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Air conditioning: learn about refrigerant gases

We use air conditioning to keep our home at an comfortable temperature even when it is scorching outside.

How do they work? Is my equipment legal? Is the gas in my equipment obsolete?

Domestic and industrial air conditioning systems work using refrigerants. These gases, in either liquid or vapour form, are necessary for your air conditioning to work.

Air conditioning systems use refrigerants to raise or lower the temperature of the room through heat transfer and changing states, in a process called the refrigeration cycle. 

To protect the environment, the way we use these gases has changed to comply with current regulations and requirements, so if your air conditioner is a few years old, the gas it uses is probably obsolete.

This is a big issue, because when you need to charge it, you may find that the type of gas it requires has been banned.

We recommend you learn about the different types of gas and that if you can, you choose one that it less harmful to the environment to avoid having to replace your appliance in the mid to long term.

 

Types of refrigerants

Refrigerants have different properties and thermodynamic behaviour, and they can vary in temperature, volume and pressure.

Let's look at the refrigerant gases most commonly used in air conditioners.

 

R22 air conditioning refrigerant

R22 gas, also known as chlorodifluoromethane, was commonly used in domestic and industrial cooling systems. Its main advantage is its low melting point of -157ºC.

It has been completely phased out and banned because it is an ozone depleting substance.

 

R410A air conditioning refrigerant

The fluorinated gas R410A replaced R22 gas when it was withdrawn from the market. It is also known as Puron, Genetron, Forane and Ecofluor. When it was introduced a few decades ago, it was a real improvement, since it does not contain chlorine or bromine, it has low toxicity and flammability, and it does not damage the ozone layer. 

The only drawback is its high global warming potential, which exacerbates the greenhouse effect on the planet.

R32 air conditioning refrigerant gas

R32 gas or methylene fluoride, is a 100% pure, odourless, colourless gas that is insoluble in water. The current substitute for R410A, it has good thermal stability and its use in air conditioning systems is better for the environment.

"Due to its environmental benefits, R32 will be the gas used in all air conditioners in the future"
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Who issues the regulations on the use of gases?

The EU establishes which gases are allowed in air conditioning equipment. The most recent regulation was issued in 2014 and it annulled the previous regulation of 2006.

According to the current law - Regulation 517/2014 of the European Parliament - the use of R410A gas will be banned as of 2025.

That’s why air conditioning manufacturers have started to use another gas, R32, in air conditioning equipment to anticipate the ban and speed up the disappearance of the previous gas.

 

R32 gas protects the environment

Due to its environmental advantages, R32 will be used in all air conditioners in the future:

  • It has zero impact on the ozone layer. Its ozone degradation potential index (ODP) is 0.
  • Its global warming potential is lower than that of its predecessor. Its global warming potential (GWP) is 675, which is far lower than that of R410A (2,087.5)
  • While air conditioning circuits are designed to keep the gas inside the equipment, if a leak occurs, the environmental impact of R32 gas will be lower.
  • It is more energy efficient when cooling and heating. It is classed as A+++.
  • Low toxicity and flammability, classed as A2L.
  • Operates with up to 30% less gas, saving energy and money.
  • Because it is a pure gas, it is easier to recycle, reuse and process. 

Requirements for installing air conditioning equipment with R32 gas

Despite the EU requirement, the Spanish safety regulations for cooling systems has been slow to adapt to the changes and R32 gas was classified as L2, that is, as a medium safety gas. This meant that air conditioning equipment using this gas had to be governed by very strict requirements that hindered the competitiveness of the domestic sector and installations.

Among the difficulties were that only RITE companies certified to work with fluorinated gas were authorised to install air conditioning with R32, meaning a technical project had to be drawn up and public liability insurance purchased.

In December 2018, Royal Decree-Law 20/2018 was passed, allowing R32 gas air conditioners to be installed with the same safety requirements as those for appliances using R410A.

 

Gas maintenance

Remember to maintain your air conditioner so that it works properly and to prevent breakdowns. Check the gas charge status of your appliance every summer and check connections, nuts and welds. To do this, disconnect the air conditioner from the electrical supply. Prepare a solution of soapy water and a brush and apply to areas where refrigerants may be escaping. Watch carefully for bubbles. If you see bubbles, your device is probably leaking.

If you detect leaks or suspect that your device may be leaking, or if it needs to be run multiple times (it does not cool sufficiently), contact a technician.

"If your air conditioner uses R410A gas, you can replace this gas with R32. Contact an authorised installer"

What happens if my device uses R410A?

If your air conditioner uses R410A gas, you can replace with R32 by contacting an authorised installer. The installer will check that your equipment has a pressure gauge and a pump compatible with the new gas.

However, please note that the days of R410A are numbered. That’s why it is often a false economy to repair old equipment rather than buying a new air conditioner that uses R32 gas.

It is a only matter of time before all air conditioning equipment uses R32 gas to comply with regulations and the care for the environment that today's consumers demand.

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