What Is AC Refrigerant? Types of Refrigerants? And How Its Works?

Did you know that your air conditioner can’t work without a mysterious substance called ‘the refrigerant’?

AC refrigerants are special chemicals that can turn from liquid to gas and back again – that’s how they absorb the heat from your house. There are different types of refrigerants, some of them are extremely dangerous; Freon, for example, causes damage to the ozone layer and contributes to global warming.

How Do AC Work?

Air conditioners make your house cooler by removing the heat from the space and then transferring it outside.

Fact: the first modern air conditioning system was invented in 1902.

A regular cooling system has the main mechanical components (a compressor, an evaporator coil, and a condenser coil) and a special chemical called ‘the refrigerant’.

The AC’s fan pulls in the hot air from the rooms across the evaporator coil that contains the refrigerant. The chemical absorbs the heat and turns into a gas that is sent outside to the compressor, while the cooled air gets returned into the house.

The compressor, in its turn, raises the pressure of the gas and sends it to the condenser coil. This is where the refrigerant turns back into a liquid and the cycle starts all over again.

Read: What To Do When Your AC Unit Freezes Up Inside?

What Is an AC Refrigerant?

At first, air cons utilized flammable and/or toxic gases that were able to effectively cool the space but could result in fatal accidents if they ever leaked.

In 1928, Thomas Midgley Jr. managed to create the first non-toxic and non-flammable gas that could be used in cooling systems. This chlorofluorocarbon gas was named ‘Freon’

About 50 years later, scientists discovered that such gases were causing damage to the ozone layer.

Fact: in 2018, it was estimated that these old refrigerants are responsible for around 10% of direct radioactive forcing (the change of the Earth’s energy balance).

What is AC refrigerant? Types of refrigerants? And how its works? 

Are there any new refrigerants that do not contribute to global warming and ozone depletion? Keep on reading.

What Is a Refrigerant and How It Function on a Refrigeration System?

The refrigerant is an essential component of an air conditioning system. Without it, the unit wouldn’t be able to absorb the heat and turn warm air into cool air.

Is Refrigerant Gas or Liquid?

A refrigerant is a working fluid that undergoes a repeated phase transition from a liquid state to a gas and from gas to liquid.

The refrigerant is located in the system’s coils. Basically, all that the chemical does is travel through the copper coils and change from low-pressure gas to high-pressure liquid and back again.

The level of the refrigerant doesn’t change during exploitation. However, if your system ever has a leak, the refrigerant level will start to lower which is going to cause a wide range of problems. 

Read: How To Unfreeze An AC Unit?

What Is AC Gas Called?

The first name for the refrigerant used in air conditioning was ‘Freon’. For a certain period, all chemicals used in the cooling industry were called like that.

The trademark name now ‘belongs’ to a chemical company and they use it for any chlorofluorocarbon, hydrochlorofluorocarbon, and hydrofluorocarbon refrigerants. 

Today, the most common refrigerants have a special code (R22 and R410A, for example). You can call these chemicals either by their code or by their common names (Freon and Puron, for example).

What Are Different Types of Refrigerants?

Refrigerants are divided into different groups that are based on their chemical composition. The most common refrigerants are chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), and hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs).

The Ozone Depletion Potential (ODP) and the Global Warming Potential (GWP) are the values that are used to characterize different refrigerants. 

The ODP can be anywhere between 0 and 1. The closer to 1, the more harmful the chemical is to the ozone layer. 

The GWP ranges from 0 to thousands. The bigger the number, the higher the ecological impact.

We are going to mention the most popular refrigerants below. The less common chemicals include:

  • R152A – this refrigerant is also used as a compressed air duster.
  • R290 (propane) – is widely used in domestic refrigerators.
  • R744 (CO2) – might replace HFCs in supermarkets, cars, and heat pumps.

What Is R22 and R32?

RefrigerantODPGWPMore details
R22 (an HCFC)0.051810Is no longer produced. Today, you’ll be able to find only recycled supplies of Freon.The production is being phased out. However, homeowners are not required to stop using R-22.In the future, it would become practically impossible to find Freon, and/or the costs are going to skyrocket.The most common alternative is R410A.
R32 (an HFC)0675R32 is used as a substitute for R410A in new equipment.Thanks to the high energy performance of this refrigerant, manufacturers are able to reduce the size of modern air conditioning equipment. 

Read: Cost Of The Heat Pump: Everything You Need To Know About It

What Is R32 and R410A?

R410A is an HFC with an ODP of 0. However, its GWP is 2088 – and that is the main reason why a lot of people are choosing to switch to R32 nowadays (its GWP is about 30% lower).

Most countries are planning on phasing out R410A by 2025.

If comparing R410A and R32, the latter has quite a few important benefits:

  1. R32 is much more efficient due to its lower volumetric cooling capacity and higher pressure ratio.
  2. R32 is a single-component gas which means that it’s easier to recycle and more convenient to work with.
  3. R32 affects the climate even less than its Global Warming Potential suggests as it is less dense and the amount that you’re going to need per one charge is smaller.
  4. It costs less to operate R32 systems, as such units use up to 20% less refrigerant than those that operate with R410A.

The main cons of R32 are that it’s mildly flammable and that it can break down the oil in the system because of its high discharge temperature (this leads to bearing seizures).

However, R32 is definitely one of the best options available at the moment.

Bear in mind that it is impossible to transition a unit that uses R410A to R32, so you would have to get new equipment to make the switch. 

What Is the Coldest Refrigerant?

A correctly operating R410A-based system has a condensation temperature of 120 F and a 45-degree evaporator saturation temperature.

When compared to R22, R410A absorbs and releases heat better. It is also more fluid in temperature changing abilities which means that this refrigerant is going to cool your house a lot quicker.

The properties of R32 are even more advanced and it will do a better job at cooling your space.

Which Refrigerant Is Best for AC?

At the moment, R32 is the refrigerant receiving the most interest.

It has a low environmental impact (when compared to R22 and R410A) and is incredibly energy-efficient. In fact, if you have an air con with R32, your electricity bills will get reduced by around 10%.

However, if you have a cooling system that uses R22 or R410A, you can’t simply switch to R32. Ideally, you would want to get a new unit that has R32 in its coils.

You should definitely consider getting rid of your system if it has Freon. This refrigerant is extremely bad for the environment and maintaining such a unit will become more and more expensive throughout the years due to the fact that R22 is being phased out.

Even though R410A is the most ‘mainstream’ refrigerant at the moment, you should opt for R32, if you have a choice.

Read: Where Is The Heat Pump Located?

Does AC Release Carbon Dioxide?

In the United States, air conditioners use around 6% of all electricity produced

At the moment, only a small fraction of the electricity is created with the help of alternative sources of energy. A large amount is produced by burning fossil fuels.

This means that the cooling systems are responsible for releasing about 117 million metric tons of CO2 into the air annually.