R290: Global Acceptance of the Refrigerant of the Future
When it comes to choosing the right Ice Merchandiser for your business, there are many factors to consider, and now there’s one more – the type of refrigerant being used.
Triggered in part by the state of California’s ban on certain high-global warming potential (GWP) hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) and anticipation of the potential for more wide-sweeping legislation in the future, many cooler and freezer companies are making the transition toward more eco-friendly refrigerants. Beyond the environmental benefits, R290 refrigerant is also highly efficient, and its widespread global use over the last few decades is proof of its performance and safety.
At Leer, we investigated many options before choosing to make the switch, and we felt confident enough in R290 propane refrigerant that we invested hundreds of thousands of dollars into equipment and testing for this transition. There’s a lot of technical info out there about R290 — much of which can be found in our R290 Service & Repair Guidelines — but we wanted to break things down in layman’s terms so you can make an educated decision about what’s best for your company.
What is R290?
R290 is a propane refrigerant used on a wide range of commercial refrigeration and air conditioning units. It’s highly pure, non-toxic propane with ultra-low GWP and no ozone-depleting qualities. For these reasons, it’s also the preferred hydrocarbon alternative of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and can help companies deliver on their corporate sustainability goals.
Not only is it environmentally friendly, it’s also highly efficient which can result in energy savings over the lifetime of the unit. One study, using a blend of R290 and R600a (both HFCs) showed a 28.5% increase in efficiency in domestic units.
More information can be found on our eco-friendly page!
First things first: Yes, it’s flammable. And yes, it’s still safe!
R290 is indeed highly flammable. We take your safety very seriously, which is why we recommend that only technicians well-trained specifically in R290 service these units. As with any flammable substance, it’s important to ensure proper precautions are taken. More detailed information on this can be found in the R290 Service & Repair Guidelines.
That being said, here’s why we’re confident in the safety of R290:
- Under normal operation, R290 units are fully sealed and self-contained, which means there is virtually no risk of leaks (which is not the case with traditional refrigeration systems with service valves). The refrigerant does not come into contact with any ignition sources. One study on the risk of fire posed by the use of R290 refrigerants in ice cream freezers, found that it adds an additional 0.001 percent fire risk over a similar appliance.
- Only 115-150g (a maximum of 5.29 oz) of R290 is actually inside an Ice Merchandiser, whereas a traditional unit would require up to 16 oz of HFC refrigerant. To put this amount of R290 into perspective, consider that most grocery stores, gas stations, and convenience stores keep dozens of propane tanks for barbecue grills outside their stores. These tanks are typically 4.5 gallons and hold roughly 20 pounds of propane each. An Ice Merchandiser using R290 holds roughly 2% the amount of propane that just one barbecue propane tank holds.
- Underwriters Laboratories (UL) has established test protocols that establish safety standards in the unlikely event of a refrigerant leak and likely would not certify a refrigerant they deemed dangerous.
The Future for the US, the Standard Across the Globe
While much of the United States is just beginning to make the transition to R290, it’s already been in use across Europe for over 20 years. In fact, R290 is in use in an estimated 2.5 million commercial units worldwide and in 2 billion household refrigerators and freezers.
R290 is the refrigerant of choice for dozens of refrigeration manufacturers and many retailers, including Target, have made the pledge to switch fully to this more eco-friendly refrigerant. Between its widespread industry application, decades of successful use, and significant environmental benefits, R290 appears to be the accepted refrigerant of the future.