Heat pumps models charged with the natural refrigerant propane (R290) were showcased by almost all exhibitors at the ISH 2023 trade show, held in Frankfurt, Germany, March 13 to 17.

ATMOsphere, publisher of Hydrocarbons21.com, counted close to 40 manufacturer showing R290 heat pumps.

Most of these heat pumps are air-to-water monobloc residential units that can provide space heating and cooling alongside domestic hot water. This technology is considered key to reducing Europe’s dependency on oil and gas boilers for heating purposes, replacing these systems by connecting already-existing radiators or underfloor heating systems.

“Chillventa 2022 was a great show for commercial R290 chillers and heat pump,” said Jan Dusek, COO of ATMOsphere. “This year ISH confirmed the new focus of the HVAC industry in Europe on offering an alternative to fluorinated gases in residential and commercial heating and cooling sector. The narrative has shifted dramatically in the last 12 months, from ‘not possible’ to ‘have to participate.’ The manufacturers not exhibiting R290 at the ISH were an absolute minority. We expect R290 air-to-water heat pumps to be deployed to market in the millions of units starting 2024.”

Due to the hermetically sealed refrigerant circuit in the unit, which is normally placed outdoors, monobloc systems are considered a “low-hanging fruit” in the transition to natural refrigerants, notably R290, in proposed legislation. For instance, the European Commission has introduced in its proposed EU F-gas Regulation a ban of fluorinated greenhouse gases above GWP 150 in monobloc units (including plug-in room and self-contained air-conditioning and heat pump equipment), as of January 2025.

On the other hand, the European Parliament’s Environment, Public Health and Food Safety (ENVI) Committee has proposed a ban on all fluorinated greenhouse gases in this equipment but would postpone the deadline to January 2026.

At ISH 2023, a variety of European and international companies, including well-known OEMs as well as small and medium companies, opted to show domestic R290 heat pumps:

Glen Dimplex

Clivet also exhibited a split air-to-air R290 system, which will be marketed in Europe at the end of this year. A similar announcement was made by Haier at Chillventa 2022. Midea is already marketing R290 split air-to-air systems in Europe; these units are installed in the thousands in countries like India and China.


Commercial units moving to hydrocarbons

Besides the clear focus on residential heating solutions, this year ISH brought together a number of exhibitors showcasing their commercial-size R290 heat pumps and chillers.

These units commonly cover capacities of 40–100kW (11.4–28.4TR) for apartment housing and commercial buildings. While some of the suppliers have been offering R290 chillers for several years, others have shown concept systems that have yet to be commercially available.

Following its recent acquisition of SystemAir’s air-conditioning business unit, Panasonic for the first time exhibited a lineup of R290 chiller heat pumps with up to 80kW (22.7TR) capacity. In addition, Viessmann debuted its new 40kW commercial hydronic heat pump with R290 while Danfoss introduced new 20–200kW (5.7–56.9TR) scroll R290 compressor for heat pumps. Among other exhibitors with R290 commercial heat pump chillers were Clivet, Glen Dimplex, Skadec, Swegon, MTA, Wolf and Rhoss.

The commercial availability of R290 hydronic heat pumps and chillers is expected to increase this year as the industry prepares for revision of the F-gas Regulation in the EU.

Glenn Dimplex