Air conditioner and heat pump installations are on the rise worldwide for several reasons. More people can afford air conditioners. Climate change is making nearly everywhere hotter. As electrification gains adherents, ever more people are using heat pumps instead of gas-fired equipment.
One analysis I’ve seen predicts that by the year 2050 there will be 4 times as many air conditioners worldwide as there are today. With more air conditioners and heat pumps, more refrigerant leaks into the atmosphere.
Refrigerant in the atmosphere is a problem for two reasons. First, current refrigerants are fairly potent greenhouse gasses. Second, current refrigerants contain fluorine and there’s a worldwide drive to reduce fluorine pollution. The European Union just banned all fluorine-bearing refrigerants from use in newly manufactured split air conditioners and heat pumps by 2035, with some system types scheduled for even earlier effective dates.
If we look into the future when all refrigerants that either, contribute to climate change in a more than minimal way, or contain fluorine, are banned, what’s left to charge air conditioners and heat pumps with? There are few chemicals that could work.
The most likely refrigerant to emerge as the industry standard at that point is propane. It’s efficient, inexpensive, and widely available. There’s only one major problem with propane refrigerant, and it’s a doozy: it’s highly flammable. In the US, we haven’t used flammable refrigerants in homes for nearly a century. That’s because before the invention of nonflammable refrigerants in the late 1920s, some early refrigeration systems containing flammable refrigerants did cause fires.
The return of propane as a refrigerant is unlikely to make current equipment anywhere close to as dangerous as those early systems. In my post I list seven reasons why we should be excited about propane’s ability to help mitigate climate change, and be confident that air conditioners and heat pumps charged with it will be safe. Several of the reasons have to do with advanced technology, much of which we have today, and some of which is under development.
Want to learn more? Or find out how you can help advance the onset of propane refrigerant? Just click here.