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Scientists Searching for Environmentally Friendly Refrigerant

12/1/16 8:30 AM

On October 15, more than 150 countries meeting in Rwanda agreed to phase out hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), gases frequently used in refrigerators, air conditioning units and insulating foams. This measure, aimed at fighting global climate change, has scientists racing to find an energy efficient, cost-effective alternative.

HFC-based coolants have been in common use for about thirty years. They were developed in response to the Montreal Protocol of 1987, which banned the use of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs). CFCs were removed from refrigeration units and common household products like aerosol sprays due to their impact on the ozone layer.

The elimination of CFCs and introduction of HFCs successfully assuaged ozone depletion, but the shift had the unintended consequence of producing more greenhouse gases, which in turn contributed to global warming. It’s estimated that devices that use HFC for refrigeration are responsible for at least 2% of global greenhouse gas emissions. That number will only rise as air conditioner use, Western-style supermarkets and modern hospital facilities continue to expand throughout the developing world.

Now, the Rwanda Protocol seeks to cut that HFC use 80 – 85% by 2047. If that goal is met, the reduction in greenhouse gas emissions is predicted to prevent a half-degree Celsius temperature hike between now and 2100.

Finding an energy and cost-efficient replacement has proven difficult, although numerous compounds are currently being tested around the world.

Some of the proposed alternatives are hydrocarbons with less warming potential than HFCs. Other researchers, led by industry giants Honeywell and DuPont, advocate for HFO-1234yf, the refrigerant typically used in modern car air conditioning systems. HFO-1234yf is designed to break apart into its simpler components as it enters the atmosphere to lessen its effect on the atmosphere and climate.

A variety of other outside-the-box approaches have been proposed, including a system that uses sound waves to push heat away.

Many of these solutions suffer from the same basic problem, however: even though they reduce the devices’ reliance on HFCs, they increase overall power consumption. Using safer, less environmentally impactful refrigerants causes refrigerators and A/C units to use more electricity, which typically leads to more fossil fuels being burned in a power plant.

The challenge going forward for scientists is to find a refrigerant that is cost-effective, energy efficient and environmentally friendly. MadgeTech, the New Hampshire data logger company, supports innovations in refrigeration and cold chain management with a variety of data loggers that measure and validate cold temperatures.

To stay up to date on industry news, make sure to follow MadgeTech on Twitter at @MadgeTech.

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