Hydrocarbons have a promising future in HVAC&R applications because technology designed for other refrigerants can be easily adapted for use in hydrocarbon systems, heard participants in this year’s Gustav Lorentzen conference on natural refrigerants in Edinburgh
“Hydrocarbons like R600a (isobutane) and R290 (propane) are all naturally occurring, low-GWP, non-toxic, low-cost fluids whose environmental effects are fully understood,” said Stefan Elbel, a professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and chief engineer at Creative Thermal Solutions.
Elbel cited the low engineering effort required to produce efficient refrigeration systems capable of working with hydrocarbons among their main advantages. “Conventional components can be used in hydrocarbon systems with only minor adjustments,” he said.
The efficiency benefits of hydrocarbons are clear. Research carried out by Elbel together with Pega Hrjnak of the University of Illinois showed that “the fluid density of R600a and R290 is approximately 45% of that of R134a, resulting in a much lower overall system refrigerant charge”. “The coefficient of performance of a hydrocarbon system is often better than for R134a,” Elbel said.
Among the barriers currently preventing wider uptake of hydrocarbons, the professor cited the “temporary challenge” of the relative lack of availability of dedicated R290 components compared to those designed for HFCs.
The 12th IIR Gustav Lorentzen Natural Working Fluids Conference, held at Heriot-Watt University on the edge of the Scottish capital from 21-24 August, brought together HVAC&R industry experts, academics, students and other interested parties to discuss the latest technological and policy developments driving wider uptake of natural refrigerants such as hydrocarbons, CO2 and ammonia worldwide.