R-125, or Pentafluroethane, is one of the most prominent refrigerants in use across the world. It can be found in your grocery store, your office buildings, and even your home air conditioner. If supply runs out or there is a price constraint then it is felt across the world. It is truly astounding how one refrigerant can have such an impact across the industry.
Now, some of you may be thinking to yourself well I’ve never come across R-125 in the field, how can it be one of the most popular refrigerants? Well folks, R-125 is one of the key ingredients in a large amount of refrigerant blends. In fact, R-125 can be found in nearly twenty different types of blended refrigerants. Including some of the ever popular R-404A and R-410A refrigerants that we see and use daily. Along with those it is also found in R-402A, R-402B, R-408A, R-417A, R-419A, R-421A, R-421B, R-422A, R-422B, R-422C, R-422D, R-424A, R-426A, R-428A, R-434A, R-437A, and R-507[A].
The Rise & Incoming Fall of R-125
R-125 came to prominence at around the same time the world was phasing down and phasing out the Ozone depleting CFC and HCFC refrigerants. (R-12 or R-22 Freon.) The world needed an alternative solution that wasn’t going to affect the Ozone, that was non-toxic, non-flammable, and that kept an obtainable price point.
The solution was HFC refrigerants. Just as R-12 and R-22 were the ‘Kings’ of their refrigerant classifications, I consider R-125 the ‘King’ of HFC refrigerants. As I pointed out above it’s found all over the place. This quick transition away from CFCs and HCFCs resolved the problem of the Ozone but now as the world began to use HFCs everywhere a new problem emerged.
Instead of worrying about the Ozone we now had to worry about Global Warming Potential from ‘Super Pollutants.’ These Super Pollutants were chemicals or artificial products that could get trapped in the atmosphere and that were much more potent then any naturally occurring element. To measure these chemicals the Global Warming Potential scale was invented.
Like with every scale a baseline is needed and in this example we used Carbon Dioxide as our baseline measurement of one. R-125’s Global Warming Potential, or GWP, is rated at three-thousand four-hundred and fifty. That means that R-125 is over three-thousand times more potent then Carbon Dioxide. When released or vented these gases get stuck in the atmosphere and directly contribute to Global Warming. HFC refrigerants are a great example of Greenhouse Gases.
Due to the impact and extremely large GWP that R-125 and all of it’s blends contain there has been a push from all countries and governments to phase down and eventually phase out these high GWP refrigerants. I’m sure most of you have heard of a lot of these by now. There have been agency regulations, legislation, and there was even an amendment added to the Montreal Protocol known as the Kigali Amendment to phase out HFC refrigerants. Just look at the bad wrap R-404A has gotten as of late. Many many customers and manufacturers are switching away from 404A and over to lower GWP HFC alternatives, HFO alternatives, or even over to Hydrocarbons.
Everyone wants to stop using R-125 as quickly as we can to prevent any more gases from being trapped in the atmosphere. 404A and the other lesser used blends are first on the list, but while the push for R-410A to be phased down hasn’t really come yet I can assure you that it will be coming soon. The days of R-125 and it’s use in blending are numbered.
Pricing & Shortages
The problem with R-125 being used in so many refrigerant blends is that when there is a price increase or a shortage then that shortage ripples across the industry and moves it’s way down the ladder towards the blends like 404A and 410A.
As an example, there was a worldwide shortage of R-125 during the summer of 2017. The majority of R-125 is sourced from China and something happened over the spring and summer of 2017 that caused the shortage that we all felt in our pocket books. I spent some time researching why this happened. The most common explanation that I found is that the chemical Flurospar experienced a forty percent price increase towards the beginning of 2017. (Flurospar is a main ingredient in the R-125 refrigerant.) This price increase caused a direct effect on the price of R-125 raising it by one-hundred and thirty percent. The price increase on Flurospar was blamed on China’s strengthening of environmental laws that directly affect the mining industry. So, because China wanted to become more environmentally conscious we all paid the price.
Depending on where you were in the world when this shortage hit you could have seen your prices raise by forty or fifty percent on 125 blends. In some cases though, especially over in the European Union, prices shot up hundreds of percents.
At this point there is no telling what will happen in 2018 on R-125, but if you ever wanted to make a guess as to what the refrigerant price will do over the summer then there is no better barometer than R-125.