As of January 1st 2020, it will be forbidden to make, sell or import R-22 refrigerant. If you have an air conditioner that relies on that refrigerant, then you will find that refilling the refrigerant will become incredibly expensive, since the only R-22 on the market will be the stock that has been gathered by maintenance companies, or what can be salvaged from decommissioned units.
R-22 refrigerant is being phased out because it is harmful to the ozone layer. You may have heard about the initiatives to protect the ozone layer, and about the ban on CFCs, and now H-CFCs, but there is little information out there about R-20.
What is R-20 Refrigerant?
R-22 is actually made from R-20, and R-20 is a substance that you are probably aware of under another name. R-20 is also known as Chloroform. It is an organic substance that has a sweet, distinctive smell, and that is used in anesthetic, refrigerant, and even pesticides. It is best known for its anesthetic properties, and it is a common movie trope to show someone be knocked out by breathing in the scent of chloroform. This trope has some basis in truth, and the government classes the solvent as a highly hazardous, and strictly regulated, substance.
R-22 is made from R-20. Worldwide production of R-22 is increasing, because while R-22 is being phased out in the USA and other parts of the western world, it is being used more and more in India, China, and other developing countries that are just starting to adopt mainstream use of air conditioners.
The names of the refrigerants are particularly confusing because there are several that fall into the category of ‘Freon’ – including R-22, R-12, R-13B1 and R-502. However, just as we use the word ‘hoover’ to refer to any brand of vacuum cleaner, most people mean ‘R-22’ when they say ‘Freon’, because the Chemours Company owns the trademark for the name. R-22 Freon, or Chlordifluoromethan, is a CFC that goes under several names. CFCs are nothing new in and of themselves – indeed the first CFCs were synthesized in the late 19th century, and they became a mainstream thing in the 1920s when General Motors started looking for a replacement for ammonia, which was the main refrigerant at the time. Ammonia is highly noxious and is considered to be unsafe.
Freon, in the R-12 form, was made for the first time in 1930. It has been banned now, because of the issue with CFCs and the ozone layer. R-20 and R-22 came into use as replacements for ammonia and R-12, and they were actually a step up in terms of safety, but they were not completely benign, and as more research was done it was discovered that actually, they are still damaging the ozone layer – and the more they are used, the more damage will be done. That’s why there is such a push for replacements.
R-20 is Everyhwere
Unfortunately, R-22 and therefore R-20 is near-ubiquitous. It is used in homes, offices, hotels, and hospitals all over the world, let alone just this country. The refrigerant is used in most older systems, and even some systems that were installed after 2010 – when the first stages of the phase-out took effect, may have been “dry shipped” and had R-22 added later. Because of this, and because of the fact that it is still legal to buy R-22 for the maintenance of existing systems, the phase-out has been slower than expected.
Alternatives to R-20
Systems that were designed to work with R-22 refrigerant will not work with the other, newer brands of refrigerant that are intended for more modern systems. Ot is possible to retrofit older systems, and if the compressor is changed out then you may be able to use other refrigerants, but this is a short-term solution, and the entire system will eventually need replaced. There are some limited options that may work for an older system, however, such as Bluon (also known as TDX-20). This is a refrigerant that is compatible with most R-22 systems, that is more environmentally friendly, and that offers quite efficient phase-shifting, so that it can go through the full length of the coil and transfer more heat than the older refrigerants.
There is still time to look into alternative refrigerants and getting your air conditioning replaced before the final stage of the phase-out. If your current air conditioning unit relies on R-22, then your first priority should be to replace it. If you cannot currently replace the unit then it is important that you maintain it properly. As long as the unit is working properly there should be no issues with leaks, and the Freon should stay inside the unit, where it will not be doing any damage to the environment. The problems come when the unit leaks.
Some disreputable companies will offer Freon top-ups for your air conditioning as a part of an annual service. If your air conditioner is not cooling things properly in the summer and you keep needing to have the refrigerant topped up then this is a sign that there is a serious issue with it, and that the leak needs found and patched up, or the unit needs replaced.
Looking After the Environment
Updating your unit to a more modern, energy efficient unit is something that will help to protect the environment long term and that will also save you a lot of money in running costs too. If your existing unit is ten years old, or older, then it makes financial sense to replace it to get a quieter and more efficient one. Indeed, you may be eligible for tax breaks or financial aid to update the unit, depending on your circumstances and the area in which you live.
Call your local air conditioning service company or vendor to discuss your current air conditioning needs and budget and find out more about what is r 20 refrigerant. They will be able to advise you about the best course of action giving the coming R-20 phase out.