R-32 vs. R-410a: Which Is The Better Refrigerant?

If the compressor is the heart of the air conditioner, then its refrigerant gas (AKA Freon) is its blood. These gases facilitate the heat transfer process that the air conditioners use to create the cold air that gets blown out of the unit.

In the Philippine air conditioner market, there are two kinds of refrigerants in use: R-32 and R-410a. While these two gases have the same function, they have different characteristics that make one better than the other in some aspects.

To briefly put it: R-32 (Difluoromethane) has less impact on the environment and is generally more efficient vs. the R-410a (Puron) gas. However, one of the drawbacks of the R-32 gas is that it is flammable while the R-410a gas is not.

In this article, I will give you a brief overview of these refrigerants, and I will also give you a rationale on the R-32a vs R-410a debate.

How an air conditioner works

Air conditioners work by harnessing the power of the evaporation process to produce cool air. It does this by continuously evaporating and condensing a refrigerant gas that runs through copper tubes inside the aircon.

As the liquid form of the refrigerant evaporates, it absorbs the heat from the air being sucked in the by AC. This cold air is then blown out of the unit into the room by the blower wheel. Now that the refrigerant has turned to a gas, it needs to be condensed back into its liquid form to start the process again.

The catch-all term for these refrigerant gases is “Freon”. Freon is actually a brand name of the chemical Dichlorodifluoromethane R-12, which was the most commonly used refrigerant gas back in the day.

Since Freon is a CFC (chlorofluorocarbons), it has been phased out in lieu of more environment-friendly refrigerants because of its capability to damage the ozone layer.

Thus, the refrigerants R-32 and R-410a were born.

R-32 vs. R-410a

This section will be the comparative analysis between the two refrigerant gases. I will divide this into 3 sections: Eco-friendliness, cooling performance, and safety and flammability.

Eco-friendliness

As stated earlier, the main reason why the R-12 gas was replaced is due to its impact on the environment. Hence why we should expect that both the R-32 and the R-410 gases to be more environmentally-friendly compared to the R-12 gas.

The eco-friendliness of Refrigerant gases are measure by two metrics: its Global Warming Potential (GWP) and its Ozone Depletion Potential (ODP).

As the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) explains it, the GWP is:

“…a measure of the relative global warming effects of different gases. It assigns a value to the amount of heat trapped by a certain mass of a gas relative to the amount of heat trapped by a similar mass of carbon dioxide over a specific period of time.”

United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP)

Meanwhile, the UNEP also defined the Ozone Depletion Potential as:

“a relative index of the ability of a substance to cause ozone depletion. The reference level of 1 is assigned as an index to CFC-11 and CFC-12.”

United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP)

Here are the comparisons the GWP and the ODP of the three refrigerants:

RefrigerantGlobal Warming PotentialOzone Depletion Potential
R-1210,9001.0
R410a2,0900.0
R-326750.0
Source: Daikin

As you can see, both R-32 and R-410a refrigerants are a vast improvement compared to the R-12 gas. Both do not have any potential to damage the ozone layer. However, the R-32 gas has a lower global warming potential compared to the R-134a gas, hence it wins this round.

Winner: R-32. It has a lower global warming potential compared to the R-410a refrigerant.

Cooling Performance and Efficiency

The cooling performance of these refrigerants are measured by their coefficient of performance (COP). The COP is the ratio of the heat removed from the air to power input needed to do this task. A higher COP means higher efficiency and thus lower operating costs.

Here is a comparison of the COPs of these two refrigerants:

RefrigerantCoefficient of Performance
R-410a6.71
R-326.91
International Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Conference

As you can see, both refrigerant gases have almost similar levels of COPs. However, the R-32 gas beats out the R-410a by only a few decimal points.

Winner: R-32. It has a higher COP than the R-134a.

Safety and Flammability

Refrigerant gases from your AC can leak given the right circumstances. And these gases can cause adverse health effects when a person is exposed to it.

The American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) designated refrigerant gases into two classes of toxicity: lower toxicity (Class A) and higher toxicity (Class B). These two classes are further subdivided into designations of 1 – 3 where gases with a designation of A1 has a lower toxicity compared to gases with a designation of A3. They also introduced a new classification called A2L that fits between A1 and A2, and it indicates mild flammability.

Here is a comparison between the R-32 vs. R-410a gases:

RefrigerantASHRAE Toxicity Safety GroupClassificationFlammability
R-12A1Low toxicityNo flame propagation
R-410aA1Low toxicityNo flame propagation
R-32A2LLow toxicityLower Flammability
American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE)

As you can see, while both gases are considered as having low-toxicity, the R-32 refrigerant gas is flammable while the R-410a is not, which makes it more of a safety concern.

Winner: R-410a. While both of these gases are considered as non-toxic, the R-410a will not catch on fire even if it is exposed to flames.

Conclusion

As we’ve discussed, the R-32 is more efficient and has less environmental impact compared to the R-410a. However, it’s drawback is that it is flammable and its adverse health effects when it does leak from your air conditioner

If you have more questions about what kind of AC to buy, we’ve published a comprehensive air conditioner buying guide to help you in your buying journey.

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