Air Conditioner Refrigerant

How does air conditioner refrigerant affect our environment? All of us have probably heard about the ozone layer which is located 35 miles above the ground. This upper layer of our earth's atmosphere protects the earth from the sun's ultraviolet rays by reflecting them back to space. UV rays are harmful to the plant, marine life and human beings on the earth.

How does air conditioner relate to the ozone layer? It was discovered in the mid 1980s that the commonly used air conditioner refrigerant has a damaging impact on the ozone layer.

At that time, the refrigerants that used then were known as CFC(chlorofluorocarbons) and HCFCs(hydrochlorofluorocarbons). CFCs are a family of chemicals that contain chlorine, fluorine and carbon. The chlorine content in these compounds cause the depletion of the ozone layer.

R410A Refrigerant

R410A Refrigerant

This discovery prompted the signing of Montreal Protocol of 1987, an agreement signed by 180 nations that target to phase out the production of CFCs by 1995 and HCFCs by 2030. New refrigerants that are being used to replace these CFCs are HFCs(hydrofluorocarbons) and refrigerant blends(Azeotropic, Zeotropic). In summary, the 4 commonly used refrigerants that you can find today are:

  • CFCs
  • HCFCs
  • HFCs
  • Refrigerant blends

The future commonly used refrigerants will be in the last two categories. Among the currently widely used ones are R-134a, R407C and R410A.

More discovery on the causes of global warming had prompted many countries to sign the Kyoto Protocol in 1997. The main reason this was being done was to reduce the greenhouse effect caused by man-made greenhouse gas emissions.

Greenhouse gases include:

  • Carbon dioxide
  • Nitrogen dioxide
  • Carbon monoxide
  • CFCs, HCFCs, HFCs
  • Ozone
  • Methane
  • Water Vapor 

In the field of HVACR, newer refrigerant such as R32 has been widely publicized as a replacement for R-410A and R-407C as this gas has a lower Global Warming Potential. Lower GWP will reduce the greenhouse effect hence reducing the global warming effect. Many manufacturers are beginning to design and develop HVAC equipment using this refrigerant.

Do your part to preserve mother nature...

CFC Refrigerants

These refrigerants were developed more than 70 years ago and are harmful to our respiratory systems and the ozone layer. Their production was stopped since 1995 but are still being used widely in existing residential air conditioning units as many equipments have a lifetime of up to 30 years. Today's refrigerants used are from reclaimed units that are no longer in operation. The common ones still used are:

  • R-11      CCl3F
  • R-12      CCl2F2
  • R-113    CCl2FCClF2
  • R-114    CClF2CClF2
  • R-115    CClF2CF3

HCFC Refrigerants

These air conditioner refrigerant is considered partially halogenated as they consists of methane or ethane in combination with chlorine and fluorine. They are shorter lifespan and are less destructive to the ozone layer compared to CFCs.

They are an interim solution to a totally "free from chlorine" refrigerant that are being developed. Their production are scheduled to be phased out totally in 2030. The common ones used are:

  • R-22      CHClF2
  • R-123    CHCl2CF3

R-22 is used extensively in residential, commercial and industrial applications. The schedule of phaseout :

  • 2015 - Production freeze and use limitations
  • 2020 - Prohibited for new air conditioning and refrigeration use
  • 2030 - Total phaseout

HFC Refrigerants

These air conditioner refrigerant contain no chlorine atom and is not destructive to the ozone layer though they have a slight effect on global warming. R-134a is used in new systems that are specially designed for its use. The common HFCs are:

  • R-134a    CH2FCF3
  • R-125      CHF2CF3

The 1997 Kyoto Protocol puts R-134a as one of the 6 greenhouse gases that must be reduced. There is no phaseout date for this refrigerant and it is expected to be highly used in the HVAC industry.

Refrigerant Blends

These air conditioner refrigerant are also known as "azeotropic" and"zeotropic". Their use is increasing as they are environmental friendly. The setback is that the total air conditioning systems production cost is higher.

However, as more manufacturers switch to this type of refrigerants, the cost/unit will drop eventually. The common refrigerant blends used in the air conditioning industry are:

  • R-410A    CH2F2/CHF2-CF3
  • R-407c

R-410A are used as a replacement refrigerant for residential air conditioning applications.

R-407C are used as R-22 replacement.

Recovery, Recycling and Reclaiming of Refrigerants

Laws have been passed to prevent the release of CFC refrigerants into the atmosphere. The steps taken are:


The act of removing the refrigerant from a system and store it in an external container. No testing or processing is needed in any way.


Refrigerant is cleaned for reuse by oil separation and passes though devices such as core filter-driers. This procedure reduce the moisture, matter and acidity of the refrigerant for reuse. It is usually done for jobs on the field or service shops.


Reprocess the refrigerant to new product specifications which may include distillation process. This can only be done by manufacturing plants where chemical analysis is required. Highly equipped local service shops may have this facility as well.

Consumer Role

How can consumer like you play your part in the effect to keep our earth green? You can do that by purchasing air conditioning systems that uses new refrigerant such as R-134a, R-407C or R-410A.

Most equipment are labelled with stickers that indicate the type of refrigerant used. Examples are "ozone friendly" sticker or "R-410A" sticker.

If the HVACR equipment is available, choose lower Global Warming Potential refrigerant such as R32 to help reduce the greenhouse effect compared to if you were to use a higher GWP refrigerant.

See Also 

R32 Refrigerant 
This newer refrigerant is poised to replace R-22 and R-410A refrigerants as it has zero ODP and lower GWP.

Refrigerant Color Codes 
See the color and color codes of the CFCs, HCFCs and HFCs refrigerants. 

8 facts about refrigerant phaseout date 
Facts you need to know about refrigerant phaseout date such as R-22 before making a decision with regards to purchasing or manufacturing air conditioner equipments. 

Freon and the early history of refrigerants 
Read a brief history of FREON and its impact on the environment. 

R-134a Refrigerant 
Find out the properties and applications of R-134a ozone friendly refrigerant. This refrigerant has been designed to replace CFCs and HCFCs refrigerants. 

Methods of refrigerants detection 
Find out the various methods that are used to detect the refrigerant of a leaking system. 

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