Since the international ratification of the Montreal Protocol in 1987, the signatory countries have started phasing out the production and use of chlorofluorocarbons (CFC) because of the detrimental effects they have on the ozone layer. Similarly, the use of hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFC) as refrigerants, including R-22, and propellants has been steadily phased out since 2004.
The phase out of R-22 refrigerants has impacted various industries, and particularly HVAC companies. However, these impacts pale in comparison to the benefits the phase out brings not only to the environment, but also to HVAC equipment, by making everything more efficient.
R-22 refrigerant is a hydrochlorofluorocarbon (HCFC) that’s used in air conditioning systems and freezers. It’s the common name for chlorodifluoromethane, or difluoromonochloromethane, with the chemical formula CHClF2. R-22 is produced from chloroform.
Developing countries have high demand for R-22, but the chemical is currently being phased out in developed countries because of its ozone-depleting property. It’s pertinent to note, however, that R-22 has a relatively low potential of depleting the ozone layer, with only a 0.055 rating.
Despite this, scientists and policymakers no longer consider this level of risk acceptable. This is the reason for the phase out in many developed countries that have high levels of industrial activity. In the US, for example, R-22 has been largely phased out from new equipment since 2004. Based on the Montreal Protocol, which is an international treaty ratified by the US, we are required to do this in an effort to reduce HCFC consumption.
In 2020, the same treaty requires the US to reduce the consumption by 99.5% below the current baseline. However, refrigerants that have been recovered and reclaimed will still be allowed to be used beyond 2020 in order to continue servicing existing HVAC systems.
The gradual phase out of the R-22 refrigerant in the US started in 2004, and was enforced by the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), in compliance with the Montreal Protocol treaty. Further use of this refrigerant has serious environmental impacts, so its phase out aligns with greater sustainability practices that were and continue being made.
Phasing out the chemical has been gradual, simply because of how many systems are dependent on it: an abrupt stoppage of R-22 production would cost businesses and industries billions of dollars. To combat this, the EPA regulations included some exceptions and alternatives to the phase out that would help industries adjust to the new regulations.
Some of the alternative refrigerants that have lower ozone depletion potential and are available for use include:
In the United States, the phase out has succeeded in reducing HCFC consumption. The following is a short timeline that shows the corresponding reduction from the baseline consumption:
In compliance with the treaty, the domestic production and importation of R-22 is also now illegal. The continued use of this refrigerant in existing systems is still allowed.
The R-22 refrigerant phase out, although gradual, has had a significant impact on industries, businesses, and households alike. It boils down to additional costs in terms of replacing them with new ones. This process can be very costly for many large business establishments and factories.
Preventative maintenance of HVAC systems or repairs that involve the motor, compressor, and other electrical components of a system that uses R-22 refrigerant can still be made, however parts for systems compatible with R-22 are increasingly more difficult to obtain. At some point, the cost of repair outweighs the cost vs: replacement.
Refrigerants are crucial in removing heat from one area and dissipating it to another. In air conditioning systems and refrigerators, cooling is achieved by compressing the refrigerant and circulating it through a system of tubes and heat sinks. The heat in a refrigerator, room, or entire building is then dissipated outside.
Other types of refrigerants won’t work in systems that are designed for R-22, because they have specific physical properties that aren’t compatible with R-22 systems. This will again lead to pieces of equipment needing to be replaced, showing how compatibility issues can drive up costs even more.
As a silver lining, while retrofitting or replacing old HVAC systems could mean additional costs and compatibility issues, it will also mean improved systems. New HVAC systems are more efficient and cost-effective than old systems – some are even 50% more efficient than their predecessors. This means that they consume less energy which, in the long run, translates to lower electricity costs that could offset installation costs.
Ultimately, the phase-out of the R-22 refrigerant is great for the health of our planet as well as our bodies. This is because the risk of ozone depletion will be significantly reduced, meaning that the harmful effects of ultraviolet radiation will be minimized. If you’re in the Kansas City metro area and would like to chat about your commercial HVAC system, contact us today for your customized quote.