The refrigerant future is spelled “propane”

Alessandro Pinato


Propane, first used as a refrigerant over a century ago, has made a comeback as the hottest new refrigerant candidate. It is ozone layer safe, has negligible impact on global warming, and has excellent thermodynamic properties.

In the early days of air conditioning and refrigeration, naturally occurring refrigerants such as propane, ammonia and sulfur dioxide were used. When non-flammable and non-toxic synthetic refrigerants were developed from the 1920s and onwards, a gradual shift toward those took place. Over the years, a number of chlorofluorocarbon (CFC ), hydrochlorofluorocarbon (HCFC such as R22c), and hydrofluorocarbon (HFC such as R410A) refrigerants were developed and marketed.

Fast forward to the 1980s, when scientists discovered that synthetic refrigerants leaking from appliances were causing major damage to the ozone layer, leading to the phasing out and banning of CFCs and HCFCs. Some years later, next refrigerant generation HFCs were discovered to greatly contribute to global warming. Recently, even the latest generation of synthetic refrigerants HFO (hydrofluoroolefin) has been addressed as a possible threat to the human health due to their tendency of breaking down into trifluoroacetic acid (TFA)

The very first refrigerants

In light of this, the industry has come to realize that the long-term answer cannot be another synthetic refrigerant. Instead, we have come full circle and are taking another look at the very first refrigerants. In particular propane that is R-290.

Propane, C3H8, is a hydrocarbon by-product of petroleum refining and natural gas production. It is a gas at standard temperature and pressure, but compressible into a liquid. It is already widely in use in for example barbecues and portable stoves, as well as powering vehicles, for example buses, forklifts, taxis and ice resurfacers.

Propane has excellent thermodynamic properties

In addition to being cheap, in good supply and occurring naturally, propane has excellent thermodynamic properties as a refrigerant and can be used in a wide variety of appliances. It is already in use as a refrigerant in for example supermarket display cabinets and domestic refrigerators, portable A/C. Leaked propane has no impact whatsoever on the ozone layer, and almost no impact on global warming. It is also non-toxic, unlike for example ammonia.

Propane is a future-proof solution

Another huge argument in propane’s favor is that it is a future-proof solution. The restrictions on synthetic refrigerants have tightened over the years, and they are on the way to become even more heavily regulated and even banned. Propane will not be subject to these kind of restrictions because it is a compound produced by nature. In other words, one of the first refrigerant options in history turned out to be among the best. Propane is here to stay.

Propane is a key part of the green transition

This is why Swegon is investing heavily in developing propane-based solutions. We are both developing products and supporting the industry transition. In order to facilitate the adoption of the technology in the market, we are working on e-learning training programs and developing guidelines for the safe use of propane as a refrigerant. Propane is without any a doubt a key part of the green transition. 

Contact us if you would like to know more about our propane-based solutions.