R-410A Refrigerant History

To understand the history of 410A and the other refrigerants we first have to go back in time to the 1980’s. Back then all automotive applications were using the CFC R-12 refrigerant for their air conditioning and all residential air-conditioner units were using R-22. These two refrigerants, R-12 and R-22, were the original mainstream refrigerants that came from the 1930’s. Ever since then they had gained and gained in popularity until they were practically found everywhere across the country and the world.

It was in the 1980’s that a team of scientists out of California realized that all of the Chlorine that was in CFC and HCFC refrigerants were causing damage to the Ozone layer. When vented or leaked the refrigerant would drift up and into the atmosphere. It is there where the Chlorine would do it’s damage. Eventually it got so bad 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 2010 is when the phase out of the ever popular HCFC R-22 refrigerant was to begin. At that date no new machines could be manufactured that took R-22 as a refrigerant. This was the line in the sand saying that there would be no more Chlorine containing refrigerants used. While 2010 was the beginning there was a schedule of set dates every five years that would slowly phase out R-22 entirely from the United States. A picture of this phase out schedule can be found below.

R-22 Phase Out Schedule - Courtney of EPA.gov
R-22 Phase Out Schedule – Courtney of EPA.gov

Enter R-410A

In 1991 the new HFC refrigerant R-410A was invented by the Honeywell Corporation. (Back then they were known by Allied Signal.) After invention Honeywell licensed production and manufacturing rights of 410A to other companies but even today Honeywell still continues to lead production and sales of 410A.

410A saw it’s first use in a residential air conditioning system all the way back in the year 1996. (Hard to believe that was over twenty years ago!)  The Carrier Corporation was the first company to introduce 410A into the residential marketplace and during that time they trademarked 410A as their brand name known as Puron.

While 410A could be found at homes in the early 2000’s it was sporadic. It wasn’t until we got closer and closer to the announced phase out date of R-22 that things began to pick up. Even though we were only a few years away from the phase out date there were still companies who had their heads buried in the sand and hadn’t bothered to train themselves or their technicians on the new technology. You can’t blame them really it’s human nature. The change was down the road and they would worry about it then.

In 2010 when the change did come into play and no new R-22 machines could be manufactured things began to get real for people. R-410A was the new refrigerant and it wasn’t going away, at least for a while. A lot of the old-timers out there got fed up with it all and decided to retire right around 2010. The younger guys or mid-career guys stuck around and got through the turbulent years. Today, in October of 2017, R-410A is one of the most widely used refrigerants in the world. It is used in the United States, the European Union, Japan, and many other countries. But what is it’s future? How long will it be around?

The Problem With HFCs

It was in the early 2000’s that a problem was discovered with HFC refrigerants. This problem wasn’t like the CFC or HCFC refrigerants that came before them. After all, there was no Chlorine involved so there was no thinning of the Ozone layer. No, this problem came from something called Global Warming Potential or GWP. GWP is a relative measure of how much heat a greenhouse gas can trap in the atmosphere. As a basis of measurement they set Carbon Dioxide as a one on the GWP scale.

Ok, so we have our baseline established now let’s compare the one GWP of Carbon Dioxide to an HFC refrigerant. One of the more popular HFC refrigerants known as R-404A has a GWP number of three-thousand nine-hundred and twenty-two. Yes, you heard me right. Three-thousand. That is a HUGE number and obviously a huge problem when looking at Global Warming.

Every time 404A was released, vented, or leaked into the atmosphere it would get trapped as a greenhouse gas and actively contribute to Global Warming. But it would do this and be thousands times stronger then Carbon Dioxide. This was obviously a big problem.

In 2015 the EPA announced RULE 20 of their SNAP program. This rule set the rules for phase outs of HFC refrigerants across the United States. It can be found by clicking here. Basically this rule introduced dates of when HFC refrigerants would be phased out. The first target was R-404A and the next was R-134a. The next year in 2016 an amendment to the Montreal Protocol was announced and signed. This amendment, known as the Kigali Amendment, scheduled the phase out of HFC refrigerants across the globe.

Now I am not sure how this will affect R-410A at this point in time. 410A has a GWP of two-thousand and eighty-eight. While this is a high number 410A was not mentioned in the new Rule from the EPA. (It was mentioned for vending machines but not for residential/commercial air conditioners.) I believe this was done because everyone had just switched over to 410A and wouldn’t make sense to transition so soon after to a new refrigerant. The other reason I believe 410A was left out was that there has yet to be a new alternative announced. Chemours and Honeywell are working on alternative as we speak but nothing is nailed down. I wrote an in-depth article on possible solutions for 410A alternatives that can be found by clicking here.

Regardless of what happens in the next few years I can assure you that R-410A’s time with us is limited. We have the EPA and the governments of the world all fighting against it due to it’s high Global Warming Potential. If I had to wager a guess I would say that by the year 2025 the phase out will begin and we will be looking at a newer HFO refrigerant that has not been invented yet. Time will tell though.