Next-Generation Refrigerants for Decarbonization

Detailed overview of innovation with sample startups and prominent university research

What it is

Next-generation refrigerants are climate-friendly alternatives to traditional hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), which are potent greenhouse gases with high global warming potentials. These new refrigerants are designed to have a significantly lower environmental impact, minimizing their contribution to climate change while maintaining or even improving the efficiency and safety of cooling systems.

Impact on climate action

Next-Generation Refrigerants mitigate non-CO2 emissions, crucial for climate action. By replacing potent greenhouse gases in refrigeration systems, they significantly reduce global warming potential. This innovation fosters sustainable cooling, aligning with climate goals, enhancing energy efficiency, and minimizing environmental harm, pivotal steps in combating climate change.


  • Global Warming Potential (GWP): GWP measures the warming effect of a greenhouse gas compared to CO2 over a specific time period. Next-generation refrigerants are chosen for their significantly lower GWP compared to HFCs.
  • Ozone Depletion Potential (ODP): ODP measures the potential of a substance to deplete the ozone layer. Next-generation refrigerants are designed to have zero ODP, protecting the ozone layer.
  • Thermodynamic Properties: New refrigerants must possess suitable thermodynamic properties for efficient heat transfer and optimal performance in various cooling applications.
  • Flammability and Toxicity: Safety is a critical consideration, with new refrigerants undergoing rigorous testing to ensure they are non-toxic and have minimal flammability risks.

TRL : 6-9 (commercially available and rapidly being adopted)

Prominent Innovation themes

  • Hydrofluoroolefins (HFOs): This class of refrigerants offers a significantly lower GWP compared to HFCs and is being widely adopted in various cooling applications, including automotive air conditioning and commercial refrigeration.
  • Natural Refrigerants: Natural substances like carbon dioxide (CO2), ammonia (NH3), and hydrocarbons (propane, isobutane) are gaining traction as environmentally friendly refrigerants.
  • Blends and Mixtures: Combining different refrigerants can create blends with optimized properties for specific applications, improving efficiency and reducing environmental impact.
  • System Design Optimization: New cooling systems are being designed to operate efficiently with next-generation refrigerants, considering factors like pressure, temperature, and refrigerant flow rates.

Other Innovation Subthemes

  • Hydrofluoroolefins (HFOs) Adoption
  • Natural Refrigerant Integration
  • Zero Ozone Depletion Potential (ODP)
  • Thermodynamic Property Optimization
  • Commercial Maturity of Next-Gen Refrigerants
  • Automotive Air Conditioning Solutions
  • Commercial Refrigeration Applications
  • Carbon Dioxide (CO2) Refrigerant Use
  • Ammonia (NH3) Refrigerant Utilization
  • Refrigerant Blend Development
  • Mixture Optimization for Efficiency
  • System Efficiency Enhancement
  • Environmental Impact Reduction

Sample Global Startups and Companies

  • Shecco:
    • Technology Focus: Shecco is a market accelerator focused on bringing natural refrigerants and sustainable cooling solutions to the forefront. They work on advancing technologies like CO2, hydrocarbons, and ammonia refrigeration systems.
    • Uniqueness: Shecco distinguishes itself by its commitment to promoting environmentally friendly refrigeration options, advocating for natural refrigerants as alternatives to synthetic ones with high global warming potential (GWP).
    • End-User Segments: Their solutions are aimed at a wide range of industries, including commercial refrigeration, air conditioning, heat pumps, and industrial refrigeration, where sustainability and regulatory compliance are paramount.
  • eCO2Cool:
    • Technology Focus: eCO2Cool likely specializes in developing refrigeration systems that utilize carbon dioxide (CO2) as the primary refrigerant. They may focus on optimizing CO2-based systems for various cooling applications.
    • Uniqueness: eCO2Cool stands out for its expertise in CO2 refrigeration technology, offering energy-efficient and environmentally friendly cooling solutions that help reduce carbon emissions and comply with regulatory standards.
    • End-User Segments: Their target segments may include supermarkets, food processing facilities, cold storage warehouses, and other commercial and industrial users looking to transition to sustainable refrigeration options.
  • A-Gas:
    • Technology Focus: A-Gas specializes in the supply and lifecycle management of refrigerants, including next-generation options like hydrocarbons and low GWP alternatives. They may also offer recovery, reclamation, and recycling services.
    • Uniqueness: A-Gas differentiates itself through its comprehensive approach to refrigerant management, providing solutions for the entire lifecycle of refrigerants, from supply to disposal, with a focus on sustainability and environmental stewardship.
    • End-User Segments: Their services cater to a wide range of industries using refrigeration and air conditioning systems, including HVAC contractors, refrigeration technicians, facility managers, and equipment manufacturers.

Sample Research At Top-Tier Universities

  • University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign:
    • Technology Enhancements: Researchers at the University of Illinois are spearheading efforts to develop next-generation refrigerants with significantly reduced environmental impact. They are exploring novel chemical compounds and formulations that exhibit superior thermodynamic properties, such as lower global warming potential (GWP) and ozone depletion potential (ODP), compared to conventional refrigerants.
    • Uniqueness of Research: The University of Illinois’s approach involves a combination of experimental synthesis, computational modeling, and advanced characterization techniques to design and evaluate new refrigerant candidates. They are also investigating alternative refrigeration technologies, such as magnetic refrigeration and adsorption cooling, to further enhance energy efficiency and sustainability.
    • End-use Applications: The research outcomes from the University of Illinois have broad applications in various sectors, including residential, commercial, and automotive refrigeration systems. Next-generation refrigerants can help mitigate climate change by reducing greenhouse gas emissions and improving the energy efficiency of cooling technologies.
  • Technical University of Denmark (DTU):
    • Technology Enhancements: DTU researchers are focusing on developing environmentally friendly refrigerants based on natural compounds and renewable resources. They are investigating the use of hydrocarbons, carbon dioxide (CO2), and other non-toxic substances as alternatives to traditional synthetic refrigerants with high GWP.
    • Uniqueness of Research: DTU’s research integrates expertise in chemistry, thermodynamics, and sustainable engineering to address the complex challenges associated with next-generation refrigerants. They are exploring innovative methods for refrigerant synthesis, purification, and recycling to minimize environmental impact throughout the lifecycle.
    • End-use Applications: The research conducted at DTU has implications for various cooling applications, including air conditioning, refrigeration, and heat pump systems. By replacing conventional refrigerants with eco-friendly alternatives, companies can comply with regulatory requirements, reduce operating costs, and enhance their corporate sustainability profiles.
  • National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST):
    • Technology Enhancements: NIST is at the forefront of developing standards and measurement techniques for evaluating the performance and safety of next-generation refrigerants. They are conducting fundamental research on refrigerant thermodynamics, heat transfer characteristics, and compatibility with existing equipment to facilitate the adoption of new refrigerant technologies.
    • Uniqueness of Research: NIST’s research encompasses a wide range of disciplines, including metrology, materials science, and mechanical engineering, to address the multifaceted challenges of transitioning to alternative refrigerants. They collaborate with industry stakeholders and regulatory agencies to develop consensus-based standards and guidelines for refrigerant selection, handling, and disposal.
    • End-use Applications: The research outcomes from NIST support the implementation of next-generation refrigerants in diverse applications, including residential heat pumps, automotive air conditioning, and commercial refrigeration systems. By providing accurate measurement data and technical guidance, NIST helps ensure the safety, reliability, and environmental sustainability of refrigeration technologies.

commercial_img Commercial Implementation

Next-generation refrigerants are seeing widespread commercial implementation across various sectors:

  • Automotive Industry: HFO refrigerants are now commonly used in automotive air conditioning systems, replacing HFCs with significantly lower GWP.
  • Commercial Refrigeration: Supermarkets and other businesses are adopting HFOs and natural refrigerants like CO2 in their refrigeration systems, reducing their environmental footprint.
  • Residential Air Conditioning: New air conditioning units for homes are increasingly using HFOs and other low-GWP alternatives, contributing to emissions reduction in the residential sector.