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Can R290 solve the F-gas problem in heat pumps?

Can R290 solve the F-gas problem?

Despite heat pumps being a green heating technology, many contain harmful refrigerants known as fluorinated gases, or F-gases for short.

These chemicals have major implications for the climate and have an effect on global warming that’s much stronger than carbon dioxide!

At Clade, we only use natural refrigerants such as R290, to safeguard our planet. But now, more and more businesses are following suit and turning to R290 heat pumps as a solution to the F-gas problem.

So, can R290 solve the F-gas problem? Here’s all you need to know.

What are F-gases?

F-gases are a family of synthetic gases that contain fluorine. They’re commonly used as refrigerants in appliances like refrigerators, air conditioning systems and heat pumps.

They were first introduced back in the 1990s as a way of replacing other harmful refrigerants.

But F-gases are powerful greenhouse gases themselves and have major implications for our climate.

When they’re released into the atmosphere, they stay there for many years. During this time, they trap heat and have an effect on global warming that’s much stronger than carbon dioxide – the best-known greenhouse gas.

What is the F-gas problem in heat pumps?

Heat pumps require the use of a refrigerant. It’s this working fluid that absorbs heat from the outdoors and releases it to warm up a room.

Unfortunately, most heat pumps manufactured today contain synthetic refrigerants – by which we’re mainly referring to HFOs (hydrofluoro-olefins) and HFCs (hydrofluorocarbons).

These are often branded ‘climate killer refrigerants.’ Why? Well, amongst other reasons, they’re F-gases.

This creates a couple of big problems.

1. Environmental

As we’ve already mentioned, F-gases are incredibly harmful to the environment.

Imagine that 600,000 heat pumps (the government’s target) are installed in the UK each year using HFO or HFC refrigerants. This could generate the same emissions as running a 500kW boiler flatout continuously for 656 years!

Not only is this bad news for the planet. But it’s also problematic for businesses that are installing a heat pump as part of a green initiative – especially as they’ll have to add refrigerant losses to their carbon footprint.

2. Regulatory

F-gases have already been subject to regulations and restrictions.

As carbon footprints reduce, the proportion contributed by F-gases is rising. And we can fully expect these harmful refrigerants to be restricted further.

This could pose a problem for businesses that decide to invest in a synthetic refrigerant heat pump. Despite the fact that a heat pump should generally have a lifespan of around 15 to 20 years, there’s a real risk that a synthetic refrigerant heat pump could become a stranded asset in the near future.

What is R290?

R290 is a natural refrigerant gas, also known as propane.

It’s a pure hydrocarbon that’s already widely used in refrigeration. In fact, at Clade, we’ve been using it in our refrigeration systems for many years!

But now, it’s being heralded as one of the most environmentally friendly refrigerant options for heat pumps – and a leading solution to the industry’s F-gas problem.

Clade R290 heat pump

What makes R290 environmentally friendly?

R290 has zero ozone depletion potential (ODP) and very low global warming potential (GWP).

In fact, its GWP stands at just three – or even less depending on the time considered (head over to hydrocarbons21 to learn more).

This is in contrast to synthetic alternatives like R410A and R407C, which have a massive GWP of several thousand!

So, R290 doesn’t contribute to the depletion of the ozone layer, and won’t play a part in accelerating climate change.

Not only that, but it doesn’t contain environmental toxins known as PFAS (Perfluoroalkyl and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances) like HFOs. These toxins don’t break down naturally and they show up in many watercourses where they poison wildlife and even endanger human life in some areas.

All of this makes R290 vastly better for the environment than F-gas refrigerants – which is why we believe it’s the future of commercial heating.

Is R290 really a viable alternative to F-gases for heat pumps?

Of course, it’s not enough that R290 is environmentally friendly. It also needs to perform well as a heat pump refrigerant.

You’ll be pleased to hear that R290 isn’t just a viable alternative to F-gases. It actually performs better than F-gases in many areas!


As a pure refrigerant rather than a blend (like HFOs), R290 has no glide. This makes it highly efficient for heating.

In fact, it can achieve a higher coefficient of performance (COP) at low ambients and higher flow temperatures than F-gases!

R290 heat pumps are usually operated at 60C with a 40C return temperature – any higher than this and the efficiency drops considerably.

In this way, they’re ideal for medium temperature requirements, where they’ll provide a superb heat service. Many existing buildings can be easily converted to these temperatures, making heat pump installation much more feasible.

They’ll even function efficiently in colder climates, as they can work in temperatures as low as -25°C.


R290 is a cost-effective alternative to F-gases.

Thanks to the energy efficiency of R290 heat pumps, businesses can enjoy reduced energy bills.

Plus, since R290 is a pure refrigerant, the system can be topped up without affecting the refrigerant balance. This is in contrast to blends of gases like HFOs, which have a critical proportion of each constituent and therefore require a full replacement after refrigerant losses.

This not only saves money but reduces waste too.

As if that wasn’t enough, R290 heat pumps can often be installed without making extensive and costly modifications to a building’s existing infrastructure. As well as reducing installation costs, this minimises disruption so that businesses can ensure continuous operation.


As a hydrocarbon refrigerant, R290 is highly flammable. This often leads to questions about its safety.

But as long as the appropriate safety procedures are put in place, R290 is exceptionally safe to use as a refrigerant.

Risks can be mitigated against by positioning heat pumps in clear, open areas, as well as preventing leaks using methods like pressure testing, good commissioning and servicing, fit detection and ventilation.

Although propane can appear to be dangerous when compared to other refrigerants, it’s worth noting that most buildings have a gas connection. LPG tanks and bottled gas are also common. So, gas risks certainly aren’t a new problem.

An F-gas solution

Let us heat your building (not the planet)

As you can see, R290 is an eco-friendly, versatile, cost-effective and high-performing alternative to F-gases in heat pumps. Opting for this instead of ‘killer’ chemical refrigerants is a no-brainer.

Luckily, more and more businesses are recognising the role that natural refrigerants have to play – to the extent that the global large-scale natural refrigerant heat pump market size is projected to reach a CAGR of 12.3% from 2023-2030 (find out more at GlobeNewswire and see if you can spot us mentioned)!

To join the clean energy revolution and heat your building (not the planet) just get in touch. We look forward to showing you how we can help your business lower its carbon footprint with a natural refrigerant heat pump.