HVAC Solutions

Research to focus on designing HVAC technology for the using low GWP refrigerants


Chao Ding, an Energy Technology Researcher at Berkeley National Lab who specialises in CFD simulation, building science, and cooling efficiency, explores the evolution of low GWP air conditioning systems and their impact on energy efficiency and environmental sustainability. He delves into design considerations, challenges, and policy interventions shaping the future of climate-friendly HVAC solutions.

How do low-GWP air conditioning systems differ from conventional ones, and what factors should be considered in their design?

Due to variations in thermodynamic characteristics, several low Global Warming Potential (GWP) alternatives may function as drop-in replacements with minor modifications. Certain design modifications are necessary to ensure optimal performance. For instance, specific adaptations, such as distinct compressor technologies designed for the unique properties of the chosen refrigerant, may be essential. Adjustments to heat exchanger dimensions and additional safety measures must also be considered.

How does urban ventilation influence energy efficiency, and how do simulations improve it?

Efficient urban ventilation is essential for dissipating excess heat generated by structures, thus alleviating the impact of urban heat islands. This can contribute to reduced dependence on artificial cooling systems, leading to decreased energy usage. By introducing more natural ventilation within buildings, reliance on mechanical ventilation systems can be further reduced, resulting in energy conservation.

Utilising airflow simulation allows us to simulate the ventilation capabilities of diverse urban layouts and building designs to enhance efficiency. For instance, adopting approaches like establishing urban ventilation corridors and enlarging window dimensions can optimise airflow, improving overall ventilation effectiveness.

How do low GWP air conditioners balance energy efficiency with reduced environmental impact compared to conventional systems?

Low GWP refrigerants can significantly reduce the global warming potential compared to conventional systems. For instance, the traditional refrigerant used in residential air conditioning, R410A, has a GWP of 2088, whereas R290 has a GWP of only 3, making it approximately 700 times lower.

Transitioning to certain low GWP replacements may result in a lower cooling capacity due to differences in thermal properties. However, this capacity reduction can be addressed through focused system design and optimisation efforts.

What are the challenges in designing low GWP air conditioners, and how are researchers working to overcome these challenges?

Researchers are addressing these challenges through various approaches. They actively seek alternative refrigerants with low Global Warming Potential (GWP) while ensuring optimal performance and safety features. Rigorous studies are underway to evaluate the thermodynamic properties, compatibility with system materials, flammability, toxicity, and environmental impact of potential low GWP refrigerants.

Efforts are also focused on enhancing air conditioners’ cooling capacity and energy efficiency using low GWP refrigerants. This involves developing new system components tailored for these refrigerants and exploring system optimisation techniques to maximise performance while minimising energy consumption.


Considering the flammability aspect of low GWP refrigerants, which is often a concern, researchers are conducting safety assessments to identify potential risks and devise mitigation strategies. This includes the development of leak detection sensors and controls to ensure safe operation, thereby minimising the risk of fire hazards associated with flammable refrigerants.

What factors influence the market adoption of low GWP air conditioners, and what policies or incentives could accelerate their adoption?

Several factors and policies contribute to the initial cost barriers associated with upgrading manufacturing lines for low Global Warming Potential (GWP) refrigerants. Overcoming these barriers requires financial support to offset upfront expenses. Governments can play a crucial role by encouraging procurement policies that prioritise the purchase of low GWP air conditioners. This approach creates market demand and also stimulates investment in manufacturing upgrades.

In emerging markets and remote areas, there is a challenge in the limited availability and accessibility of low GWP equipment, components, and trained technicians. To address this issue, financial incentives like rebates, tax credits, grants, and subsidies are needed to support research and development efforts. These efforts aim to expand production capacity and improve accessibility. Further, investments in training programs can also help develop a skilled workforce capable of servicing and maintaining low GWP air conditioning systems.

Stringent safety regulations and standards for refrigerants also pose challenges. To navigate this, policymakers should revise safety standards to accommodate the use of low-GWP refrigerants. This may involve increasing the charge limit for these low-GWP refrigerants and updating safety regulations to reflect advancements in refrigerant technology while maintaining adequate safety measures.

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