The Environmental Impact of HCFC Refrigerants, CFC Refrigerants, and HFC Refrigerants

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The Environmental Impact of HCFC Refrigerants, CFC Refrigerants, and HFC Refrigerants

[sg_popup id=”20707″ event=”hover”][/sg_popup]Ever wondered about how refrigerants harm the environment?

HCFC refrigerants, CFC refrigerants, and HFC refrigerants all are harmful to environmental sustainability and are considered greenhouse gases. They all have high global warming potential (gwp) and are often found in air conditioning and other refrigerants, depleting ozone molecules.

In this post, we explore how, and we’ll look at the environmental impact of refrigerants from air conditioning systems, including their ozone depletion and global warming potential. We’ll also explain how proper refrigerant tracking can decrease their impact on the environment. 

The Environmental Impact of CFC Refrigerants, HCFC Refrigerants, and HFC Refrigerants

It’s a known fact that the most common refrigerants used in refrigeration and air conditioning systems today significantly harm the environment and increase our environmental footprint due to elements such as chlorine atoms.

These include HFCs, CFCs and HCFCs, all which are considered a greenhouse gas. 

Chlorofluorocarbons, CFC refrigerants, 1st generation of refrigerants

CFCs are the first generation of refrigerant gases; they deplete the ozone and cause global warming. They are considered the worst refrigerants in terms of environmental impact. 

Hydrochlorofluorocarbons, HCFC refrigerants2nd generation of refrigerants

HCFC refrigerants (the 2nd generation of refrigerants) are ozone depleting and have a high global warming potential (high-GWP); importantly, they are under an internationally supported phaseout.

For example, HCFC-22 or R-22 is one of the most popular HCFC refrigerants in use, and it will reach its final phase out on January 1, 2020. On that date, new or imported R-22 will no longer be allowed in the United States.


Before we delve into the third most environmentally harmful type of refrigerants (HFCs), it should be noted that CFC and HCFC refrigerants are under an internationally supported phase out per the Montreal Protocol.

Put into effect on Jan. 1, 1989, the Montreal Protocol is an international agreement constructed to protect the stratospheric ozone layer. It also signifies when the world came to an agreement on the environmental impact of refrigerants.

Moving right along, let’s now talk about the 3rd generation of refrigerants, HFCs:

Hydrofluorocarbons, HFC refrigerants

When it comes to this 3rd generation of refrigerants, this is where things get complicated. You see, HFCs were once thought to be a good substitute for HCFCs and other ozone depleting substances due to their thermodynamic properties; however, recently, HFC refrigerants have come under increased international scrutiny for their effects on global warming (i.e., they have a high-GWP). This explains the growing support for the Kigali Amendment and legislation under the Environmental Protection Agency.

Now that we’ve explained the refrigerants with the most environmental impact, you’re probably wondering, “What harmful environmental effects are my air conditioners and refrigerators causing? What’s the impact?”


What harmful effects on the environment are my air conditioners and refrigerators causing?

Take a look at these two simple infographics ⬇️ below.

We’ve created them to explain the potentially harmful effects your air conditioners and refrigerators have on the environment.

Figure 1


Figure 1 shows the impact of the average commercial property leak rates on energy and emissions.

As seen in the chart, an HVAC system that leaks refrigerants (i.e., at the average leak rate of 25-30%) increases operational material and labor costs. At the same time, there is a one for one leak ratio to energy efficiency loss, which increases operational energy costs, erodes performance, and even diminishes the longevity of the HVAC equipment.


Figure 2

environmental impact of refrigerants upon the average commercial building
Figure 2 shows the environmental impact refrigerants leaks can have upon the average commercial building. If you assume that your building portfolio has an average HVAC system leak rate of 35%, that’s

✔ equivalent to roughly 526, 321 kg of carbon released into the atmosphere unnecessarily per year; or

✔ 19 tanks of refrigerant, or the annual emission of 129 cars.


As you can see, refrigerants can have a major effect upon the environment ⚠️, and it’s ultimately up to you on what that refrigerant impact will be at your building portfolio and corporate sustainability initiatives. 🔍

If you’re wondering how to minimize the environmental impact of refrigerants, it starts with tracking all your HVAC/R activity at all times, closely monitoring refrigerant usage, and reducing leak rates. 👍

And if you’re looking for a partner in refrigerant tracking, turn to Trakref. We’re a software corporation that has been in the regulatory compliance software and environmental compliance calendar software space for years. As an environmental software provider, we make sure our refrigerant capabilities will help you in your journey toward compliance and sustainability, as well as helping you with ESG reporting and answering sustainability audit questions. Get in touch with a Refrigerant Geek today.


Want to learn more about managing the environmental impact of refrigerants?

Trakref teamed up with Vanderbilt University Law School to write a research report on private environmental governance and the case of refrigerants. Get the free report now.
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