Chiller Refrigerants

July 2019 – To know what your options are when it comes to choosing the right cooling solution, it helps to know what a chiller refrigerant is and what refrigerants are still available. At the moment, there are only three refrigerants to consider: R-410A, R-404A and R-134a.

A chiller refrigerant is anything that can be used to transfer heat from one location to another. Water, for example, if evaporated can act as a refrigerant. Air, if compressed, could also be used as a refrigerant. In either case, there is a transfer of heat. For something to work effectively as a refrigerant, however, there also has to be a transition from a liquid to a gas or vice versa.

Chillers and Air Conditioners both use refrigerants to mechanically generate evaporation (liquid to gas) and condensation (gas to liquid). Using a refrigerant with the right thermodynamic properties can make a huge difference in how much cooling a chiller or air conditioner can generate. It also determines how much energy is needed to generate that cooling. An ineffective refrigerant uses more energy to generate the same amount of cooling as a more effective refrigerant.

Choosing the right chiller refrigerant has been complicated even more by the claim that refrigerants are harmful to our environment. Today, refrigerants are not only rated by their thermodynamic properties and energy efficiency, but by their GWP rating or global warming potential and/or their ozone depletion potential.

The most popular refrigerants for air conditioning have included

1) Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) – R-12
2) Hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs) – R-22
3) Hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) – R-410A, R-404A and R-134a.

One of the most popular refrigerants since 1930s, R-22 (a hydrochlorofluorocarbon (HCFC)) was a safe, non-toxic and easy to produce substance that could be used for indoor cooling and many other industrial cooling applications. In 1987, however, it was found to be a ozone depleting substance and was to be phased out of production over time.  By 2010, the production and import of R-22 was completely banned and replaced by R-410A, R-404A and R-134a.

While all three refrigerants are considered to have a medium GWP rating. 410A and R-134a are generally considered more energy efficient than R-404A. Learn more about the future of R-404A.