CO2 refrigerant gains in popularity as an ozone-friendly alternative

Commercial refrigeration unitCommercial refrigeration unitThe U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has approved additional hydrocarbon refrigerants to be used in everything from cars to industrial refrigeration that are considered safe for the environment and “ozone friendly.” Meanwhile, carbon dioxide (CO2) is growing in popularity as an alternative refrigerant that is both natural, abundant, and inexpensive.

This final step of the EPA’s ongoing Significant New Alternatives Policy (SNAP) to approve alternative refrigerants that won’t harm the ozone and have a low global warming potential includes four new substances. This is part of President Obama’s Climate Action Plan, spearheaded by the EPA’s chief administrator Gina McCarthy.

Even with the addition of these new Earth-friendly refrigerants, the EPA still encourages manufacturers to choose carbon dioxide (CO2) when feasible due to it having an extremely low global warming potential, is non-combustible, and is ozone friendly.

While CO2 has long been used in refrigeration and air conditioning equipment in Europe and elsewhere, it was only recently that the EPA, under Obama’s Climate Action Plan, identified carbon dioxide (CO2) as a climate-friendly refrigerant.

The EPA noted in the June 2012 Federal Register regarding rules and regulations for MVACs that, “the refrigerant discussed in this action, carbon dioxide (R–744, CO2) is non-ozone-depleting and has a global warming potential of 1.”

As Supermarket News noted, “A total industry elimination of gases such as R-410A, R-404 and others is still a few miles down the road, but if the EPA has its way, wholesale use of CO2 will become a reality…”

Carbon dioxide has been listed as an acceptable and preferred use substitute for air conditioning as well as commercial refrigeration. You can view a complete list here.

According to industry experts, it is estimated that the use of CO2 as a refrigerant will begin “sweeping the United States.” Carbon dioxide based systems offer, “numerous benefits, including the use of a natural and inexpensive refrigerant, sustainability, low-GWP performance, energy efficiency, quiet operation, and more.”

The new refrigerants approved by the EPA are Ethane, Isobutane, Propane, R-441A, and HFC-32. Many of these are highly combustible.

The EPA is also exempting these substances, except HFC-32, from the Clean Air Act venting prohibition, which enables the release of these substances into the environment. The EPA has determined that ‘venting’ does not pose a threat to the planet.

Carbon Dioxide is also exempt from the venting prohibition and is listed as an alternative refrigerant by the EPA’s SNAP Program. CO2 is also ozone friendly, has been classified by the EPA as having a low global warming potential, and is cheap and abundant.

Paradoxically, the EPA has also labeled CO2 as “carbon pollution” under the Clean Air Act and the primary cause of global warming. The EPA is forcing utility companies that use coal or natural gas to drastically reduce their CO2 emissions or face closure. The EPA, along with the Obama Administration, believes that the planet is warming as a result of increased CO2 from the burning of these fossil fuels.

Satellite data, which measures the troposphere (the air around us), shows no statistical warming for the last 18 years despite an increase in CO2 emissions.

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