Climate control: Alternatives to F-gases for organisations and their estates

The risks fluorinated greenhouse gases (F-gases) pose to our environment are certainly not news to those operating in fields where these are – or were – widely used. Their global warming potential (GWP) is far higher than that of CO2, making them a huge contributor to climate change. Brian Imrie, Managing Director at adi Facilities Engineering, explains where from here. 

black and gray metal pipe

The 2020 F-gas ban has helped reduce the amount of harmful F-gases being used in commercial/industrial refrigeration as well as HVAC equipment, with gases having a particularly strong global warming effect (>2,500) now being banned. And of course, many businesses were looking for alternatives long before the ban took effect, in an effort to reduce their carbon footprint in order to meet their ESG objectives and help the nation reach its net zero by 2050 goal.

Using alternative refrigerants with a lower GWP can reduce CO2 emissions by 42-48 gigatons by 2050, a substantial achievement. Ultimately, there is no one-size-fits-all solution, with different alternatives each being best suited to different systems or equipment. Regardless, utilising substances with lower global warming potential is paramount if we are to meet our environmental targets.

So, what are the best alternatives to replace F-gases in the long term? Here, Brian Imrie, managing director of adi Facilities Engineering, a division of multi-disciplinary leading engineering firm adi Group, discusses the solutions businesses should look towards.

Natural refrigerants

Natural refrigerants have a much lower environmental impact that of man-made F-gases, and are widely regarded as the most viable alternative in a range of applications.

Hydrocarbons such as propane, isobutane and propylene are well suited for use as refrigerants, and in most cases, they are more efficient than F-gas refrigerants such as HCF. Hydrocarbons are ideal for domestic and commercial refrigeration, heat pumps and air conditioners, amongst others.

R290 (refrigerant-grade propane) is gaining more and more momentum, having become an efficient alternative fit for use in heat pumps in addition to being used for small-scale refrigeration application and industrial processes. It is overall well known for its extremely low impact on global warming.

Renowned for being both environmentally friendly and energy efficient, ammonia is commonly used in industrial refrigeration, processing and preservation in the food and beverage industry – doubtlessly a ‘tried and tested’ option with proven environmental benefits. However, the risk to benefit ratio needs to be fully assessed, as there is additional inherent risk in the overall management of ammonia charged equipment.

Is CO2 a viable natural refrigerant option?

Perhaps surprisingly, CO2-based systems have become increasingly popular, with CO2 cascade systems for large refrigeration systems being widely in circulation, and CO2 also becoming a more viable alternative for mobile air conditioning, as well as transport refrigeration.

This may seem ironic considering CO2 is often front centre of media coverage surrounding climate change. However, CO2 is vastly less harmful if released into the environment when compared to any F-gas, and has great thermodynamic properties, making it a highly efficient option for cooling and heating systems.

people walking on hallway inside building

HFCs with lower GWP – R32

Receiving more and more attention for its lower GWP, R32 is a balanced refrigerant when taking into account the factors of safety, environmental impact, energy efficiency and cost-effectiveness.

Replacing high GWP gases such as R410A, R32 has a high energy efficiency and can be easily recycled and reused, also requiring less volume of refrigerant per kW than many other HFC gases.

Recycling or reclaiming F-gases

With recycled and reclaimed F-gases ≥2,500 GWP being allowed until 2030, their use will play an important role in satisfying demand and reducing emissions that are a result of new refrigerant production, while these gases are gradually being phased out.

However, it is worth considering whether this is a viable option in the long term, with supplies being likely to continue to decrease. Ultimately, finding the right F-gas alternatives to begin to adapt to a change that is inevitable is going to be much more beneficial for businesses moving forward.

Learning to adapt to changing needs

Lowering risk when utilising refrigerants starts with correct refrigerant management, including reducing the amounts used wherever possible, implementing correct maintenance practices including leak testing and detection and recovering of reusable refrigerant.

As well as that, upgrading equipment to enable it to be compatible with less harmful F-gases or alternative refrigerants is an important step in ensuring the long-term stability of a business, ensuring it is capable of complying with new carbon-reduction initiatives and regulations that ultimately constitute a vital part of our future.

Offering complete facilities engineering services across the UK, adi Facilities Engineering creates bespoke solutions that integrate seamlessly with your key business objectives. Find out more:

Image: Sigmund (top) / Mick Haupt (bottom)


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