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What is R134a Replacement?

R134a is a commonly known and used HFC refrigerant, with applications in commercial refrigeration, HVAC and automotive. Over the last few years, there’s been much discussion and research around finding a replacement for R134a as it’s not the most compatible or environmentally-friendly refrigerant on the market. Thankfully there are several alternatives that are applicable for both commercial refrigeration equipment and HVAC. We’ll explore those and more in this article.

What is R134a?

R134a (or HFC-134a) is a non-flammable hydrofluorocarbon refrigerant that was introduced to commercial and industrial applications as an alternative to the R-12 CFC refrigerant. R134a performs similarly to R-12, making it an easy-to-use replacement, and is relatively safe to use as it has an ASHRAE classification of A1. R134a is also known as a tetrafluorethane (CH2FCF3) since it consists of carbon, hydrogen and carbon. One of the positives of R134a is that it doesn’t contain chlorine, making it significantly less toxic than R-12. 

What Negative Impact Does R134a Pose?

While R134a is safe to use and a better alternative to R-12, its usage still has a significant impact on the environment. R134a has a 1,430 global warming potential (GWP) rating, which is a measurement of how much heat a greenhouse gas is trapped within the atmosphere versus the amount of heat that’s trapped by CO2. In this case, R134a traps 1,430 times as much heat per kilogram as CO2 does in a hundred-year timeframe, and because of this, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has since listed the refrigerant as “Unacceptable” for certain automotive, commercial and industrial applications. 

These applications include:

  • Use in vending machines manufactured on or after January 1st, 2019
  • Use in new medium-temp, stand-alone units containing a flooded evaporator that was manufactured on or before January 1st, 2019
  • Use in medium-temp, stand-alone units with a compressor capacity of 2,200 Btuh or greater
  • Use in new medium-temp, stand-alone units that have a compressor capacity below 2,200 Btuh that do not contain a flooded evaporator that was manufactured on or after January 1st, 2019

Additionally, R134a is not compatible with organic mineral oil, which makes HFCs insoluble, making R134a unusable in certain units and refrigeration systems. 

What Are Some Replacements for R134a Refrigerant? 

Thankfully, there are several alternatives to R134a that can be used in multiple applications:

  • R450A—Compatible with POE lubricants, this refrigerant blend was designed as a replacement for R134a.
  • R513A—This refrigerant is a blend of HFC and HFO that performs similarly to R134a, has an A1 safety designation, but has a low GWP of 631.
  • R515B—As of February 2020, Honeywell has developed a new R134a replacement called Solstice N15, or R515B. It’s a non-flammable A1 refrigerant that’s a blend of R227ea and R1234ze, with a GWP a little under 293 with similar efficiency outputs as R134a. According to Honeywell, R515B is meant for new pieces of equipment, and can be used in “remote condensing units, supermarket multiplex systems, stand-alone units, medium temperature side of cascade systems, flooded systems and high ambient air conditioning.”
  • HC-290—Commonly known as propane, HC-290 has an exceptional environmental safety rating, with a GWP of 3 and an Ozone Depletion Level (ODP) of 0. However, it’s within the A3 safety classification, and highly flammable. When used safely and properly, HC-290 is a suitable R134a alternative for commercial refrigeration and HVAC.
  • HC-600a—Also known as isobutane, HC-600a and HC-290 are very similar both with their GWP and ODP rating and safety class (A3). Same with HC-290, when used safely and properly, HC-600a is also a suitable replacement for R134a. 
  • HFO-1234ze—With a GWP of 6 and an ODP of 0, HFO-1234ze is usable in beverage dispensers, commercial refrigeration and vending machines.