Making the Right Refrigerant Choice


Sustainability From Beginning to End

When choosing a chiller, there’s more to reducing emissions than the choice of refrigerant. Here’s what you need to know about chillers and new, low-GWP (Global Warming Potential) refrigerant alternatives.



1. Some refrigerant alternatives are mildly flammable. All high-pressure refrigerant alternatives have some degree of flammability. To use these alternatives safely, there are significant implications on product configuration, installation cost and overall risk. 

2. The use of mildly flammable refrigerant is new in commercial chiller applications. Safety standards and building codes must be finalized so customers know how to safely install and use the equipment. These standards still need to be finalized to minimize risk. 

3. When given a choice, select non-flammable. The position of Johnson Controls is to utilize A1 (lower toxicity and non-flammable) refrigerants, especially in YORK® chillers where there are alternative, non-flammable solutions that achieve similar performance and capacity.



1. Next generation refrigerants are more expensive. Today, chemically complex refrigerant alternatives like HFO blends are more expensive than HFCs, and it is expected that even years from now they will still be 4-6 times more expensive than today’s HFC prices. 

2. These refrigerants can drastically impact equipment costs. Some refrigerant alternatives negatively impact capacity and efficiency when dropped-in. To overcome these impacts, costly changes to equipment must be made, like increased compressor size, increased condenser size and/or increased refrigerant charge. 

3. Additional expenses are associated with the use of mildly flammable refrigerants. Even if applied safely, these fluids require special handling, training and insurance, which all add cost.



1. Johnson Controls is heavily involved in refrigerant regulation discussions. Working closely with refrigerant producers, government regulators and other equipment manufacturers provides an opportunity for practical transitions with appropriate investments. 

2. HCFC refrigerants have phase-out dates. The Montreal Protocol mandated HCFC phase-out is proceeding per plan to globally prohibit the use of R-22 and R-123 in new equipment, and will eventually prohibit its production. 

3. The Kigali Amendment has identified phase-down goals for HFC refrigerants. In some regions, refrigerants like R-134a and R-410A will start to be used less frequently in new equipment. But complete elimination or a phase-out of HFC refrigerants is not being discussed.



1. Drop-in replacements can increase energy usage. Some refrigerant alternatives have a negative impact on energy efficiency. Systems that are not optimized perform less efficiently, increasing overall operating cost and fossil fuel usage. 

2. The refrigerant properties address the smallest part of a chiller’s potential emissions. Total building efficiency – including chiller plant optimization – has the most significant impact on global warming potential. 

3. Total Equivalent Warming Impact (TEWI) is a more complete measure of environmental progress. The TEWI standard considers both the direct impact (refrigerant) and the indirect contribution (energy consumption) to greenhouse gases. More than 95% of total greenhouse gas emissions are attributable to the burning of fossil fuels versus the impact of refrigerant leakage. For example, a modest 1.6% improvement in chiller efficiency is enough to completely offset direct R-134a refrigerant emissions.

At YORK®, we make business decisions based on your business – the best refrigerant solution depends on the application. YORK® chillers have been, and continue to be, the best at operating efficiency in real-world conditions – reducing emissions, improving your environmental impact and protecting your financial bottom line – now, and in the future.

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