Refrigerants and the Challenge of Lessening Their Impact to the Environment
Refrigerants are a necessity of modern life. Refrigerants allow us to keep our food fresh in our home refrigerators and keep our cars & homes cool on hot days. Unlike commercial or industrial applications, which use ammonia cooling and large heat exchange towers, residential applications usually utilize chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) or hydro- fluorocarbons (HFCs) as a refrigerant. These are preferred in residential cooling systems because they require a relatively small heat exchange system, are non-flammable, and are safe in low concentrations. Evaporative cooling, which is an effective air conditioning method in dry climates, is not effective in cooling homes in humid climates.
Unfortunately, CFCs are very effective at breaking down the Ozone (O3) Layer which prevents ultraviolet light from reaching the earth’s surface. The Montreal Protocol, which was initiated in 1987, limits the use of CFCs to limit the damage to the Ozone Layer. Also, HFCs are powerful greenhouse gases that heat the atmosphere which contributes to global warming. The Kyoto Protocol, which was initiated in 1997, limits the use of HFCs in order to reduce global warming. These two protocols show that there is an international desire to reduce damage to the ozone layer and global warming. Nevertheless, creating treaties and other superficial public demonstrations of concern are not going to create enduring change on the health of the environment. Plus, people don’t seem to want to deal with extremely hot temperatures without some form of refrigerant.
Creating new, and safer, refrigerants are a priority for everyone because we all need refrigeration, in some form or another, in our daily lives. There are some organizations that are funding research into creating refrigerants that are better for the environment. For instance, the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) is currently funding research into a new substance that will not harm the ozone layer and will have a minimal impact on the environment. However, this new product has only been applied to commercial uses and has not been tested in residential home appliances. Hopefully, with further research this project may be able to create products for home and automotive use. Currently, a profitable, and environmentally friendly, method of refrigeration to the public remains challenging.
No doubt, there are many issues facing the average consumer in today’s world. Those consumers are, more often than not, focused on caring for their families and getting every ounce of value for their hard earned money. Therefore, there is little or no reason for companies and private funding to invest in researching this important issue. The first question is how can companies can deliver this safer option and maintain their earnings for their investors. The other question is whether the public would be willing to pay a price premium for this environmental option, whatever it may be, in order for companies to remain viable during the product’s introduction. The fact remains, further public awareness on this issue will create more charitable funding, corporate research, and effective environmental policies.