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Why use propane as a heat pump refrigerant: 7 reasons

Propane as a refrigerant

Propane, also known as R290, has been used in refrigeration systems for many years. But now, it’s being heralded as one of the most environmentally friendly options for heat pumps.

Wondering whether the use of propane as a refrigerant is really all it’s cracked up to be? You’re in the right place.

Here, we’ll reveal 7 key reasons why propane is useful as a refrigerant in heat pumps that you just can’t argue with.

1. Low GWP

First things first, propane is a natural refrigerant that has very low global warming potential (GWP).

Most of the heat pumps manufactured today contain synthetic refrigerants that are made up of problematic F-gases. These have an effect on global warming that’s vastly stronger than carbon dioxide!

In fact, synthetic refrigerants like HFOs (hydrofluoro-olefins) and HFCs (hydrofluorocarbons) commonly have a massive GWP of several thousand!

On the other hand, propane has a GWP of just three – or even less depending on the time considered (head over to hydrocarbons21 to read the report). Plus, it has zero ozone depletion potential (ODP).

So, while synthetic refrigerants wreak havoc on our planet, propane won’t contribute to the depletion of the ozone layer – or play a part in accelerating climate change.

2. No PFAS

Synthetic refrigerants don’t just speed up global warming. They also contain harmful environmental toxins known as PFAS (Perfluoroalkyl and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances).

Branded as ‘forever chemicals,’ these toxins don’t break down naturally. Instead, they show up in many watercourses where they poison wildlife and, in some areas, even endanger human life.

According to Yahoo! News, almost half of tap water in the US contains PFAS. Meanwhile, in the UK, they’ve been found in common fruits, vegetables and spices (check out this article in the Independent to find out more).

But guess what? Propane doesn’t contain any PFAS!

As you can see, there are too many of these harmful chemicals in the environment already. We certainly don’t need more, and thanks to natural refrigerants like propane, there’s no need to use them.

3. Efficient

Of course, it’s not enough for propane to just benefit the environment. It also has to perform well if it’s going to be used as a refrigerant in heat pumps.

Luckily, it performs extremely well as a refrigerant.

Like other natural refrigerants, propane has no glide (that’s a thermodynamic behaviour found in some synthetic refrigerants). This makes it highly efficient for heating.

In fact, propane can achieve higher coefficient of performance (COP) at low ambients and higher flow temperatures than synthetic refrigerants.

Not only that, but it can produce high temperatures and even work efficiently in colder climates – we’re talking about temperatures as low as -25°C!

Use of propane

4. Easy to retrofit

Propane heat pumps have a maximum realistic flow temperature of 65C. However, they’re usually operated at 60C with a 40C return temperature.

This makes them incredibly easy to retrofit.

Why? Well, many buildings can be easily converted to these temperatures with little or no change to the building’s existing infrastructure.

As you can imagine, this makes heat pump installation much more feasible and cost-effective. It also minimises disruption, enabling businesses to ensure continuous operation as they switch to a new heating system.

5. Future-proof

Propane heat pumps are also a fantastic way to future-proof your heating system – especially when you compare them to harmful synthetic refrigerants.

HFCs are currently being phased out because their impact on climate change is thousands of times bigger than the same amount of carbon dioxide.

Meanwhile, HFOs are the subject of litigation due to the PFAS they contain.

Regulations restricting the use of both are likely to increase in severity over time. This is especially the case as carbon footprints reduce and the proportion contributed by F-gases gets larger.

A heat pump should usually last for around 15 to 20 years. But with further restrictions likely, there’s a real chance that a synthetic refrigerant heat pump could become a stranded asset in the near future.

On the other hand, propane won’t be subject to regulatory action. So, investing in one of these is a great way to safeguard your heat pump’s longevity.

6. Cost-effective

You might well expect all of these benefits to come with a high price tag. But propane heat pumps are actually very cost-effective.

As we’ve already touched upon, they can often be retrofitted without costly modifications to a building’s infrastructure, helping to minimise installation costs.

Plus, since they’re so efficient, they’re a great way to save money on your energy bills.

But propane itself also costs significantly less than most synthetic refrigerants. Of course, prices can vary and will fluctuate over time. But it’s also worth noting that natural refrigerants like propane tend to have the most constant prices.

And that’s not all. As propane is a pure hydrocarbon, you won’t need to carry out a full refrigerant replacement each time you deal with refrigerant losses. Instead, these systems can be topped up without affecting the refrigerant balance.

This is in contrast to refrigerants that are blends of gases – like HFOs. These can’t be topped up as they have a critical proportion of each constituent.

Being able to top up your refrigerant levels without affecting the balance both saves you money and reduces waste.

Why is propane useful

7. Safe

Propane is highly flammable, which has previously raised concerns over its safety.

But in reality, propane is exceptionally safe to use as a refrigerant. It just needs the appropriate safety procedures in place.

For instance, positioning heat pumps in clear open areas is a great way to mitigate risks. Plus, methods like pressure testing, good commissioning and servicing, fit detection and ventilation can all help to prevent leaks.

Remember too that gas risks aren’t a new problem. After all, most buildings have a gas connection! LPG tanks and bottled gas are also common.

With that in mind, safety isn’t something to worry about, providing safety measures have been considered and implemented.

Learn more about propane heat pumps

As you can see, propane is a no-brainer when it comes to heat pumps – which is why we believe it’s the future of commercial heating. Not only is it eco-friendly, but it’s also incredibly efficient and cost-effective.

When compared to a synthetic refrigerant heat pump, there really is no competition.

Get in touch with us here at Clade to learn more about how our natural refrigerant heat pumps could help you to heat your business premises (not the earth).