As 197 nations agreed this week to ban refrigerants that worsen climate change, the air conditioning industry is going to have to stop using the types of delaying tactics commonly associated with the fossil fuel and tobacco industries.
Indeed, it is time for the HVAC industry to start shouldering its responsibilities to mitigate climate change and move away from fluorocarbon based refrigerants.
It’s little known by many and little admitted by those in the know, but most of the new generation ozone friendly refrigerants have horrendously high greenhouse gas impacts. The common household and automotive refrigerant R134a has a climate impact approximately 1,300 times that of carbon dioxide. Some industrial refrigerants like R507 are over three times higher, at nearly 4,000.
Yet there are a variety of natural refrigerants that can do the same job more energy efficiently, but that have had difficulty getting traction because of entrenched commercial interests. Some will say there are technical and safety reasons, but manufacturers like Leibherr, Miele and others such as Coca-Cola have had natural refrigerants in their domestic and vending machines refrigerators for years. Surprisingly, these refrigerants are more energy efficient than traditional refrigerants.
At the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games SuperDome (now Allphones Arena), a life cycle analysis comparison was undertaken between the various refrigerants. With remote bulk storage and efficient leak detection and automated shutdown equipment, there was no technical reason that the system couldn’t have been natural refrigerant based. The issues were lack of forward planning for remote storage and politically based fear.
Not every refrigerant is going to be suitable for every installation, but there is no doubt the time for using natural refrigerants as the first choice solution is now here.
Now it’s the HVAC industry that has to adapt to the changing needs of a world that is committed to eliminating ozone depletion and climate change. If air conditioning itself is not to become the target, the HVAC industry must face and meet the need for change.