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Understanding Refrigerants: Global Warming Potential

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Refrigerants are liquids that change properties as a cooling agent for refrigerators and air conditioning units.  The most common ones are chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs), and hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) have been the dominant refrigerants for decades. Since they deplete the ozone layer or contribute to global warming, have been or being phased out. At some point, HVAC classes will reflect these changes in the coming years.

From CFCs to HFCs

CFCs used to be the refrigerant of choice for air conditioning and refrigeration systems. However, in the 1980s, scientists discovered that CFCs played a significant role in the depletion of the ozone layer, so developed countries abandoned all production of this refrigerant by 1995. CFCs were replaced with HCFCs, which have much lower ozone depleting potentials. Many countries are looking at a refrigerant known as hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) to replace HCFC refrigerants. HFCs have no ozone depleting potential and are the refrigerant commonly used in the industry today. So, problem solved right? Well, not quite. Although they don’t damage the ozone layer, HFCs contribute to global warming.

Increased Demand for Refrigerants

The proposed elimination of HFCs in the next 30 years or so and what other refrigerants may be used, you may learn in refrigeration school is also welcome news for environmentalists, especially considering that global demand for refrigeration and air conditioning is on the rise due to the economic expansion of developing countries.

The Future of Refrigerants

The search for refrigerants with low global warming potential (GWP) to replace more harmful HFCs is continuing.

Companies like Honeywell are to looking into redesigning appliances like air conditioners and refrigerant applications that have a lower GWP. As recently as August 2015, the company Chemours also introduced two additional low GWP refrigerants in the U.S. for commercial use. Chemours also said that additional low GWP products are on the way.

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Good News for HVAC Techs

As an HVAC or refrigeration student, it’s important to know about the refrigerants currently being used and the next generation of alternatives. Though you can see that there are some challenges ahead when it comes to finding refrigerants with low GWPs, you can feel better knowing your work will have a smaller impact on the environment than once was the case.