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A Guide to Hydrocarbon Refrigerants: Exploring the Next Gen Choice

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What are Hydrocarbon (HC) refrigerants?

Hydrocarbon refrigerants are a hot topic these days, but what exactly are they and how can they make a difference? Hydrocarbon refrigerants are natural alternatives to many of the toxic refrigerants in the world today. These refrigerants present fewer safety risks and provide a climate friendly alternative with a low global warming potential.

Hydrocarbon refrigerants are a next-generation refrigerant, rapidly finding their way into more systems throughout the world. HC refrigerants are primarily being used in commercial and domestic refrigerators and freezers, as well as air conditioning systems.

Hydrocarbons are some of the simplest elements of our planet. A hydrocarbon is simply a molecule made from hydrogen and carbon. Some commonly used hydrocarbon refrigerants include Propane (R-290), Isobutane (R600a) and Propylene (R1270). Other hydrocarbons exist, but propane and isobutane are some of the most popular HC refrigerants.


Regulations for all Refrigerants

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulates the use of refrigerants under SNAP (Significant New Alternatives Policy). This policy seeks to lower ozone depletion potential (ODP) and global warming potential (GWP) while also addressing toxicity, flammability, safety, and consumer health. Under SNAP policy, the EPA sets guidelines for what refrigerants are currently allowed and bans others for their toxicity or safety risks.


A History of Refrigerants and their Uses

Carbon Dioxide and CFCs

Carbon dioxide is one of the world’s oldest refrigerants, dating back to the 1800s. Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) followed CO2 in the early 1900s and quickly became the most popular refrigerant of choice. However, developed countries stopped producing CFCs in 1995 because of their vast depletion of the ozone layer and the elevated risk for global warming.



Hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs) entered the scene as a replacement refrigerant for CFCs. This refrigerant has an ozone depleting potential just a fraction of CFC refrigerants. However, this compound still poses risks and is considered a greenhouse gas. Many HCFCs were banned by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as of 2020. 



In order to avoid HCFC refrigerants, the world started looking for an alternative solution. Many major economies switched to HFC refrigerants. HFCs are secure, inexpensive, and don’t damage the ozone layer.

However, HFCs still raise many concerns about Global Warming Potential (GWP). GWP is an estimation of the amount of heat captured through greenhouse gases within the atmosphere. Since HFCs are classified as a greenhouse gas, many were concerned about its atmospheric threats. That’s where hydrocarbon refrigerants come in.


HCs (Hydrocarbons)

Natural refrigerants such as hydrocarbons (HCs) occur naturally in the world. These are claimed to be some of the safest refrigerants for the environment while also delivering the most cost-effective cooling. Hydrocarbons are nontoxic refrigerants with no ozone depleting properties and low global warming potential. These natural refrigerants are among the most efficient and economical cooling and freezing products on the market.


Hydrocarbons are an ideal next-generation choice.


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What Refrigerant Should You Choose?

Since HCFC refrigerants contribute to ozone depletion and global warming, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has already initiated the process to completely phase out HCFC refrigerants entirely. The end goal is to have all HCFCs banned worldwide by 2030. In response, many suppliers have started the process of replacing HCFC refrigerants with cleaner hydrocarbon (HC) substitutes.


Flammable Refrigerants? Hydrocarbons and Safety

Hydrocarbon refrigerants are highly flammable. However, these refrigerants are safe when handled properly. Following safety standards for HCs in your equipment will help ensure that you have a safe experience. No refrigerant is perfect, and the flammability of hydrocarbons scares some. However, hydrocarbon refrigerants have been used safely and successfully all over the world. If proper safety measures are taken, risk is minimal.


The Environmental Impact of Hydrocarbon Refrigerants

The ozone layer is a part of the Earth’s stratosphere that absorbs ultraviolet radiation and protects its surface from harmful radiation. When CFCs are released into the air, a series of molecular reactions occur, breaking down this protective layer of ozone.

As these compounds continue to decompose the earth’s atmosphere, the ozone layer gets thinner. The Montreal Protocol formed in the 1980s as an international treaty to ban ozone depleting substances. Since then, many nations worldwide have joined in the effort, enabling the ozone layer to recover.

Natural hydrocarbon refrigerants vastly reduce global warming potential while meeting SNAP and EPA mandates and UL, ASHRAE compliance guidelines.


Running Costs and Efficiency of Hydrocarbon Refrigerants

The cost of commonly-used HFC refrigerant has been rising rapidly in recent years. R290, a popular HC refrigerant alternative, is less expensive and widely available. Many believe hydrocarbons to be the most economical refrigerant today.

The introduction of R290 refrigerant prompted component makers to develop more fuel-efficient compressors and vaporizers compatible with the new hydrocarbon substance. The result lowered energy costs and improved overall system efficiency.


Are Hydrocarbons the Future of Refrigeration?

We think so.

In short, Hydrocarbons are one of the cleanest, most efficient and most cost effective refrigerants on the market. If your industry uses refrigeration, consider making the switch to hydrocarbon refrigerants. Your equipment will run more efficiently, you’ll save energy costs, and your planet will thank you for decades to come. 


American Biotech Supply

ABS is the industry leader in hydrocarbon refrigerants, providing ultimate environmental protection and untouched efficiency.


Explore today. ABS | American Biotech Supply


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