As most of you know we here at RefrigerantHQ are taking the time to put together what’s known as our fact and information sheets on each specific refrigerant that is out there. So far we have touched on quite a few HFC and even HFO refrigerants. But are good friends from days past, CFCs, have been neglected. I would be amiss if we forgot one of the most influential refrigerants out there, R-12. There may be some debate to this statement, but I believe that R-12 was and is the mother of all refrigerants. It was the foundation refrigerant and gave us the building blocks to other refrigerants that we see used every day around us.
But, what is R-12? What is the history behind this influential refrigerant? What is the significance of the Freon brand name? In this article we will answer these questions and more. Like with our previous fact sheets we will start this out with a table that goes over all of the upfront facts about R-12 Freon refrigerant. Let’s dive in and take a look!
|Name - Scientific:||Dichlorodifluoromethane|
|Name (4):||Genetron 12|
|Name (5):||Fluorocarbon 12|
|Status:||Phased Out Across The World Due to Montreal Protocol|
|Why Phased Out?||Due To R-12 Damaging Ozone Layer|
|Future:||Is Already Phased Out|
|Application:||Very Wide Range of Applications - Can't Cover Them All!|
|Application (2):||Refrigerators, Freezers, Ice Makers, Water Coolers|
|Application (3):||Mobile Refrigeration Including Automotive & Refrigerated Transport|
|Application (4):|| Large Centrifugal Chillers, Open Drive AC, & Process|
|Application (5):||Misc High, Medium, or Low Temp Refrigerant Systems|
|Replacement For:||Previous Hydrocarbons and Natural Refrigerants|
|Replaced By:||Various Refrigerants, But Mainly R-22 and R-134a|
|Ozone Depletion Potential:||1.0|
|Global Warming Potential:||10,900|
|Toxicity Levels:||A (No Toxicity Identified.)|
|Flammability Levels:||Class 1 -No Flame Propagation.|
|Flash Point||N/A - Not Flammable|
|Lubricant Required:||Mineral Oil, also known as Alkyl Benzene.|
|Boiling Point:||-29.8° Celsius or -21.64° Fahrenheit or 243.3° Kelvin|
|Critical Temperature:||111.97° Celsius or 233.55° Fahrenheit or 385.12° Kelvin|
|Critical Pressure (Absolute):||4,136 (KPA)|
|Atmospheric Lifetime (Years)||100|
|Molecular Mass||120.90 g·mol−1|
|Manufacturers:||Various Including: Honeywell, Chemours, Arkema, Mexichem, Chinese, etc.|
|Manufacturing Facilities:||All Shut Down Due to Phase Out (Maybe in China Still!)|
|Color:||Colorless Liquid & Vapor|
|Odor:||Ether Like At Very High Concentrations|
|EPA Certification Required:||Yes, Section 608 Certification Required To Use|
|Require Certification to Purchase?||Yes, Section 608 Certification Required To Purchase|
|Cylinder Design:||Thirty Pound Cylinder|
|Cylinder Design (2):|
|Price Point:||VERY HIGH - $600 Upwards to $1,000 Per Cylinder|
|Future Price Prediction:||Price Has Been Stable Due To Phase Out|
|Bulk Purchasing:||Buy R-12 in Bulk|
Thoughts on R-12
I mentioned at the beginning of this article that R-12 is the ‘mother’ of all refrigerants. This is because R-12 was the very first mainstream refrigerant that saw usage and development around the world. Before the arrival of R-12 there was a mish-mash of natural refrigerants being used with hit and miss results. Either the refrigerant being used was toxic like R-717 (Ammonia), the refrigerant operated at too high of a pressure like R-744 (Carbon Dioxide), the refrigerant had a high flammability rating like R-290 (Propane), or the refrigerant was just too expensive for widespread usage. The invention of R-12 provided an answer to the price question as well as the safety question. Because of this, it’s usage exploded. I won’t get into all of the details here, but will save the more in-depth discussion about R-12’s history in our next section.
For now folks, let’s take a look at some of the most notable facts about R-12:
- First and foremost, you should know that R-12 has been completely phased out in the United States and across the world. This refrigerant was phased out due to it’s Ozone Depletion Potential or ODP. The short version of what happened here is that when R-12 was vented or released into the atmosphere it would not break down as it made it’s way up to the stratosphere. Instead, the Chlorine in the chemical composition would stay intact and eventually cause damage to what’s known as the Ozone layer. This layer acts as a shield from ultraviolet rays from the sun. If this layer was gone or severely weakened then the radiation would begin to come through and cases of skin cancer and other diseases would begin to surface much more frequently. That’s the tamest of the scenarios of a damaged Ozone. R-12 along with other CFC and HCFC refrigerants were banned to prevent any further damage to the Ozone and to allow the Ozone layer to heal.
- I mentioned this earlier but R-12 was the first refrigerant that was actually safe to use. It can be traced back to the 1930’s and back then there just wasn’t a ‘good’ refrigerant to use. Sure, there were some refrigerant and air conditioning applications that could be found, but they were rare and they had a high risk of failure. In some cases this risk of failure was also a risk to your safety. R-12 came around and provided consumers and businesses with a safe and cheaper alternative refrigerant.
- R-12 has a relatively low boiling point at only -29.8° Celsius or -21.64° Fahrenheit. If you compare this to some of the other refrigerants out there such as R-22 (-40.7° C), R-744 (-78.0° C), or R-410A (-48.5° C). You can begin to see the significant difference here between R-12’s boiling point and other refrigerants. This low boiling point was also a key factor in the varying applications that R-12 was used for. Due to the wide range of applications, the low boiling point, the low price, and the safety features R-12 exploded in growth across the globe.
- The end of R-12’s reign began in the 1980’s and went into the early 1990’s. I mentioned the Ozone layer problem above. Well, all of this started in the early 1980’s and came to it’s conclusion in the early 1990’s when the last step of phasing out R-12 began. This last step was in automotive applications. If you were to have bought a car in 1991 or 1992 you would have most likely had R-12 refrigerant. However, if you were to purchase a vehicle in 1994 or 1995 then your vehicle would have been using the new HFC R-134a refrigerant.
- Today, in 2019 R-12 is very difficult to find. If you do find it the chances are it is a rusted out cylinder that may have been damaged. Any R-12 cylinders left in circulation today are products that someone squirreled away twenty or thirty years ago. Now, if the refrigerant was stored properly in a climate controlled warehouse without exposure to moisture then it most likely still has virgin pure R-12 refrigerant in it. However, if it has been exposed or damaged then the quality may be compromised. Most of the time these cylinders can be found on EBay.com, but make sure that you are section 608 certified with the EPA before you purchase. You will have to provide your certification number.
- Along with the increased rarity of R-12 you will also notice that price has gone through the roof. A thirty pound virgin cylinder in good condition may be closer to one-thousand dollars. Some of the damaged cylinders we mentioned above may be around five-hundred to six-hundred dollars. Be sure to pay attention when purchasing some of these as in most cases the cylinder has been opened and some of it has already been used. So, you may end up only getting twenty or twenty-five pounds out of your thirty pound cylinder.
- The good news is that today very little people actually need R-12 Freon. Most of the applications have been retired and scrapped. The only exception that I know of in today’s world (2019) is automotive restorers. My father as an example restores classic cars as a hobby. Most of the models he works on are from 1950’s and air conditioning wasn’t as prevalent then. But, let’s pretend you’re working on my dream restoration car, a 1981 F-150. In this case you would have to make a decision on rather to use the original air conditioning system and get your hands on a few cans of R-12. Or, you could install or retrofit over to an R-134a system. Besides these exceptions, I don’t see another need for R-12 being used in the world today.
- The last point that I want to make is that in recent years (2018-2019) we have had reports of R-11 and other CFC refrigerants being found again in the atmosphere. This is odd as all of these were phased out twenty years ago. How are they being found again? In one specific instance the R-11 traces were able to be traced to a province in China. A company in China was actively producing R-11 foam and refrigerants for use throughout the country and for exports. The Chinese Government denied any affiliation with this company and have since gone after the company.
R-12 Refrigerant History
In the early 1900’s the world was looking for a solution for refrigeration and air conditioning. There had been numerous experiments and trials on differing refrigerants ranging from Ammonia, Carbon Dioxide, Propane, Sulfur Dioxide, and Methyl Chloride. Each one of these refrigerants were able to provide cooling and refrigeration but they all had potential downsides. It could have been safety concerns through toxicity or flammability, high pressure, or an inflated price point. There needed to be a more viable refrigerant introduced into the marketplace.
It was in the 1930’s that a partnership was formed between two companies: General Motors and DuPont. This partnership organized by Charles Kettering of General Motors was geared towards solving this problem. Over the new few years Thomas Midgley Jr, along with a few other team members, pushed forward with the invention of ChloroFluroCarbons (CFCs) and HydroChloroFluroCarbons (HCFCs). Out of these inventions two primary refrigerants came: R-12 and R-22. The introduction of R-12 showed the world that a refrigerant was possible that was safe, economical, and easily adapted to various applications.
In just a few decades R-12 and R-22 were found in nearly every home and business across the world. The explosive growth of refrigerant and air conditioning continued to propel forwards for decades and decades. All of this came to a head in the 1980’s when a team of scientists based out of California realized that the Chlorine found in these ever popular refrigerants were causing damage to the Ozone layer. What would happen is a machine would either develop a leak, or the refrigerant would be vented, or the machine would be scrapped entirely and refrigerant would leak out. This leaked refrigerant would work it’s way up into the atmosphere and stagnate in the Stratosphere. There the Chlorine found in R-12 would degrade and harm the Ozone layer. All of this got so bad over the decades of CFC and HCFC use that a thinning of the Ozone layer began to form over the Arctic. The scientists noticing this sounded the alarm and the world’s governments took action by creating the Montreal Protocol.
The Montreal Protocol is a treaty that was signed in the late 1980’s by more then one-hundred countries. It’s goal was to rid the world of using Ozone depleting substances like CFC and HCFC refrigerants. This treaty was enacted in countries all over the world. The first target was CFC refrigerants such as R-12. In 1992 R-12 was phased out of the automotive market in the United States and was replaced with the newer HFC refrigerant known as R-134a. R-134a had the benefit of not containing Chlorine so with its usage there would be no danger to the Ozone layer. The next refrigerant to go was the CFC refrigerant known as R-502 in the mid 1990’s. As time went by there were other CFC and HCFC refrigerants phased out but the big change didn’t happen until 2010.
In today’s world R-12 is a very rare occurrence. Most machines and systems that were using it have since been retired. Like I mentioned in a previous section, the only use cases that I know of in the year 2019 are those folks who are restoring classic automobiles. Even in these cases though I believe most people are going the retrofit route and changing their systems over to R-134a. The cost of R-12 is just too expensive and we all know that a fully restored classic car is never entirely original. There are always aftermarket parts that find their way in.
While R-12 Freon refrigerant is a thing of the past we should always remember where we came from. In today’s world HFC refrigerants are being phased out just like their CFC and HCFC cousins. The refrigerant industry is constantly evolving and changing. In another twenty years the world may be using something completely different then we are today. The thing to keep in mind though is that we approach 2030 we should take the time and honor the R-12 invention from a one-hundred years ago that got us to this point.