Did you know “Freon” is being phased out?
I didn’t, I found out from my HVAC service technician. By January 1, 2020, it will be illegal for companies to produce or import Freon in the United States. Not believeing it at first, I decided to do some research.
TLDR: The refigerant (R-22) used in AC systems before 2010, will no longer be produced or imported starting on January 1, 2020. You’ll still be able to purchase R-22 to top off your system, but it will only come from R-22 recycling processes, meaning prices will be going up!
What is Freon?
I, probably like you, never gave much thought to what Freon actually is. All I knew was that it’s a magic chemical that turns hot air cold. Turns out, it’s a brand name for a portfolio of refrigerants and propellants by the DuPont company. The term is so ubiquitous that everyone calls refrigerant “Freon”.
Freon can refer to a bunch of different refigerant compounds. The “Freon” that’s in my AC unit at home is R-22. R-22 is an HCFC (Hydro-chloroflourocarbon), which is a type of CFC (Chloroflourocarbon). The key thing to remember about CFCs, is that they’re bad for the environment, specifically, the Ozone layer.
Why is it called R-22?
R-22 is the ASHRAE number for Chlorodifluoromethane. The ANSI/ASHRAE 34-2016 standard describes safety classifications and provides a shorthand naming convention for refrigerant (i.e. R-22, R-11, R-12).
The name R-22 indicates a couple of things. R means it's a "fluorinated alkanes" (it's a Freon). 22 is a sort of encoding for the number of atoms of carbon, hydrogen and flourine. To decode, add 90. For example: `22 + 90 = 112` → `1C 1H 2FL`.
The Montreal Protocol and ODS
Substances that abuse the Ozone layer and are now collectively called ozone-depleting substances or ODS for short. ODS were first discovered by scientists back in the 1970s when they realized that all these CFCs were wreaking havoc on the Ozone layer. That’s bad because the Ozone layer is what protects us from the Sun’s harmful ultraviolet UV-B rays. UV-B rays are the radiation that causes sunburn.
To grade how harmful an ODS is to the environment, we use a metric called Ozone Depletion Potential (ODP)). ODP is measured on a scale from zero to one, with larger numbers being worse for the environment.
In 1987, the Montreal Protocol was put into place. It’s an international treaty establishing a plan to protect The Ozone layer from ODS. It works by putting ODS into phase out groups, reducing the amount of ODS that may be legally produced or imported into a country year after year. Countries are divided into developed and developing countries. Developed countries are placed on faster timelines than developing countries.
In the United States, the Clean Air Act Sections 601–607 implements the Montreal Protocol’s phase out plan. It classifies ODS into to 2 categories. Class 1 ODS which have an ODP
> 0.2 and Class 2 ODS which have an ODP
< 0.2. Class 1 ODs were phased out and completely banned from production and import in 1996.
As an example, R-11, developed in the 1930s, was one of the original CFC based refrigerant. It was deemed Class 1 (with an ODS of 1) and completely banned from production in 1996 for developed countries, 2010 for developing countries.
Class 2 ODS and R-22 Phase Out
R-22, an HCFC, was used as a transitionary refigerant replacement for those early CFC refrigerant. R-22 has an ODP of 0.05 and this deemed a Class 2 ODS. HCFCs are to be completely phased out of production by 2030. According to epa.gov - Phaseout of Class II Ozone-Depleting Substances:
|2015||No production or import of any other HCFCs, except as refrigerants in equipment manufactured before January 1, 2020||90%|
|2020||No production or import of HCFC-142b and HCFC-22||99.5%|
|2030||No production or import of any HCFCs||100.0%|
R-410A, R-22’s replacement
The Clean Air Act enforced regulations preventing new HVAC units from using R-22 starting in 2010. Newer units use R-410A, a 50⁄50 mixture of R-32 and R-125. While R-410A has an ODP of 0, eliminating its effect on the Ozone layer, it still has a high GWP (Global Warming Potential) of ~2,088 according to Wikipedia. Since the Montreal Protocol is only focused on Ozone Depletion this metric is not accounted for currently by environmental regulations.
Organizations and Regulations
- ozone.unep.org: The Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone layer
- epa.gov: International Actions - The Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone layer
- epa.gov: Ozone Protection under Title VI of the Clean Air Act
- Wikipedia: List of Refrigerants
- Chemours: Freon™ refrigerants
- Chemours: Freon™ 22 (R-22) refrigerant
- Freon™ 22 (R-22) Refrigerant - Safety Data Sheet
- Chemours: Freon™ 410A refrigerant
- Freon™ 410A (R-410A) Refrigerant - Safety Data Sheet