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What is refrigerant? What is it found in? What are some of the common types?

What is refrigerant and what is it found in?

A refrigerant is a substance used in a heat cycle to transfer heat from one area, and remove it to another. Usually a gas at room temperature. Found in pretty much everything that cools, and sometimes in things that heat, most commonly air conditioners, fridges, freezers, and vehicle air conditioners. Traditionally, fluorocarbons, especially chlorofluorocarbons (CFC’s), were used as refrigerants, but they are being phased out because of their ozone depleting effects. Other common refrigerants used in various applications are ammonia, sulfur dioxide, and non-halogenated hydrocarbons such as propane. Most refrigerants found in end of life devices are ozone depleting and global warming inducing compounds.

Common refrigerants include:

R12

  • 10,900 times more powerful a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide
  • An ozone depleting CFC
  • Mainly found in fridges and freezers
  • Found in approximately 65% of fridges/freezers at transfer stations and scrap yards
  • Not found in fridges or freezers manufactured or imported after 1995 as it was banned under the Montreal protocol. Illegal to buy or sell.
  • Replaced by R134a in 1995.
  • Venting from the average fridge or freezer is the equivalent of 6 months of carbon emissions from the average home

R134a

  • 1,430 times more powerful a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide
  • No harmful effects on the ozone layer
  • Mainly found in fridges and freezers
  • Found in approximately 30% of fridges/freezers at transfer stations and scrap yards
  • Venting from the average fridge or freezer is the equivalent of 1 month of emissions from the average home.

R22

  • 1,810 times more powerful a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide
  • An ozone depleting HCFC (a less potent type of CFC)
  • Mainly found in ‘window rattler’ air conditioners
  • Venting from the average air conditioner is the equivalent of 2 months of carbon emissions from the average home

R410a

  • 2,088 times more powerful a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide
  • No harmful effects on the ozone layer
  • Mainly found in split system air conditioners
  • Venting from the average air conditioner is the equivalent of 2 months of carbon emissions from the average home

R290, R600, R600a, R601, R601a

  • A group of hydrocarbon refrigerants including butane, isobutane, pentane, and isopentane
  • Extremely flammable
  • 2-4 times more powerful a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. Legal to dump in atmosphere.
  • No harmful effects on the ozone layer
  • Mainly found in newer fridges and freezers, less than 5% of total units.

R717

  • Anhydrous ammonia
  • Extremely flammable
  • No global warming potential. Legal to dump in atmosphere
  • Presents the biggest OHS issues of all units when decomissioning. It is corrosive and toxic – exposure can cause death when inhaled at concentrations as low as 25 parts per million.
  • No harmful effects on the ozone layer
  • Mainly found in three way fridges and freezers ie. absorption units, less than 5% of total units.

 

There are hundreds of refrigerants out there, those listed above are the ones you are most likely to come across at a transfer station or recycling centre.

The average fridge or freezer usually contains 100-500 grams refrigerant, with an air conditioner usually carrying 1-2kg of refrigerant.