In commercial HVAC in Florida, there is always investigation into how to cut costs, especially during hot summers. The industry is currently considering other refrigerants, including propane, or R-290. While propane is used in many parts of the world for this purpose, it is still under consideration in the U.S. Here is an overview of that evolving situation.
Propane as an alternative
Propane is not used as a refrigerant in the U.S. due to its flammability. However, there are reasons why it remains under serious consideration.
Propane has characteristics similar to current refrigerants. It has the same pressure levels and capacity as R-22 and R-502, which are both commonly used for cooling applications. Its reactions to temperature are also just as favorable as those two gases. Propane is also appropriate for hemetic and anti-hemetic processors. It also produces mineral oil, which can be recycled as a lubricant for other machinery.
The main favorable factor for propane is its cleanliness. Unlike other refrigerants, propane has no ozone depleting properties, which contribute to human-caused climate change. If used in areas with poor air quality, it has the potential to help reduce smog. As environmental concerns increase, these factors become very important to those researching the issue.
Even the harshest artificial conditions can be achieved with propane. Single stage compressors, which accommodate temperatures to -40 degrees, run well on propane. Reports indicate that this makes it a good alternative to R-502 and other refrigerants used for extremely cold temperatures.
All these reasons are why propane is used around the world as a proven refrigerant. Mainly restricted to refrigeration plants, it has also been used with residential A/C units and heat pumps. It is thought that it can also work efficiently in commercial systems.
What holds propane back
Flammability is the primary reason propane refrigerant has not caught on here. While this could be managed, it would mean other changes that are likely not cost-effective for most businesses. The flameproof regulations in effect right now require that the refrigeration charge process found in commercial systems would have to change.
There are also concerns that current systems would subject propane to excess pressures and overload electrical systems. Reports indicate that more safety precautions need to be implemented because propane has a different nature from other refrigerants in use here.
Basically, commercial systems are built very differently in European countries, and U.S. systems would have to be more in line with those standards. The solution does not involve a minor retrofit; those who use commercial refrigeration will need a new system installation.
This may be an issue best left for technology to catch up. As of now, there are no easy answers, but it is apparent that the use of propane in this application will continue to be researched. Current priorities surrounding clean technology will keep this moving forward.
Five Star Refrigeration & Air Conditioning, Inc. specializes in commercial HVAC in Florida. If you are looking for a more efficient system, or you require repairs, call us for an appointment.