R-290 FAQs — Things You Need to Know!

By Published On: July 22, 2022

R-290, also known as refrigeration-grade propane, has proven to be one of the most viable alternatives to high GWP HFC refrigerants in industrial and commercial applications. Now that the search for sustainable and environmentally friendly refrigerants takes center stage due to the upcoming and existing refrigerant regulations, the use of R-290 is considered to be an innovative choice instead of a synthetic HFC option.

As the utilization of R-290 continues to expand in the US, there are many questions regarding its usage, application, and safety that concern people in the industrial and commercial refrigeration industry. Here are some frequently asked questions about R-290 that you need to know:

  • What is R-290?

R-290 is a class A3 refrigerant by ASHRAE and is classified as a hydrocarbon refrigerant. It is a non-toxic, natural, and environmentally friendly refrigerant that is ideal for use in low-temperature refrigeration applications. It has a Global Warming Potential (GWP) of 3 and an Ozone Depletion Potential (ODP) of 0.

  • Is R-290 safe for use?

Though flammable, R-290 is safe to use since R-290 units contain very low refrigerant charges, are self-contained, and are hermetically sealed to avoid leaks. It is very important to note; however, that only trained and highly qualified technicians should handle R-290 refrigeration equipment.

  • How is R-290’s performance compared to traditional HFCs?

Compared to traditional HFC refrigerants, R-290 is a well-performing refrigerant. Its inherent, excellent thermodynamic properties result in a high-refrigerant performance which supports lower refrigerant cost.

  • Can I retrofit my existing refrigeration equipment with R-290?

No. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), R-290 should only be used in new refrigeration equipment and cannot be retrofitted.

  • How much is the total cost of ownership (TCO) of typical R-290 merchandisers?

Depending on your need, the total cost of ownership of R-290 merchandisers can be significantly lower than traditional HFC units. For long-term usage, R-290 offers flexibility, energy, and cost-efficiency benefits to food retailers of all sizes.

  • Do I need special training to handle R-290 refrigerants/equipment?

Due to R-290 properties and characteristics, only trained refrigeration technicians should handle R-290 units. Technicians should undergo special training to be able to service R-290 and other natural refrigerant systems.

  • How will the adoption of R-290 affect my business in terms of regulatory compliance?

Since R-290 refrigerants have low GWP and ODP, they are exempted from existing and expected upcoming refrigerant regulations that limit the use of harmful HFCs. Because R-290 is already compliant, retailers likely will not need to change equipment in the coming years once they switch to R-290 — making this a future-focused refrigerant.

The future of refrigeration is dependent on natural refrigerant development and utilization. Soon, all states will likely limit or ban the use of toxic HFC refrigerants. This will bring R-290 to the forefront of alternatives and would further increase its potential in the US commercial and industrial refrigeration market. R-290 has been used in Europe for over 20 years — it’s time we follow suit.