HFCs with low-GWP alternatives will solely bring as much as 0.5 °C reduction in predictable temperature increase by the end of the century. Thus mitigation of the HFCs use is very important to reach 2 °C global warming target. In fact, the only way to stay below 2 degrees target is to mitigate HFC use along with carbon dioxide reduction and reduction of methane and black carbon aerosols (BC), (see Figure 1.)

Figure 1 - Simulated temperature change under various mitigation scenarios, compared to business as usual (BAU) [9]

Sometimes really new is well forgotten old

Considering potential phase down of HFC refrigerants, natural refrigerants are seen to be viable alternatives to high GWP synthetic refrigerants in many applications and can provide refrigeration and/or heating effect at different temperature levels (see Figure 2).

Figure 2 - Natural refrigerants application for different temperature levels. Source: MYCOM [10]

This potential transition towards natural refrigerant is not a step backwards, in pre “Freon” era - it is a result of a number developments. For instance, achievements in charge reduction has allowed to safely use flammable HCs in domestic refrigerators; developments in hermetic compressors and microchannel condensers have made possible to use ammonia in low-charge applications.

The increased interest to natural refrigerants these days will allow to develop reliable systems to be used in future: both efficient and environmentally friendly.

Works Cited


E. P, "Mercedes Eschews R1234yf Refrigerant In Favor Of R134a," 02 Jul 2013. [Online]. Available:


MACs Worldwide, "Daimler Revises Model Approval to Continue Using R-134a," 2 Jul 2013. [Online]. Available:


R744, "European Parliament Committee strongly supports HFC bans in new AC&R equipment," 20 Jun 2013. [Online]. Available:


D. Doniger, "108 Countries Support HFC Curbs under Montreal Protocol," 24 Nov 2011. [Online]. Available:


M. Mackey, "Montreal Protocol Parties to Study Issues Surrounding Management of HFC Emissions," Bloomberg BNA, 02 Jul 2013. [Online]. Available:


Office of the Press Secretary, "United States and China Agree to Work Together on Phase Down of HFCs," 08 Jun 2013. [Online]. Available:


A. Morales, "EU Demands Refrigerator Cleanup as Most Potent Gases Escape Law," 03 Jun 2013. [Online]. Available:


AIRAH, "Transition to low-emission HVAC&R: Issues and solutions," Mar 2013. [Online]. Available:


Y. Xu, D. Zaelke, G. Velders and V. Ramanathan, "The role of HFCs in mitigating 21st century climate change," Atmos. Chem. Phys., vol. 13, pp. 6083-6089, 2013.


Mayekawa, "Natural refrigerants in different industrial applications," 2012. [Online]. Available:


Public Campaign, "How!Corporations!Pay!More!for!Lobbyists!Than!in!Taxes," 2011.

Belongs to: Department of Energy Technology
Last changed: Oct 31, 2013