Hydrocarbons as refrigerants in air conditioning

Presentation of several initiatives to develop the use of hydrocarbon refrigerants – especially propane – in air conditioning in India, Indonesia, Ghana, Costa Rica and the Philippines.
According to IEA estimates (1), space cooling accounted for around 10% of total electricity demand worldwide in 2016. According to the business as usual scenario, the energy demand from air conditioners (ACs) will more than triple by 2050. Split-type air ACs are currently the most commonly used appliance for space cooling worldwide. Roughly 100 million single-split ACs have been sold worldwide out of a total of 129 million room air-conditioning appliances in 2017 (2). The increase in number of split ACs in use is expected to be the most significant from just over 850 million in 2016 to over 3.7 billion by 2050 (1).

The purpose of the recent GIZ R290 Split Air Conditioners Resource Guide (3) is to inform relevant stakeholders about the factors that are deemed crucial for a successful market transition to energy-efficient R290 (propane) split ACs. GIZ estimates that a market share of 50% until 2050 may cut down total greenhouse gas emission by 25% by 2050.

Several barriers to a market transition are identified by the report, such as safety concerns about the flammability of R290, what it sees as a lack of awareness and uncertainties about new technologies, as well as limited understanding of the proper treatment of the refrigerants in the process of manufacturing, installing, operating, and disposing of appliances.

The guide is based on market assessments and practical experience gained in GIZ Proklima projects such as in India. Following the conversion of the split AC production line to R290 at Indian manufacturer Godrej & Boyce, the current production capacity of R290 split ACs is 300,000 units per year. More than 600,000 units have been sold so far with no reported incidents. Following the charge limits specified in the European standard EN 60335-2-40, the planned unit with 5 kW cooling capacity allowed a maximum charge of 360 grams. Technology features like microchannel heat exchangers allowed the company to reduce charge sizes to within the limit, while ensuring high efficiency at the same time. According to GIZ, larger charge sizes in combination with adequate safety measures would allow for efficiency gains, and higher capacities for larger room sizes.

In Ghana, the Green Cooling Initiative (GCI) is supporting the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in preparing the market introduction of energy-efficient R290 split ACs. In cooperation with the local AC dealers, the project is currently introducing 380 R290 split ACs to the market. To ensure the safe market introduction of this new technology in Ghana, AC dealer’s technicians have been trained to safely handle propane. Similar R290 split AC introduction projects combined with training actions are currently implemented in Costa Rica and the Philippines.

Indonesia – one of the fastest growing markets for air conditioning, primarily for the residential sector – is also a country where application of hydrocarbon refrigerants in air conditioning is encouraged, notably through the National Action Plan for Reducing Greenhouse Gas Emissions. A paper (4) presented during the IIR International Congress of Refrigeration reviews the development of hydrocarbon refrigerant applications in Indonesia. For example, the authors detail the performance measurement and safety analysis of a R290 chiller for air conditioning application in an auditorium building at the University of Indonesia.

(1) International Energy Agency, The Future of Cooling - Opportunities for energy-efficient air conditioning (2018), www.iea.org/futureofcooling/

(2) JARN, World Air Conditioner Markets (2018), https://ejarn.com/detail.php?id=49166&l_id=2

(3) GIZ, R290 Split Air Conditioners Resource Guide, October 2018, https://www.green-cooling-initiative.org/data/user_upload/Downloads/Publications/R290_SplitAC_ResourceGuide_Proklima.pdf

(4) Ardiyansyah Yatim et al., Hydrocarbon refrigerant for building air conditioning application in Indonesia: performance and safety analysis, https://bit.ly/34n02Il