Challenge #48 ~ Refrigerants

Read the blog post on the January Theme – GREEN CHEMISTRY

Photo by Erica Ramorino

Refrigerant management is one of the most promising options to reduce carbon emissions. When we turn our words into actions, we can achieve great things. Do you remember the ozone hole in the 1970s and 80s? The good news is that human action and phasing out Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) – the chemical that contributed to the ozone depletion in the atmosphere – has helped repair the hole over Antarctica. CFCs were commonly used in refrigeration, solvents, and as a propellant for aerosol cans and making polystyrene. 

The challenging news however is that replacement chemicals Hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) are ok for the ozone layer but they are thousands of times more potent greenhouse gases than carbon dioxide. Therefore, they pose a much greater threat to global warming and climate change. HFCs are typically emitted from refrigerants and thermal insulating foam. 

Greenhouse Gas (GHG)CO2 equivalent
Carbon dioxide1
Nitrous oxides310
Hydrofluorocarbon (HFC)11,700
Fluorinated hydrocarbon131,000
Sulphur hexafluoride23,900
Chemicals that contribute to global warming measured in carbon dioxide equivalents, the equivalent amount or concentration of carbon dioxide (CO2) in global warming impact. Their potency is multiple times greater than CO2.

We all use air conditioning (AC) in Qatar and can all be part of the solution if we choose to do so. Greater energy efficiency in our homes with room air conditioners through temperature settings or by turning it off for an hour during times of peak loads, can make a big difference on refrigerant use, and consequently, greenhouse emissions. Programmable thermostats can help significantly lower in-home electricity use. Energy Star suggests that the best AC temperature is 25°C for summer days and to set the temperature 4° to 6° higher when not at home during the day to save additional energy and further reduce emissions from cooling. 

District cooling is an efficient way for air conditioning whole neighborhoods and is already being applied in Qatar in business and residential districts like West Bay, The Pearl, Barwa City, and Msheireb. However most residential compounds service homes with individual air conditioning units. That is where we all come in with personal action.

In our effort to tackle climate change, reducing short-lived climate pollutants (SLCPs) plays a crucial role. These are commonly associated with refrigeration and diesel-fueled vehicles. Air pollution apps display data and indicate when these pollutants are problematic for our respiratory health. Reducing emissions from these SLCPs provides climate benefits and can also lead to improved public health.

Carbon Dioxide (CO2) and Hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) are greenhouse gases emitted from refrigerants. HFCs and methane are more potent short-lived climate pollutants (SLCP) than CO2. Managing and controlling both SLCPs and CO2 provides a faster path to climate change mitigation than control of CO2 alone.

Get started with these tips

  • Service home and car air conditioners regularly to avoid leaking of refrigerants from the systems. 
  • Improve efficiency of air conditioners by regularly servicing units and through preventative maintenance.
  • Set AC temperature as close to 25° C as is personally comfortable.
  • Set your AC temperature 4-6°C higher when gone during the day.
  • Buy super-efficient air conditioners — which over the lifetime of the unit will save money and reduce climate impacts and air pollutants.
  • Advocate for regulations to follow the model of California, which requires a 40 percent reduction in HFCs by 2030. 
  • Assist in educating management companies and maintenance crews with an aim to phase out refrigerants with high global warming potential in new air conditioners. 
  • Use your buying power to insist on only the most efficient equipment.

We can learn a few tricks about efficient air-conditioning designs from nature. There are also ‘cool’ examples of new innovations that experiment with green cooling technologies using natural refrigerants, such as propane and ammonium to eliminate greenhouse gas emissions.

While this may sound hard to do as individuals, these are exciting times. Microsoft, in a push for corporate climate action, just announced their plan to erase its entire carbon footprint from the past and future, including energy used for cooling, in part through investing in new technologies. 

By paying attention to our home and car ACs regularly we contribute to climate action in two ways – refrigerant management to eliminating cooling chemicals and therefore reducing our impact on global warming, addressing SDGs #3 Good Health and Wellbeing; #9 Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure; #12 Responsible Consumption and Production and #13 Climate Action

Yes, you, too, can make a difference in the world, one person at a time.