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Climate-friendly alternatives to HFCs

To avoid the use and emissions of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), a variety of climate-friendly, energy-efficient, safe and proven alternatives are available.

Due to different thermodynamic and safety properties of the alternatives, there is no ’one size fits all’ solution. The suitability of a certain alternative must be considered separately for each category of product and equipment and in some cases also take into account the geographical location where the product and equipment is being used.

Why use alternatives?

The climate impact of a substance is commonly expressed as the global warming potential (GWP). The lower the GWP, the more climate-friendly the substance.

HFCs have a very high GWP and are hence potent greenhouse gases. Most of the HFCs are used as refrigerants in refrigeration and air conditioning (RAC) equipment, but also as blowing agents, aerosol propellants and solvents.

To mitigate emissions of substances with a high GWP and comply with the F-Gas Regulation, each sector needs to find solutions to quickly switch to low GWP refrigerants.

Alternatives and safety groups

Most of the HFCs are used as refrigerants in refrigeration and air conditioning (RAC) equipment, but also as blowing agents, aerosol propellants and solvents.

In the following, alternatives to commonly used HFCs are listed for different sectors.

The alternatives include

  • Natural refrigerants
  • HFCs with lower GWP, such as R32
  • Hydrofluoroolefins (HFOs)
  • HFC-HFO blends.

Each substance is assigned to a safety group specified as follows:

Lower toxicity Higher toxicity
No flame propagation A1 B1
Lower flammability A2 B2
A2L* B2L*
Higher flammability A3 B3
* A2L and B2L are lower flammability refrigerants with a maximum burning velocity of ≤ 10 cm/s

Please click on the sector of your interest for further information.

Commercial refrigeration

Commercial refrigeration applications include stand-alone equipment, condensing units and centralised systems.

Plug-in equipment used in small stores and supermarkets, such as vending machines relying on hydrocarbons, has become available in recent years throughout the world. CO2-based systems have also been introduced.

In large refrigeration systems for supermarkets (’centralised systems’), CO2 cascade systems are an alternative to commonly used HFC systems in many climates.

Hydrocarbons have also proven to be highly efficient alternatives in most applications under high ambient temperatures, except for larger condensing units.

Centralised systems

Substance GWP Composition Safety group Replacement for
Natural refrigerants R290 (propane)
R717 (ammonia)
R744 (CO2)
3
-
1
-
-
-
A3
B2L
A1
R134a, R404A, R407A
R134a, R404A, R407A
R134a, R404A, R407A
HFC-HFO blends R448A
R449A
1387
1397
R32/125/1234yf/1234ze(E)/134a
R32/125/1234yf/134a
A1
A1
R404A
R404A

Condensing units

Substance GWP Composition Safety group Replacement for
Natural refrigerants R290 (propane)
R744 (CO2)
R717 (ammonia)
3
1
-
-
-
-
A3
A1
B2L
R134a, R404A, R407A
R134a, R404A, R407A
R134a, R404A, R407A
HFC-HFO blends R448A
R449A
R452A*
R454C
R513A
1387
1397
2140
148
631
R32/125/1234yf/1234ze(E)/134a
R32/125/1234yf/134a
R32/125/1234yf
R32/1234yf
R1234yf/134a
A1
A1
A1
A2L
A1
R404A
R404A
R404A
R404A
R134a
* For low temperature applications

Industrial refrigeration

In industrial refrigeration, such as large cooling facilities for food processing or process cooling in the chemical industry, ammonia systems have been used for many years.

Ammonia has been the most popular replacement option to R404A and its use is already widespread. In Europe, but also in other parts of the world such as North America, an increasing number of cascade systems with ammonia and CO2 have been installed in the food and beverage industry.

Industrial refrigeration

Substance GWP Composition Safety group Replacement for
Natural refrigerants R290 (propane)
R717 (ammonia)
R744 (CO2)
R1270 (propene)
3
-
1
2
-
-
-
-
A3
B2L
A1
A3
R134a, R404A, R407A
R134a, R404A, R407A
R134a, R404A, R407A
R134a, R404A, R407A
HFC-HFO blends R449A
R450A
R513A
1397
605
631
R32/125/1234yf/134a
R1234ze(E)/134a
R1234yf/134a
A1
A1
A1
R404A
R134a
R134a
HFOs R1233zd
R1234ze
4,5
7
- A1
A2L
R134a, R404A
R134a, R404A

Stationary air conditioning

Stationary air conditioning (AC) is designed to control the thermal comfort of living and working rooms. The stationary AC sector can be broken down into several sub-categories:

Moveable room AC:
Devices that are hermetically sealed and can be moved between rooms by the user. Mostly used in private households.
Single split AC:
System that consists of one outdoor and one indoor unit linked by refrigerant piping, needing installation at the site of storage. Predominantly used in private households.
Multi split AC/VRF:
System that consists of one outdoor unit and multiple indoor units. Further developed systems enable a variable refrigerant flow (VRF) towards every indoor unit. Used in commercial facilities.
Chiller:
System in which the refrigerant cools down a liquid (normally water) that is then circulated to cool air in commercial or industrial facilities.
Heat pump:
System that is able to provide heating or cooling by transferring heat from or to an external reservoir (such as the ground, water or outside air). Used both in private households and commercial facilities.

In room air conditioning systems, hydrocarbons are safely used as alternative refrigerants in several countries such as India and China, but they are not yet common in the EU.

In chillers, hydrocarbons and ammonia are safe and energy-efficient alternatives to HFCs, both under moderate and high ambient temperature conditions. Heat pumps are also used with hydrocarbons, additionally CO2 is available on the market.

Please click on one of the five sub-categories to see more information on alternatives:

Moveable room AC

Substance GWP Composition Safety group Replacement for
Natural refrigerants R290 (propane) 3 - A3 R407A, R410A
HFCs R32 675 - A2L R407A, R410A

Single split

Substance GWP Composition Safety group Replacement for
Natural refrigerants R290 (propane) 3 - A3 R407A, R410A
HFCs R32 675 - A2L R407A, R410A

Multi split/Variable refrigerant flow (VRF)

Substance GWP Composition Safety group Replacement for
Natural refrigerants R290 (propane) 3 - A3 R407A, R410A
HFOs R1234yf
R1234ze
4
7
-
-
A2L
A2L
R407A, R410A
R407A, R410A
HFCs R32 675 - A2L R407A, R410A

Chiller

Substance GWP Composition Safety group Replacement for
Natural refrigerants R290 (propane)
R717 (ammonia)
R718(H20)
R744 (CO2)
R1270 (propene)
3
-
-
1
2
-
-
-
-
-
A3
2BL
A1
A1
A3
R134a, R407A, R410A
R134a, R407A, R410A
R134a, R407A, R410A
R134a, R407A, R410A
R134a, R404A, R407A
HFC-HFO blends R452B
R454B
R455A
R513A
698
466
148
631
R32/125/1234yf
R32/1234yf
R32/1234yf/CO2
R1234yf/134a
A2L
A2L
A2L
A1
R410A
R410A
R404A
R134a
HFOs R1233zd
R1234ze
4,5
7
-
-
A1
A2L
R134a, R410A
R134a, R407A, R410A
HFCs R32 675 - A2L R134a, R407A, R410A

Heat pumps

Substance GWP Composition Safety group Replacement for
Natural refrigerants R290 (propane)
R718 (H2O)
R744 (CO2)
3
-
1
-
-
-
A3
A1
A1
R134a, R407A, R410A
R134a, R407A, R410A
R134a, R407A, R410A
HFC-HFO blends R454C
R513A
148
631
R32/1234yf
R1234yf/134a
A2L
A1
R410A
R134a
HFCs R32 675 - A2L R134a, R407A, R410A

Domestic refrigeration

In Europe, hydrocarbon refrigerants have replaced the use of HFCs since the mid-1990s.

Domestic refrigeration

Substance GWP Composition Safety group Replacement for
Natural refrigerants R600a (isobutane) 3 - A3 R134a

Mobile air conditioning

The refrigerant R134a used in air conditioning of cars is prohibited in new cars as a consequence of the EU Directive 2006/40/EC on mobile air-conditioning systems (‘MAC Directive’).

The main substitute is the R1234yf, which is almost exclusively used. The only alternative to this is CO2, which is currently used by some car manufacturers and expected to become more widespread in the future.

CO2 is also expected to become available as an alternative in the future for duty vehicles, busses and trains.

Mobile air conditioning for cars

Substance GWP Composition Safety group Replacement for
Natural refrigerants R744 (CO2) 1 - A1 R134a
HFOs R1234yf 4 - A2L R134a

Mobile air conditioning for buses

Substance GWP Composition Safety group Replacement for
Natural refrigerants R744 (CO2) 1 - A1 R134a
HFC-HFO blends R450A
R513A
605
631
R1234ze(E)/134a
R1234yf/134a
A1
A1
R134a
R134a

Mobile air conditioning for trains

Substance GWP Composition Safety group Replacement for
Natural refrigerants R729 (air)
R744 (CO2)
-
1
-
-
A1
A1
R134a
R134a

Transport refrigeration

Lately, R448A, R449A and R452A have become quite common to replace R404A in road transport refrigerated vehicles. R452A has a very high GWP of 2140 and hence will not be suitable for future use. For refrigerated containers, CO2 can be used as a long-term alternative.

Refrigerated vehicles

Substance GWP Composition Safety group Replacement for
Natural refrigerants R744 (CO2) 1 - A1 R134a, R404A, R410A
HFC-HFO blends R448A
R449A
R452A
1387
1397
2140
R32/125/1234yf/1234ze(E)/134a
R32/125/1234yf/134a
R32/125/1234yf
A1
A1
A1
R404A
R404A
R404A

Refrigerated containers

Substance GWP Composition Safety group Replacement for
Natural refrigerants R744 (CO2) 1 - A1 R134a, R404A, R410A
HFC-HFO blends R452A
R513A
2140
631
R32/125/1234yf
R1234yf/134a
A1
A1
R404a
R134a

Foam blowing

Polyurethane (PU) foam: Only few PU foam products are still manufactured with HFC blowing agents. The vast majority rely on hydrocarbons such as pentane or cyclo-pentane without loss in energy efficiency. HFCs are mainly limited to on-site application of PU spray foam. For this and some niche applications, unsaturated HFCs are already commercially available.

Extruded polystyrene (XPS): Major manufacturers of XPS insulation boards have already converted their production facilities to organic solvents or HFOs. The remaining users of HFCs are switching to HFOs. Energy efficiency of HFOs is considered to be better than that of HFCs.

Studies

A number of studies on the feasibility and availability of alternatives at sub-sectoral level have been carried out by various renown experts, including an extensive analysis carried out for the European Commission by the independent consultant Öko-Recherche in the context of developing Regulation (EU) No 517/2014.