As global demand for heat pumps explodes, a popular myth regarding propane (R290) units’ inefficiency when compared to f-gas models has been debunked by certified data on two A+++ heat pump units showing a 21–34% efficiency improvement over an R32 unit.

This comparison was made by Dutch inventor and heat pump consultant, Menno van der Hoff, Chief Executive Officer of TripleAqua. Van der Hoff has more than 30 years of experience in the heat pump sector and has been consulting for various large multi-national heat pump brands.

Van der Hoff shared his expert insights into the global heat pump market with a focus on the natural refrigerant sector during the ‘Heat Pump Market Trends’ session at the recent in-person ATMO Europe Summit that took place in Brussels, Belgium from November 15-16. ATMO Europe was organized by ATMOsphere, publisher of

Comparing R290 and R32 heat pump efficiency 

Van der Hoff compared two heat pumps to dispel the myth than natural refrigerant heat pumps are not as efficient as f-gas ones. For this exercise, he chose a market leading A+++ heat R32 pump and a European Heat Pump Association (EHPA)-certified Austrian R290 heat pump. Certified data was used to compare the units.

At 35°C (95°F), the Seasonal COP (SCOP) of the R32 unit was 4.72 (η = 186%), while the R290 unit had a SCOP of 5.66 (η = 226%) at this temperature (a 21% improvement). At 55°C (131°F), the gap widens with the R32 unit showing a SCOP of 3.39 (η = 133%) and the R290 one 4.48 (η = 179%). This means the R290 unit is 34% more efficient at this temperature.

It was clear that the propane unit was outperforming the R32 unit, Van der Hoff concluded. “The question that natural refrigerant should be less efficient [than f-gas units] is not supported by the data.”

Exploding demand

Van der Hoff shared market data showing the consistent global market growth of heat pumps over the past decade. As the market is not mature yet, “explosive growth” is expected, he explained. Within the next decade, this market is expected to be three to four times its current size.

In 2022, more than 100% growth is expected in some large manufacturing countries like Germany, Netherlands and Poland with Italy’s growth expected to be 143% of current sales, Van der Hoff shared, based on various industry reports. In August 2022, Germany registered more heat pumps than in the entire 2021 year. The greatest potential for growth is in France, he said.

Natural refrigerant heat pump sales are also growing – a 9.5% compound annual growth rate (CAGR) is expected from 2022 to 2027 (growing from $5.8 million to $9.8 million). The biggest growth is expected in CO2 (R744) heat pumps in the 200–500kW (57–142TR) range, according to the data Van der Hoff shared.

“The question that natural refrigerant should be less efficient [than f-gas units] is not supported by the data.”

Menno van der Hoff, TripleAqua

The future is natural

As more CFOs (Chief Financial Officers) change their vision for long-term investment because of the F-Gas Regulation and proposed bans, natural refrigerants are becoming a more attractive option, Van der Hoff explained. This is largely due to the growing uncertainty around f-gases and their impact on the environment.

“Natural refrigerants will enter the market very fast now,” said Van der Hoff. He expects this market to mature as early as 2027. “R32 and R410A will disappear and a lot of it will be replaced by propane,” he predicts.

Van der Hoff also expects a lot of propane split air conditioners in the market and believes there is great potential for CO2 heat pumps in medium to high capacities. He also sees natural refrigerant-based district heating solutions becoming more popular.

In Van der Hoff’s concluding slide, he predicted the sector’s future losers and winners based on the evidence. Variable refrigerant flow (VRF) systems were in the losers’ column with natural refrigerant equipment filling the winners’ column.

>>Read more stories from ATMO Europe Summit 2022

Want to find out more, or have something to say about this story? Join the ATMO Connect network to meet and engage with like-minded stakeholders in the clean cooling and natural refrigerant arena.