Frequently Asked Questions on Refrigerants:
CFCs & HCFCs
CFCs, or Chlorofluorocarbons, are the original refrigerant. They consist of Carbon, Chlorine, and Fluorine. When you hear someone say ‘Refrigerant,’ they are referring to CFCs. HCFCs, or Hydrochloroflourocarbons, are the close neighbor of CFCs. The main difference between the two types of refrigerant is that HCFCs contain one additional hydrogen atom compared to CFCs.
Both CFCs and HCFCs were widely used in the twentieth century as refrigerants, propellants, and solvents. CFCs were invented through a joint venture of DuPont and General Motors in the early twentieth century and HCFCs were developed shortly afterwards. For more information on both of these types of refrigerants I recommend reading my in-depth article on Chloroflurocarbons (CFCs) and Hydrochloroflurocarbons. (HCFCs)
The two most common CFCs and HCFCs are R-12 and R-22 Refrigerant. R-12 was the first type of mainstream refrigerant on the market. It took place of other more difficult to use refrigerants such as Carbon Dioxide. In the 1950s R-22 became popular and eventually became the main refrigerant to use in home and commercial air conditioning units. R-12 was primarily used for automobiles and other mobile air conditioning.
R-12’s reign ended after nearly eighty years as a mainstream refrigerant. In 1994 R-12 was phased out across the United States. R-22 soon followed suit and in 2010 R-22 was no longer allowed to be used in any new machines. In 2015 production and imports of R-22 was cut drastically, and in 2020 R-22 will be completely phased out in the United States.
CFCs and HCFCs were phased out due to the Chlorine that they contained. In the 1970s it was found out that the Chlorine was damaging the O-Zone layer and due to the excessive use and venting of CFCs/HCFCs into the atmosphere a hole in the O-Zone had formed. In an effort to solve the issue the Montreal Protocol was formed. Numerous countries signed the treaty and all pledged to phase out CFCs/HCFCs entirely.
Today CFCS and HCFCs may be history but they provided the building blocks to modern refrigeration.
One word. Chlorine. In the 1970s it was found that Chlorine damaged the O-Zone layer. In the 1980s it was found that the O-Zone was so damaged that a hole began to form over Antarctica. Chlorine was the culprit.
One of the leading contributing factors to Chlorine being released into the atmosphere were CFC/HCFC refrigerants. Either knowingly, unknowingly, technicians would vent excess refrigerant into the atmosphere when working on an air conditioning unit. Repeated venting across fifty years across the world caused the hole to form in the O-Zone layer.
In order to prevent the hole from getting any bigger there was an agreement that was signed by numerous countries. The agreement mandated the phase out of all CFC and HCFC refrigerants. Some of the refrigerants included were R-12, R-22, and R-502. This agreement came to be known as the Montreal Protocol.
In 1994 the first phase-out began in the United States. R-12 was discontinued from usage in automobiles and was replaced with the HFC refrigerant known as R-134a. In 1999 R-502 was phased out in accordance to the Montreal Protocol and was replaced with HFC refrigerant known as R-404A.
Lastly, in 2010 R-22 began it’s first phase out steps. In 2010 no new R-22machines could be manufactured or imported into the United States. In 2015 the production and importing of R-22 was reduced drastically. In 2020 R-22 will be completely phased out. The alternative to R-22 is the HFC R-410A.
Due to the Montreal Protocol it is predicted that the O-Zone’s hole will seal completely and the O-Zone will return to normal towards the end of the 21st century. The Montreal Protocol is widely regarded as one of the most successful treaties in the modern world.
As of today, in June of 2015, yes you can. However, the market on CFC/HCFC refrigerants is highly regulated. You will need to be 608 certified with the Environmental Protection Agency in order to purchase or handle any CFC/HCFC refrigerant. You can read more about certification by clicking here.
CFC/HCFCs are highly regulated due to the Chlorine that they contain. In the wrong hands a technician can vent the refrigerant into the atmosphere which would cause direct harm to the O-Zone layer. The regulation is in place to ensure that anyone who buys CFC/HCFC refrigerants knows the proper way to handle.
The most common CFC/HCFC refrigerants that people will be looking to purchase are R-12 and R-22. It’s rare to find an R-12 system now a days but R-22 is still fairly common across the United States. Both R-12 and R-22 can be found by shopping on E-Bay by clicking here. (Be aware if you purchase on E-Bay you will need to provide your certification number.)
****UPDATE AS OF 2018***
The EPA’s refrigerant restriction laws changed on January 1st, 2018. As today as I write this you will now NEED either 608 or 609 certification in order to purchase HFC refrigerants. The type of certification needed depends on what kind of refrigerant you will be purchasing. As an example, you will need 609 certification to purchase R-134a.
The two most common CFC/HCFC refrigerants that you are going to come across are R-12 and R-22. You may also hear these called ‘Refrigerant.’ Refrigerant is DuPont’s brand name. Refrigerant is almost seen as a generic term for those outside of the refrigeration industry.
R-12 is the oldest and is one of the original refrigerants from the early twentieth century. It was the first widely used refrigerant and was used everywhere until about the 1950s. In the 1950s R-22 came into the picture and saw widespread usage through home and commercial air conditioning units. R-12 was still used widely in automobile applications at this time as well.
R-12 was phased out all the way back in 1994, over twenty years ago. Whereas R-22 was phased out in 2010, so there are still quite a bit of R-22 machines still in service today. Chances are if you are looking for a CFC/HCFC it is most likely R-22. R-22 will be completely phased out come 2020, so there’s five years left! (June, 2015)