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Refrigerants and Freon

Air conditioner freon and refigerants

Air Conditioner refrigerants, often known as freon, are damaging the atmosphere and contributing to global warming. Here we discuss chloroflourocarbons (CFCs) sold as R12 and hydroflourocarbons (HFCs) sold as R22 and the phasing out of dangerous refigerants and replacement with R134A and other gases.

See the full Fixed Abode article here "Nasty Gas"

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CFCs Are Banned Refrigerants

On April 27th 2007 an article appeared on the front page of the Jakarta Post which highlighted an issue I have been concerned about for some time, the widespread use of banned CFCs in Indonesia. It was good to see that finally this serious issue is in the spotlight.

Refrigerants and Freon

First we need to understand about refrigerants, the gases used to make refrigerators work. These gasses are sometimes known as Freon, in fact freon is a tradename used by DuPont for their refrigerants. There are a number of different gasses used but the nasty one we need to know about is R12 (also known as Freon 12).

For you chemistry buffs R12 is dichlorodiflouromethane which is a chloroflourocarbon halomethane. To the rest of us it is a CFC. R12 is used in refrigerators and as an aerosol propellant. CFCs cause serious damage to the ozone layer that protects us from harmful UV radiation from the sun.

HCFCs (hydroflourocarbons) have replaced CFCs(chloroflourocarbon)

Now before you start having nightmares of hot sticky nights under a fan I should point out that for many purposes including air conditioners, hydroflourocarbons (HCFCs) are used. HCFCs are substantially less damaging to the ozone layer than CFCs but still contain ozone destroying chlorine. In addition the manufacture of HCFCs results in a by product that contributes significantly to global warming.

In 1987 under the Montreal agreement a worldwide phaseout in the manufacture of CFCs was agreed by “developed” nations and its manufacture was discontinued in 1995 because it is destroying the ozone layer. Unfortunately many nations are not classified as “developed” including India, China and, of course, Indonesia.

Unfortunately 12 years on and Indonesia is still using large quantities of the stuff. Indonesia has an allowance of 400 tons of CFC per year but is in fact using 4,000 tons a year which is produced in China. The allowance is presumably to avoid hardship because of widespread ownership of old equipment that uses R12.

R12 is widely used in Indonesia in car air conditioning systems and refrigerators. If you buy a new home refrigerator it will probably be CFC free. It may say so on a label on the outside. Commercial refrigerators that have been regassed will probably use R12. A substitute chemical R134a is in fact available but unfortunately R134a is between 2 and 3 times the price of R12.

How To Check The Gas Being Used

It is fairly easy to check what is being used. If you see an air conditioning or refrigeration technician he may be carrying a steel canister about 33cms high and 24cms in diameter and painted light beige or green. On the side of the canister will be a printed circle within which are the letters R12, R22 or R134a.

R12 is a banned CFC. R22 is an HCFC currently legally used and R134a is the legal substitute for R12.  If you ask your technician he may tell you that a canister with R12 on the side actually contains R134a – it probably won’t since the canisters are not supposed to be refilled.

HCFCs are also due to be phased out over the next ten to twelve years under the Montreal agreement and replaced by other chemicals most notably R410A.

What does freon do?

Basically it evaporates and condenses easily and at a convenient temperature.

In the internal unit of a split air conditioner liquid freon absorbs heat from the room and evaporates. The gas then runs along a pipe to the condensor/compressor in the external unit where it is pumped up to a higher pressure to condense it back to liquid. As it condenses it gives off heat which is blown away by the fan. (Boyle’s Law and all that.) The freon is then pumped back to the internal unit where the pressure is released allowing it to expand. Again the freon evaporates soaking up heat and the cycle continues ad nauseum.

Unfortunately freon is pretty thin stuff and, being under pressure, has a tendency to leak out easily. Bad for the environment and bad for you because you have to get it refilled now and then.

It Is Important To Avoid Using CFCs

Buy CFC free refrigerators.

Do not allow R12 (in a light beige canister) to be used in your refrigerator or car air conditioning system. Request the substitute R134a is used instead.

This may be difficult but we have to start somewhere. Unless we, the customers, start to demand action then the air conditioning mechanics will continue to use what they can buy readily and cheaply.

You also need to be aware that you cannot simply replace the gas with the substitute. New cars and refrigerators will probably be CFC free but once serviced will probably have R12 in them. If R12 has been used some work may be needed to replace it with R134a. It may be necessary to change the operating oil in the compressor, probably the seals and fittings and perhaps the compressor itself may have to be changed.

As I have already said air conditioners are not a worry for the time being because they use HCFCs usually in the form of R22 (in a light green canister).

The Indonesian government has tried to address the issue by supply a number of processing machines across the country to be used to salvage and recycle CFCs. This is probably ineffective. It is highly probable that the mechanic at your local bengkel probably would never have heard of such a machine, would not know where to find one and certainly wouldn’t bother to use one if he could. When working on cooling equipment the gas is usually released into the atmosphere. The customer pays the bill for regassing and the bengkel makes more money.

Perhaps we can all help to get the message out and help to save our planet.

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Copyright © Phil Wilson May 2007
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