Why Were Refrigerants Phased Out?

It depends on what type of refrigerant you are looking at. The CFCs and HCFC classes of refrigerants were phased out due to the Chlorine that they contained. It was found in the 1970s that Chlorine when released into the atmosphere causes damage to the O-Zone layer. The O-Zone layer is a type of shield high in the Earth’s atmosphere that protects the Earth from the sun’s ultraviolet rays.

It was found that the O-Zone layer was being so badly damaged that a hole begin to form above Antarctica. Scientists and governments scrambled for a solution and they eventually came up with the Montreal Protocol. The Montreal Protocol was a treaty signed by nearly two hundred countries. The goal of the Montreal Protocol was to phase out all CFC and HCFC products including refrigerants.

The first to go was R-12 Refrigerant. R-12 was the first type of mainstream refrigerant and had been used since the early twentieth century. When it was phased out in the 1994 it was mainly being used for automobile applications. R-12 was replaced with the HFC R-134a.

The next to go R-502. R-502 was mainly used for vending machines, supermarket freezers, ice machines, and refrigerated transport. R-502 was replaced with the HFC R-404A.

The very latest to go in the CFC/HCFC side was R-22. R-22 was being used widespread since the 1950s and was mainly used for home and commercial cooling applications. In 2010 it’s phase-out process began, in 2015 production was cut, and in 2020 it will be completely banned. It’s replacement was the HFC refrigerant known as R-410A or Puron.

Now, you may have noticed something from the text above. All of the replacements for CFC/HCFC refrigerants were HFC refrigerants. Come to find out HFC refrigerants also harm the environment… just not in the same way. HFCs while they do not contain Chlorine do have extremely high Global Warming Potential, or GWP. GWP is a relative measure on how much greenhouse gas is trapped in atmosphere by a certain product. It measures everything against the control value of Carbon Dioxide. Carbon Dioxide has a GWP of zero.

So, with that in mind HFCs are next on the chopping block. R-134a, the replacement for R-12 for vehicle AC systems, has already been banned in the European Union due to it’s high GWP. It has not yet been banned in the United States but I predict that it will be in the coming years. If I was to put a wager on it I would say phase out will begin in 2017-2018 and it will be completely gone by 2021-2022. It is being replaced either by the new HFO refrigerant 1234YF or by Carbon Dioxide applications.

On top of 134a being phased out R-404A is looking to be the next mainstream HFC refrigerant to be scheduled out. R-404A’s has been used for vending machines, superstore freezers, and refrigerated transport. There isn’t a ‘perfect’ replacement yet for 404A but it is looking it will either be replaced with Carbon Dioxide refrigerant or R-452A. (R-452A is another temporary measure as it’s GWP is still very high.)

R-410A is still going strong as of today, but I predict it’s only a matter of time before it is scheduled for phase out as well.

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