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The Importance of Low-GWP Refrigerants and Their Impact on Consulting Engineers

Many changes are coming for low-global warming potential (GWP) refrigerants, and they will have far-reaching effects for consulting engineers and the industries they serve.

Feb 13, 2024

The United States is shifting to lower-global warming potential (GWP) refrigerants as companies become more environmentally conscious and drive toward better sustainability. This is part of a long-term strategy and major moves are on the immediate horizon as state- and federal-government deadlines come into effect, and new refrigerant regulations are published.

PJ HeadshotPhilip Johnston, General Manager, Environmental Business Development Center, Daikin Applied, advised that engineers understand the changing regulations, standards and technologies to protect their customers’ interests.

“Collectively, we need to move to lower-GWP refrigerants and improve system efficiencies to drive down energy use and CO2 emissions.” Johnston said. “Engineers should consider refrigerants that are more easily recovered by technicians, reused by owners and then reclaimed by reclaiming companies.”

The Need for Industry Standards

The push to reduce GWP also is tied to government legislation and worldwide initiatives taken by the public and private sectors, Johnston said.

“Later revisions of ASHRAE Standard 15 and UL Standard 60335-2-40 are really important for consulting engineers. They permit the use of group A2L, or mildly flammable, refrigerants for direct and indirect HVAC systems. So every consulting engineer should be familiar with the latest revisions of these standards.”

The revisions in these standards, Johnston said, are to minimize the probability of ignition by preventing a flammable concentration of refrigerant and removing competent ignition sources in case of a potential leak.

Many government deadlines are either here or coming soon. For instance, 12 states have implemented a 750-GWP limit for newly manufactured chillers, which went into effect at the start of this year. Also, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has finalized their technology transition regulation — with more EPA regulations to follow. The EPA met expectations for “products” defined as factory-charged equipment with a 700-GWP limit for newly manufactured or imported equipment, effective Jan. 1, 2025, along with a three-year sell-through period.

Johnston highlighted two obstacles regarding split systems.Refrigerants Update Daikin Service

“I think the first problem is the entire value chain was set up assuming a manufacturing or import deadline plus a sell-through period,” Johnston said. “Now it’s an accelerated installation deadline of Jan. 1, 2025, for most field-charged systems and Jan. 1, 2026, for variable refrigerant flow (VRF) systems. The importance of low-GWP refrigerants and their impact on consulting engineers Many changes are coming for low-global warming potential (GWP) refrigerants, and they will have far-reaching effects for consulting engineers and the industries they serve. A lot of distributors stock parts for these systems. How are they going to manage supply under an accelerated timeline? It also could mean a vacuum of products during the transition because distributors don’t want to be stuck with inventory. This could prove challenging.”

Several industry voices, including Daikin, asked the EPA to reconsider. And it appears EPA officials have listened because on Dec. 26, 2023, the EPA published an “Interim Final Rule” that suggests a 700-GWP limit for newly manufactured or imported residential and light commercial split systems, effective Jan. 1, 2025, with a one-year installation sell-through period.

The EPA wrote that it would consider a similar rule change for VRF systems in the near future, which means that more updates are likely to follow.

“The second problem applies to existing residential- and light-commercial systems with a single condenser and a single evaporator. The regulation permits a component like a condensing unit using a high-GWP refrigerant to be replaced forever. That was unexpected and it’s not ideal for the climate because, practically speaking, someone could manufacture or import an R-410A condensing unit forever.”

Similar to the first concern, certain industry associations have sent a request to the EPA to revise the rule so that the replacement of a single condenser in these systems triggers the need to be below 700 GWP.

The Benefits of R-32 for GWP

Daikin has committed to R-32 refrigerant as the replacement of choice for R-410A. R-32 efficiently conveys heat and can reduce electricity consumption up to approximately 10% compared to that of air conditioners using refrigerant R-410A. It also has a GWP that is two-thirds lower than R-410A and is remarkable for its low environmental impact.

“We’re all in on R-32,” Johnston said. “And the primary reason is that it’s proven — used around the world as an R-410A replacement. It’s also easy to handle. It’s the most energy efficient. It’s readily available. And it’s manufactured in a number of countries and delivers great performance.”

Johnston also touted its benefits for technicians because it’s easier to use. “It won’t fractionate and can be charged in the liquid or gas phase, and also topped up. That makes their lives easier when installing or servicing equipment.”

It can provide long-term environmental benefits as well, Johnston said. “Compared to R-410A, R-32 can deliver capacity with up to 40% less refrigerant charge at significantly higher efficiencies. Over the operating lifetime of equipment, total lifecycle CO2 emissions can be greatly reduced.”

Looking Toward the Future

Johnston emphasized the need for knowledge and awareness across the industry. “If you’re an engineer, get familiar with the details of the refrigerant transition and the low-GWP replacement options locally where you’re working. That way you know the situation and are fully prepared. Also look for updates to the EPA rules, especially regarding field-charged split systems, because conversations are ongoing with the EPA from several associations that represent engineers.”

For more information on R-32 and low-GWP refrigerants, visit