Current status and future trends of natural refrigerants in North and South America

Two papers presented at the IIR Gustav Lorentzen Conference perfectly illustrate the interest in natural refrigerants and the obstacles they face in the Americas. 

During the highly successful IIR Gustav Lorentzen Conference on Natural Refrigerants held in Trondheim, Norway, in June 2022, two papers detailed the status and trends of natural refrigerants  use in North and South America.


  • In his paper (1), Stefan Elbel stresses that natural refrigerants have gained increased attention during recent years in North America, specifically in the US and in Canada,  although to a lesser extent than in Europe. An increasing number of US states have adopted an approach comparable to Europe’s F-Gas regulation. 

In the short run, synthetic low-GWP refrigerant options often seem to be the preferred choice for a variety of reasons: lower implementation cost due to possibility of drop-in with minimal component and system changes, along with reduced risks associated with flammability. Nevertheless, many manufacturers in the various industries concerned are acknowledging that many of those refrigerant options may be only relatively short-lived: due to stricter GWP targets in the future or because of other safety and environmental concerns with some of the synthetic refrigerant choices, such as the formation of hydrogen fluoride (HF) during fires or the large-scale generation and release of trifluoroacetic acid (TFA). The more recent discussion on the issue of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) further increases the long-term attractiveness of natural refrigerants (2).

This paper presents recent advances made in the area of natural refrigerant systems and introduces examples of successful technology developments across various refrigeration sectors. Applications considered include commercial refrigeration for both small and large capacity applications using CO2 and propane. A transcritical CO2 system for a mobile refrigerated container for use in extreme ambient temperature was developed from scratch and its performance evaluated. A novel way of achieving low-cost, self-driven liquid overfeed for an ammonia plate heat exchanger was also introduced and presented. A mobile air-conditioning system featuring transcritical CO2 for a high-speed rail application was designed and implemented. These examples have in common that very good system performance  in terms of capacity and COP was achieved. In cases where HFC/HFO baseline systems were available, the performance of the natural refrigerant system was either comparable or even exceeded the baseline. It should also be noted that many other applications can successfully make use of natural refrigerants, e.g. domestic appliances such as refrigerators, freezers, and heat pump systems for clothes dryers, dishwashers and water heating. The author considers that these numerous examples demonstrate that good performance can be achieved with reasonable design complexity and cost, which may allow a more widespread use of natural refrigerants.


  • In another paper (2), Roberto Peixoto highlights that in the context of the increasing importance of the food and medicine cold chain and air conditioning applications in the twelve countries of South America, natural refrigerants are gaining increasing use in the region.  

Regarding hydrocarbons, almost all domestic refrigeration appliances manufacturers in the South American region have converted from HFC-134a to HC-600a. It is predicted that in the next two to five years 100% of the domestic production of refrigerators will use this refrigerant. Due to the recent change in the IEC Standard 60335-2-89:2019 increasing the maximum allowable charge of A3 (higher flammability) refrigerants from 150 g to 500 g, HC-290 (propane) is now being intensively applied in commercial refrigeration. Today, of the 80,000 supermarkets in Brazil, it is estimated that 15% are using refrigeration units with HC-290 and it is expected that this will grow to around 50% in the next three years. However, at the moment, there is no manufacturing or import of split air conditioners using HC-290. Due to issues about regulations, safety, and servicing constraints, the retrofit option with hydrocarbon refrigerants was abandoned in Brazil and Uruguay. In Brazil and other South American countries, it is unlikely that companies will convert their production to use HC-290 in the short/medium term. Companies are converting from HCFC-22 to R-410A. 


CO2 is mainly used as a refrigerant in supermarket refrigeration systems in South America and, to a lesser extent, in industrial refrigeration applications. Since 2009, CO2 has been used in supermarket refrigeration installations in cascade system configurations, with HFC-134a as refrigerant in the high temperature circuit. In the last years, the implementation of CO2 transcritical systems has started, mainly in Brazil, but also in Argentina, Chile, Colombia and Peru. Currently, there are an estimated 75 transcritical installations in South America. The author considers that when comparing a CO2 installation to a HCFC-22 system, with the same technological configuration level, there is, essentially no difference in the initial cost. 


In South America, similarly to other regions of the world, ammonia has been used as a refrigerant mainly in industrial refrigeration plants, such as for food processing and dairy industries. Development of low-charge ammonia technology for small and medium capacity refrigeration systems is penetrating the market, which is predicted to contribute to expand the use of ammonia systems.

In all South American countries, hydrocarbon, CO2 and ammonia refrigerants are available, but unequally across  countries. However, the availability of components (compressors) and tools (detectors, joints for cold welding, etc.) to handle hydrocarbon refrigerants is low and, in some cases, non-existent. The situation, though, is better for CO2 and ammonia in several countries.


Concerning legislation and standards, at the moment seven South American countries have ratified the Kigali Amendment which imposes a phase-down of HFCs: Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Paraguay and Uruguay. Brazil has not yet ratified Kigali. The lack of standards, or updated standards, in South American countries is one of the causes of many problems that arise during the design, installation, and operation of refrigeration and air conditioning equipment. In all countries of the region, there is no specific standard for flammable refrigerants such as hydrocarbons. The lack of specific structures for training, coupled with an almost total absence of a certification process for technicians, is probably the main barrier to the faster deployment of natural refrigerants. This has repercussions on the maintenance sector which is not trained in the proper servicing of equipment, especially those using flammable refrigerants.



All papers from the 15th IIR-Gustav Lorentzen Conference on Natural Refrigerants (GL2022) are available for download in FRIDOC 
(free for IIR members).


Download individual papers




(1) Elbel S., The Use of Natural Refrigerants in North America – Current Trends and Future Opportunities. (free for IIR members) 


(3) Peixoto R., Current status and future trends of natural refrigerants in South America : (free for IIR members)