The decision to use R32 as the refrigerant gas in future air conditioning systems has become an ongoing, controversial debate. Some producers have embraced the switch to this gas, which has a very low GWP (Global Warming Potential), while others continue to delay this change which now seems inevitable.
There are several reasons for their reluctance, many of which could be attributed to a widespread lack of knowledge about this matter. In order to get a balanced view, we need to take a detailed look at what R32 is, its characteristics and why so many consider it the best choice for the future.
Characteristics and advantages of R32
One of the common misconceptions regarding R32 is that it is a new generation refrigerant gas. The reality is in fact quite different, as this gas has been used for many years as a component of the mix used in R410A (currently the most widely used refrigerant on the market). Compared to that mix, of which it is an integral part, (R410A is in fact composed of 50% R32 and 50% R125), it has a very low GWP, at about 675 (compared to R410A’s GWP of 2088).
This characteristic, together with the small amount of refrigerant required to enable units to operate correctly and with greater energy efficiency, has made it a perfect solution in the search for a reduce environmental impact gas.
R32 Evolution, objections and problems
The introduction of air conditioning systems based on R32 has met with obstacles of many kinds over the years. In 2017, many suppliers were reluctant to sell this kind of product, due its slight inflammability (classified as 2L according to the ISO 817 standard).
Several questions have been raised regarding the difficulty of managing systems which used it, relating in particular to the need to introduce extra security measures (if the quantity of refrigerant loaded exceeds 12kg).
The constant demand for low GWP refrigerant gases and the limited availability of R410A stocks (the price of which continues to rise) have resulted in R32 based systems gaining ground and becoming fairly widespread (especially mono- and multi- split systems). There are, however, some limitations which it is important to bear in mind.
One example of when R32 cannot be used as a substitute for other refrigerant gases is in systems which have not been adequately converted. Similarly, the maximum limit of 60kg of gas that can be loaded into a system prohibits its use in larger VRFs.
Likely future scenarios
HVAC experts have come up with some interesting theories about possible future scenarios, linked to the wider use of R32 and the type of devices that will use it. These forecasts (purely theoretical, though based on solid data) have been formulated for the Air Conditioning market from 2022 to 2025. The most likely scenarios are:
- Low capacity split systems which will use R32;
- Hybrid chillers which will use VRF inverters and compressor technology, together with low GWP refrigerants (such as CO2 and other non HFC refrigerants);
- Hybrid VRF/chiller systems using water as their refrigerant with a medium-low GWP impact;
- Low capacity (no more than 12 hp) VRF solutions based on R32.
According to experts, it is highly unlikely that large capacity VRFs designed to use R32 as their refrigerant gas will become available in the near future. More research will therefore be required, with a view to developing less polluting, more easily manageable refrigerants.
Translated by Joanne Beckwith