The Environmental Impact of Refrigerants

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The Environmental Impact of Refrigerants

Ever wondered about how refrigerants harm the environment?

In this post, we explore that very question, and we’ll look at the environmental impact of refrigerants, including their ozone depletion and global warming potential.

The Environmental Impact of Refrigerants

It’s a known fact that the most common refrigerants in HVAC/R systems today significantly harm the environment.

These include CFC, HCFC, and HFC refrigerants.

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; 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.

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. 🔍

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. 👍


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.

Get the FREE Report




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