Explained: The different types of refrigerants or ‘gas’ used in air conditioners

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Modern air conditioning systems use different types of coolants that helps in bringing the room temperature down as the mercury rises outside. Consumers need to be aware of the coolants that are used in air conditioning systems as it will enable users to make informed decisions regarding maintenance, repair and updating of their home and office cooling systems. Earlier, most refrigerants used to emit CFCs (or chlorofluorocarbons) which were involved in the depletion of the ozone layer. Later on, the manufacturers decided to phase out all the refrigerants that cause harm to the environment. It is even the consumer’s responsibility to monitor whether their air conditioner is using environmentally friendly refrigerant or not, as most users presume that the CFCs have been phased out. Here we will discuss the various refrigerants that are used in air conditioners available in the Indian market.
What is a refrigerant?
A refrigerant or coolant used in air conditioners takes out the heat of a room and throws it outside into the atmosphere. A refrigerant has to undergo phase changes to absorb and compress the heat to distribute cold fresh air into the room. It changes from a liquid to gas when it absorbs a room’s heat and then again gets back to its liquid form when the compressor compresses it. The ideal refrigerant can be selected considering certain factors like — favourable thermodynamic properties, non-corrosive nature and safety features like its toxicity and inflammability. However, multiple fluids can be used to act as a refrigerant, but CFCs became the most popular refrigerants in the 20th century.
Types of old and new refrigerants
Chloro-Fluoro-Carbons and Hydro-Chloro-Fluoro-Carbons — Initially, CFC or Chlorofluorocarbon was the most common refrigerant to be used in the past, which was also commonly known as Freon. CFCs were replaced by HCFCs (hydrochlorofluorocarbons) at the beginning of the century and R-22 became the most commonly used HCFC refrigerant. A report claims that 50-60 per cent of air conditioners in India used HCFCs in 2016. HCFCs are slightly better than CFCs as they contain chlorine which is harmful to the environment. The Indian government plans to phase out the HCFC refrigerants by the year 2030.
Hydro-Fluro-Carbons — Manufacturers later created another set of refrigerants called HFCs (or Hydro Fluro Carbons) to remove the harmful chlorine from the refrigerants. While HFCs have the potential to fuel global warming, they are better than HCFCs that deplete the ozone layer. The most common HFCs used in air conditioners is R-410A which is better than R-22 as it stops ozone depletion and is more energy-efficient. Two other HFCs that are commonly used are — R-32 for air conditioners and R-134A for refrigerators. R-32 is marginally better than R-410A as it has a lower potential to cause global warming. The global warming potential of HFCs will make governments eventually phase out these refrigerants. India will also phase out HFCs in the coming years, however, the official timeline is still under consideration.
Hydro-Carbons — The chemical names of refrigerants R-290 and R-600A are Propane and Iso-Butane, respectively. These are the two most environment-friendly refrigerants that are currently available in the Indian market. The refrigerants are ozone-friendly, completely halogen-free and have the least global warming potential. But there is a catch, hydrocarbons are not only highly efficient but they are also highly flammable. However, that is not a concern as manufacturers using these refrigerants assure that they maintain all the safety protocols. Moreover, there haven’t been any recent reports of R-600A or R-290 accidents in commercial use, so you can comfortably believe that they are safe. For the conservation of the unique planet, more manufacturers are using these refrigerants as more consumers are opting for them. Considering the evolving high safety standards and the advancement of technology in the industry have made them safe for both consumers and the environment.

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