R-12 refrigerant is one of the founding fathers of the refrigeration and air conditioning world. While there were many other refrigerants that came before the invention of R-12 there were none quite up to par and none that had all of what R-12 had to offer. But, before we get into why the refrigerant was banned let’s first take a look at some of it’s history and where it came from.
Prior to the 1930’s there were various types of refrigerants being used across the country and the world. These could range from Ammonia, Carbon Dioxide, and various other Hydrocarbons such as Propane and Isobutane. While these refrigerants did work and did provide users with a colder room or storage area they also came with various problems.
These problems could range from all over. In some cases the refrigerant was toxic if breathed in large quantities like Ammonia. In others the refrigerant was too flammable for safe use like Propane and Isobutane. While Carbon Dioxide was not toxic or flammable it’s downside was that it required an immense amount of pressure for it to complete the refrigeration cycle. Each of these refrigerants were used as a mish mash across different industries. There was not one industry leader.
All of that changed in the early 1930’s when the DuPont corporation formed a partnership with General Motors. It was during this partnership that a series of new refrigerants were invented. These new refrigerants fell under the classifications of CFCs and HCFCs. One of these newly invented refrigerants was R-12 Freon.
History of R-12
R-12 was one of the first refrigerants that checked all of the boxes. It was efficient. It was safe. It was non-flammable. It didn’t require immense operating pressure. All of these factors caused the amount of use of R-12 and other CFC/HCFCs to explode over the decades.
By the time 1980 hit R-12 and other CFC/HCFC refrigerants were found all over the globe. R-12 was found in nearly every car that had air conditioning. It was at this same time that a team of scientists began to notice that the Ozone layer was beginning to weaken and that there was a hole forming. The Ozone layer is a layer in the Earth’s Stratosphere that acts as a shield from ultraviolet radiation. Without it we would all be exposed to much more intense radiation that could result in increases of skin cancers and other ailments.
Alarmed at their findings the scientists alerted their governments about the problem. This eventually led to a global meeting of hundreds of countries in Montreal, Quebec. During this meeting a treaty was signed by all countries. This treaty became known as the Montreal Protocol. The treaty aimed at phasing down and phasing out various types of chemicals and agents that were contributing to the damage of the Ozone layer.
One of the first targets of global phase down was none other then R-12 refrigerant. At that time R-12 was used widely in automobiles. There was a set model year where there would be a hard stop across the country. When that date came no new vehicles would be using R-12 and would instead be transitioned over to the HFC refrigerant R-134a. (R-134a does not harm the Ozone layer.)
It was almost like ripping off a band aid. Rip it off and get it over with. That’s exactly what we did by transitioning over to the R-134a HFC refrigerant. All of the older vehicles that were using R-12 would eventually breakdown and retire. It was the beginning of the end of R-12. Within a decade or two the last remaining R-12 cars would be off the road. Sure, there will still be those collectors out there who drive vintage R-12 systems but the amount is negligible.
In conclusion folks R-12 Freon was banned due to the damage that it caused to the Ozone layer. The Chlorine found in CFC refrigerants like R-12 would not break down in the atmosphere when vented or leaked. The Chlorine would then erode the Ozone bit by bit. By having R-12 no longer in use we have begun to see the Ozone heal. Hopefully in another generator all of the damage from the 20th century will be undone.