R290 Refrigerant – What’s the Big Deal?

Unless you’re a hardcore refrigeration fanatic, it’s highly unlikely you’ve laid awake at night wondering if the refrigerant (gas) in your commercial fridge or refrigeration system is the most energy efficient option, what it’s Global Warming Potential (GWP) is or how it is affecting our environment. But it’s actually something you should consider. I’m not saying toss and turn and lose sleep with the weight of the world’s changing climate on your shoulders… but something as seemingly insignificant as your refrigerant can actually be a bigger factor than you would think and knowing some basics on refrigerants can save your pocket and the planet. 


There is heaps of information out there on refrigerants; natural and synthetic; so, I won’t make this blog an information overload, but I have included some links at the end if you’d like to know more. 


In January 2018, the Australian Government, in line with an International agreement started the phase down of synthetic gases including hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs).  

“HFCs (and sometimes PFCs) are used as refrigerants in industrial, commercial and domestic refrigeration and air conditioning equipment.”

If you have older commercial refrigeration equipment, chances are it is still charged with HFCs such as R-404A (GWP 3922) or HFC-134A (GWP 1430); even some of the newer equipment on the market are charged with high Global Warming Potential refrigerants. The implications of using these gases with high global warming potential is that over the next 10 to 15 years as Australia (and the world) continue to phase down and phase out these synthetic gases, the gases will not be readily available on the market and the cost to recharge your equipment will rise exponentially. Right now, the cost of these synthetic gases are already more expensive per kilo than R290 and as the phase out continues the gap will only continue to grow! 


The current rate for R290 is around $46.55/kg + GST. Compare this to R134a at $50/kg + GST, R404A at $50.50 + GST, R410A at $55.95/kg + GST and the whopper R22 at $275/kg + GST! Not to mention the effect these synthetic gases have on the environment.


There are a number of natural gases now available on the market, although they are not always readily available, and there are limited refrigeration contractors certified to work with them. (Australia is well behind the times when it comes to Natural Refrigeration Solutions, check out our blog Transcritical is Not a Dirty Word) 

R290 is a refrigerant that is becoming more readily available in the refrigeration world; and with the associated benefits, it is easy to see why. 

R290 has a global warming potential of 3, making it well below the global threshold of 150 GWP, placing it in an elite class of refrigerants with minimal environmental impact. 

R290 boasts a 40% reduction in refrigerant charge; not only is this gas cheaper in the long run with the phase out of HFCs but refrigeration systems are using less gas for the same system. 

The excellent thermodynamic properties of R290 also leads to higher energy efficiency. 


There are risks around R290 so it is important to do your research:


Due to its flammable nature R290 requires different charging, recovery procedures and equipment. In Queensland, fridges and freezers charged with R290 must be tested for compliance and technicians working on systems with R290 must be licensed to do so. If you are buying a fridge or installing a refrigeration system that is charged with R290 be sure to ask your contractor if they are licensed to work with R290 and that the equipment you are purchasing is certified. Currently, Queensland has a certification process that must be followed in order to sell any refrigeration charged with R290.

For more information be sure to check out https://www.business.qld.gov.au/industries/mining-energy-water/resources/safety-health/petroleum-gas/gas-work-devices/guidelines/hydrocarbon-refrigerants 

Other links:


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