From an environmental point of view, hydrocarbons are “highly sustainable and among the cleanest refrigerants” due to low GWP and zero ODP (ozone depletion potential), with no harmful molecules produced during production, said Paolo Zunino, CEO of Italian-based gas manufacturer GTS in a recent article published in Zerosottozero.

GTS-operated LPG processing facility.Photo by GTS

GTS-operated LPG processing facility.Photo by GTS

“[Hydrocarbons] are molecules of natural origin because in none of the ways of obtaining [them] is there the synthesis of something new,” said Zunino, adding that “hydrocarbons simply exist in nature.”

This belies the industry criticism that natural refrigerants such as hydrocarbons are not natural because they are manufactured.

Hydrocarbon natural refrigerants, including propane (R290), isobutane (R600a), n-butane (R600) and propylene (R1270) are derived in one of three ways, said GTS: separating oil by weight in a process called cracking, biogenically from the fermentation of organic residues or – the process mainly employed today – direct extraction from deposits of natural gas pockets such as liquid petroleum gas (LPG)

GTS reports that it obtains raw LPG from companies owning oil refineries or extractive wells.

As a natural product ‘simply’ obtained and purified, with prices guided by international indexes, hydrocarbons offer readily available, cost-effective refrigerant solutions, said Zunino.

F-gas regulations have increased the demand for refrigerant-grade hydrocarbons, leading GTS to open a 55 000m2 distillation facility in 2021 in Arquà Polesine, Italy, which is capable of producing 25 000 metric tons of purified hydrocarbons annually. Before the new facility, GTS produced 2 000 metric tons of refrigerant-grade gas yearly.

“Our distillery is worth around USD11-million and is able to guarantee the required volumes and quality to the market,” said Zunino. “The plant currently operates eight hours a day. With the capability to move to 24-hour-a-day production, supply is not an issue,” he added.

HVAC&R applications require substantially higher hydrocarbon purity levels than those used for heating or blowing. GTS produces different hydrocarbon purity grades, with a purity of up to 99.99% for refrigeration applications with less than 10ppm humidity and less than 120ppm of non-condensable gases.