Cold Hard Facts – Refrigerant R404A – part 1

Despite being front and centre on the HFC phase-down list since 2018, there are signs that R404A remains a go-to option for key sectors of Australia’s HVAC&R industry. According to experts, pressure from end-users for low first-cost and straightforward, low-risk solutions, and a lack of incentives to move to new technologies have ensured that R404A usage in Australia remain stubbornly high.

R404A was introduced in the mid 90’s as a replacement for ozone-depleting refrigerants such as R12 and R502. It is extensively used in low and medium temperature applications, in small and large commercial refrigeration, industrial refrigeration and process cooling.

R404A was a godsend to the supermarket refrigeration community, coming off the back of the phasing out of 12 and 502 in the 90’s – we were messing around with interim replacement gases that apparently required extensive and expensive oil changes, some trailblazers were converting low and medium temp plants to R22 and burning out compressors, basically it was a time of confusion and great learning also, until the wide spread usage of R404A across all sectors brought back stability.

Fast forward to 2020, Europe banned the use of R404A in new commercial refrigeration applications. The GWP – or global warming potential – of R404A is 3,922, making it one of the largest contributors to global warming among commonly used refrigerants. Australia is still using R404A at an alarming rate, seemingly oblivious that it will gradually disappear under the HFC phase-down that restricts the import of high-GWP refrigerants.

Industry representatives highlight a lack of awareness among end-users, consultants, and lower tier contractors in relation to the worldwide push away from high GWP refrigerants and also to the alternatives that are already available – it really is still a situation of the ‘cheapest option’ – we are a ‘first cost focused industry’ and end users too often want the lowest cost option.

There is no incentive for a potential client to accept a proposal for a more expensive but greener system, using say a natural refrigerant or lower GWP alternative (likely a more expensive proposal up front but the plant will be cheaper to operate in the long run) – when another contractor will just offer them the standard R404A (cheaper) option anyway.

The contractor with the foresight to have up-skilled misses out on the job because his proposal was too expensive when viewed through the ‘lowest cost option’ optics.

We will post more on this topic in a future blog, in the meantime revisit one of our previous blogs on this very topic from back in 2018 Refrigerant Phase Out in Australia