Propane is commonplace in HVAC&R applications in the European Union but the US is lagging behind – partly due to persistent safety concerns in the United States, according to a new report from Emerson Climate Technologies.
Emerson is particularly concerned that R290’s classification as flammable (A3) by the US Environmental Protection Agency may lead to “unfounded” negative connotations as to its suitability in the minds of operators, technicians and public officials alike.
Report author Allen Wicher, director of marketing at Emerson Climate Technologies, points out that this stands in stark contrast to Europe, where “R290-based equipment is well into its second decade and continues to play a big role” in HVAC&R applications.
Environment benefits driving R290 uptake in Europe
Wicher cites the EU’s strong focus on environmental issues, and particularly on phasing down f-gases, among the main drivers of the uptake of R290 in Europe. Consumers and retailers’ own preferences towards “sustainable goods and eco-friendly systems” are also important drivers in Europe, he says.
In the report, Wicher suggests that there are 0.5 million propane-based plug-in supermarket cabinets and two million bottle coolers and ice cream freezers currently in operation in the EU.
Safety is obviously of paramount importance in Europe too, with R290 subject to a charge limit of 150g in the EU. Surpassing this charge would require a risk assessment and third party certification, which some end users may find expensive to obtain.
In the US, however, safety requirements are more stringent, Wicher says – meaning that often only big retailers can absorb the cost of safety assessments. Nevertheless, he believes that this is changing as the EPA pushes for action to phase-down HFCs.
This effort is triggering wider adoption of propane refrigeration, with plans afoot to put in place a US-wide framework governing R290 that would make its use more attractive to small businesses too, he says.
Taking lessons from Europe
Wicher observes that the United States “has the benefit of learning from the European model – from the introduction of environmental regulations and development of standards to R290 field trials, countless installations and wide commercial acceptance”.
Furthermore, as the European Union continues to talk about increasing the charge limit to 300g, this could have a knock-on effect for the US market. Wicher believes this “would add flexibility to system design and help transition R290 to larger commercial applications”.To read the Emerson report, please click here.