The Surprising Surge of R-11 Emissions

Anyone who’s been in the refrigerant industry rather it be through home, commercial, or automotive applications are familiar with the ever famous Montreal Protocol. The passage of this treaty across the globe has had a profound effect on the industry. No longer could companies use CFC and HCFC refrigerants. We all said goodbye to some of the most popular refrigerants ever used such as R-12, R-502, R-22, and R-11 in an effort to reduce Ozone depletion and to allow the Earth to heal.

While the most recent enactment of the Montreal Protocol is still being put in place today with HCFC refrigerants like R-22 the first phase of this treaty was passed and enacted in the early 1990’s. This first step targeted refrigerants with a ‘Class One,’ Ozone depletion potential. In other words, these refrigerants were doing the most damage to the Ozone and had to be phased out right away. The HCFCs could wait until the CFCs were out of the picture.

The CFC phase out was very aggressive. It started in 1994 and finished with a total phase out in 1996. Just two years! Compare that to how long this R-22 phase down/phase out is taking. While the United States met this aggressive goal the rest of the world was a bit behind. They committed to total phase out of CFCs by 2010 but most of the countries met their goal by 2006.

One of these CFC refrigerants that was phased out was known as Trichlorofluromethane, or R-11. R-11 was one of the first widely used refrigerants and is part of the refrigerants known under the DuPont Freon brand name. It was popular due to it’s high boiling point which meant that it could be used in machines with a low operating pressure. That meant less complexity for the machine and that meant less cost to build and less cost to do repairs.  It is also a non-flammable refrigerant and non-toxic which was hard to find in the early days of refrigeration. R-11’s use could be found small commercial buildings, factories/plants, department stores, and movie theaters.

CFC Emissions Mystery

With the phase out of CFC refrigerants complete scientists began to measure the emissions of CFCs in the Ozone layer over the years. The goal here was to watch for the emissions to steadily go down and if they weren’t going down then to sound the alarm. In the case of R-11 scientists saw a measurable drop each year between the years 2002 through 2012. Here is where things get a bit strange. After 2012 scientists noticed that the dropping emissions of R-11 began to slow down. This shouldn’t be the case at all as all production from across the world had been stopped. Yes, there would still be some emissions due to old units still out there but as those units aged and were put out of commission the amount of R-11 should shrink. This worrisome slow down of emission reduction continued through 2015 and into 2017.

At first glance of the data scientists began to look for logical explanations. Perhaps it was a natural phenomenon. Or, perhaps a larger weather pattern moved the R-11 emissions upwards to the Ozone. Through out all of these scenarios though they all came to the same conclusion. There were more emissions being generated. The question now was where and why. Where were these mysterious, and banned, R-11 emissions coming from?

In the past the bulk of R-11 emissions had come from the Northern Hemisphere. This was due to the Northern Hemisphere being more developed and having more first world nations. Over the most recent years the discrepancy between the Northern and Southern Hemispheres have increased. So, that means that somewhere in the Northern Hemisphere more R-11 emissions are being generated.

The United States National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has reported that they believe the source of these increased R-11 emissions are originating somewhere in Eastern Asia. Now, I’ll warn you folks, but here is where I’m going to speculate. No one knows for sure where these increased emissions are coming from but I’m going to take a guess. I’m looking at my map right now and when I see Eastern Asia I see one country that pops out to me. North Korea.

Think about it. They are already quite a bit behind the times from the rest of the world. They don’t honor the world’s treaties or agreements. They are a hostile nation to nearly everyone. It would only make sense for them to manufacture, distribute, and use R-11. Remember what I said earlier folks, R-11 has a high boiling point which means a low pressure requirement and a low complexity for the machines. It makes perfect sense, at least to me.

“The findings of Montzka and his team of researchers from CIRESoffsite link, the UK, and the Netherlands, represent the first time that emissions of one of the three most abundant, long-lived CFCs have increased for a sustained period since production controls took effect in the late 1980s.” – Source


This is a big deal folks. Whomever is causing these increased levels in R-11 emissions is directly harming the Ozone layer and is actively resetting all of the work that was done in the past thirty years. The worst of it is that R-11 is the second most abundant Ozone depleting gas in the atmosphere. In other words, they couldn’t have picked a worse refrigerant to start manufacturing again.

The race is now on to find the source of these new emissions but it is tough to say what will happen if the perpetrators are found. Is it a rogue company that is operating behind their government’s back? If so, will the government take appropriate action? Or, is it a rogue state like I think it is? If it is, then how will the world handle?  If these new emissions aren’t put into check over the next few years then real and additional damage could be done to the Ozone layer.

Thanks for reading,

Alec Johnson




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