Making the Step Towards More Environmentally Friendly Refrigerants

It’s hard to believe that the Montreal Protocol was signed more than 20 years ago in 2017, but that’s when it was developed. The protocol was an international agreement that was reached between governments all over the world, who all saw that the Ozone Layer was being depleted and that if there was not a massive and urgent movement to change what we were doing to the planet, the future would not be bright.

The Montreal Protocol focused on the use of CFCs and HCFCs – gases that are commonly used as refrigerants for HVAC systems. It was agreed that they were to be phased out over time, and individual countries had a lot of leeway in terms of how quickly they would push for the phase-out and how they would encourage people and businesses to make the move to more environmentally friendly products.

Taking The Step Towards More Environmentally Friendly Refrigerants

Over the last few years, the United States has started to make the use of low Global Warning Potential and low Ozone Depletion Potential gases far more appealing. The manufacture of the less eco-friendly refrigerants, such as R-22 is no longer permitted, and while it is currently still possible to import it for the use in refilling existing units, the sale of units that rely on it is no longer permitted.  The next stage of the phase-out will be a complete ban on the sale or import of new R-22, which will occur on January 1st 2020. With this move, we can expect that R-22 will become incredibly expensive, because the only way that technicians will be able to source the gas will be to buy reclaimed R-22 from units that are decommissioned. Customers who need their units refilled will have to rely on their chosen technicians having access to large stockpiles or sourcing reclaimed gas from other clients.

On paper, recharging an air conditioning unit is not something that needs done often. The system should be mostly sealed, meaning that people don’t need to pay a lot of money to get their unit topped up unless it is leaking. If a unit is leaking R-22, and your technician is aware of this or has reasonable cause to suspect that a leak is the cause of the problem, then they are legally not allowed to recharge the unit, because that would mean that they were knowingly releasing R-22 into the atmosphere. They are required to fix the leak first.

As long as you are keeping your unit in good condition, and perform proactive maintenance to stop leaks, you should not encounter any problems. With that said, sticking with an R-22 or other HCFC based refrigerant for your HVAC unit is not a good idea. If your unit does leak, then the recharge bill could turn out to be incredibly large.

If you are in the financial situation to do so, it makes sense to invest in a newer unit that accepts a more environmentally friendly refrigerant or to have your system retrofitted so that it can accept a drop-in replacement for R-22. This will save you money in the long term, and also mean that you are doing your bit to protect the environment.

Sustainability Is A Key Consideration

The goal of the Montreal Protocol was to ensure that all of the major countries in the world are working towards a sustainable future. Some countries opted to provide incentives to homeowners and businesses to move towards natural refrigerants and low GWP products. Others put disincentives (in the form of taxes) on HCFCs.

It’s natural for businesses and individuals to be cautious when it comes to making major purchasing decisions, such as picking up a new air conditioning unit. There are a lot of factors to balance. to find a long-term, sustainable refrigerant, we need to find something that is affordable, safe, and environmentally friendly.  Freon falls down on the environmentally friendliness, while some early alternatives were either less efficient, more expensive, or could be dangerous if the HVAC unit is not properly maintained.  The good news is that over the last ten years as the full ban on R-22 drew nearer, there have been new alternatives developed that tick more of the important boxes.

Potential Alternatives to R-22

There are several popular alternatives, including HC, HFC products, as well as NH3(2L), and CO2.  Some of these have clear applications in an industrial setting, but not domestic, and vice-versa. For example, CO2 is quickly becoming a dominant choice for refrigeration in an industrial setting, and is also seeing adoption in light commercial settings and in condensing units. HFCs are becoming a popular choice for residential and commercial air conditioning units.

The challenge that we are seeing according to, is that one of the reasons that some of the refrigerants on the market today are popular is because they are affordable and generally safe. R22, R410A and R404 all have a relatively low level of flammability. Meanwhile, some of the newer low GWP products such as R1270 and R600a, while effective and having a low GWP, are flammable. There are some good options out there, however, such as R32 and N20, which are low GPW and are only mildly flammable, or in some cases non-flammable. If you are seeking a potential replacement for your current, old refrigerant, then it is a good idea to look at every aspect of the refrigerant to make sure that you are getting something that meets your requirements.

Upgrading your air conditioning may seem like an expensive step but it is something that can be well worth the money. In the long term if your air conditioning is more than ten years old then you could save a lot of money on running costs, and reduce the risk of needing to have repair works and recharges done, by updating to a newer, more efficient unit that also has the benefit of not having any excessive wear and tear on it. The upgrade will pay for itself over the lifetime of the HVAC system.