Good For The Environment, But….
How the newest Freon going into refrigerators is changing everything we knew about refrigeration.
Refrigeration has been one of the greatest modern marvels of our time. Created in the late 1800’s, compressed vapor refrigeration or the process of compressing and then boiling a chemical to remove heat from a sealed space, has been something that truly brought us into the modern era. This process hasn’t changed much in terms of the components used to create the “cooling” effect. We still use a compressor that takes in gas and compresses it, a condenser that cools the hot compressed Freon, and an evaporator where the boiling takes place to remove the heat or start the cooling process. However, the chemical that we use in this process, known as Freon, has changed many times throughout the years. The first refrigeration system used a highly toxic and flammable substance called ether. We then moved to ammonia, sulphur dioxide and methyl chloride, all of which are toxic and not so great for anything it comes into contact with. In later years we began using more stable and less toxic chemicals like r-12 and r-22, which were very common in car and household AC systems. Some of these Freon were even used as a propellant in aerosol cans like hair spray. It was at this time world governments began discovering what effects certain types of Freon have on our atmosphere. In the 80’s and 90’s there was this big scare on holes in the ozone layer caused by certain elements in the chemical make up of the Freon. These Freon, known as CFC’s or chlorofluorocarbons, contain chlorine, fluorine and carbon. The chlorine in this compound is what they believed to cause the holes in the ozone layer. These holes were allowing harmful radiation into the planet that some believed to be the cause of certain cancers and ailments. In 1994 they changed over the CFC Freon to HFC’s, hydrofluorocarbon which contain hydrogen, fluorine and carbon. They removed the potential harmful chemical chlorine which made it to where our atmosphere wasn’t under constant attack. These Freon are known to be safe and effective for what they do. The only downside to these gases is the creation of the greenhouse gas effect, which is when radiation can enter into the atmosphere, but not exit.
You may be wondering where I’m going with this. Now that we’ve laid the groundwork lets jump into the meat and potatoes of this article.
As with all things, governments like to get involved and change things around when they don’t like something. Due to the greenhouse gas effect that has been linked to our modern Freon, world governments began enacting another change over of our refrigeration systems. This time, instead of using non-toxic, non-flammable gases to put into our household appliances, they began using r600a, also known as butane. Yes, the same butane that we use in lighters. If you’ve ever filled a refillable butane lighter, you would realize that there is a cooling effect that happens when the gas escapes out of the can. This makes it ideal for cooling as it has a fantastic cooling effect when used as a Freon. However, due to its flammable nature, r600a systems use a non heat technique of attaching connective tubing that has yet to be perfected. Whirlpool used this technique called LockRing in the late 90’s into the 2000’s and had a pretty high rate of Freon leakage. This technique uses a tool and ring system to pinch the tubes together where the tried and true system uses a gas torch to heat the pipes and a soldering metal to then connect them. This method has been around forever and is considered one of the best ways to attach copper tubing to each other. With the LockRing system, you need to make sure that you take each step slow to ensure you are doing it right and within the tool manufacturer’s specifications or you’ll have a Freon leak. The issue that we run into is that the tool manufacturer is changing the steps every few months. When we as techs were first being trained in using these tools, the time to wait between each joint was 1 minute. That time has changed several times and now we are at 10 minutes. If you don’t wait the correct amount of time, you get a Freon leak. In fact, if everything is not done 100% correct, you will get a Freon leak. This is a major problem because you don’t want to have a flammable gas leaking into your kitchen. Another issue that we are running into is the sophistication of the repairs needed with this new Freon. There are several steps that we need to take to ensure you don’t catch a refrigerator, a house or yourself on fire when you are working on an r600a system. I consider myself a top tier tech and I still struggle with doing repairs on these systems. I talk with other business owners and techs that have the same feelings I do and are struggling to get these refrigerators up and running 100%. What’s worse is the amount of these systems that have already gone bad and need a repair that involves getting into this sealed system. The technology hasn’t been out long and has been prevalent since around 2019. If we are already having a ton of issues with refrigerators that are 3 years old, it doesn’t look promising for the longevity of this design. My grandfather’s generation made appliances that could last 50 years. My father’s generation made appliances that could last 30. My generation makes appliances that last 15 years. I can foresee that my children’s generation will make appliances that will only last 5. It is a sad truth that if we don’t get a good grasp on, could cause a bunch of people a bunch of problems.
If r600a is so bad, why are we switching to it? It has to do with the environment. This gas burns up in our atmosphere and does not hang around. Thus, we have eliminated the greenhouse gas effect caused by Freon. It is also cheaper to manufacture and the amount used in a system is far less than its CFC and HFC counterparts. Overall, it is better for the environment if you don’t take into consideration that refrigerators are going to the dump faster. It’s a hard trade off. It may be good for the environment but is it ideal for proper food management? In a world where food prices are on the rise, are we sure we want our refrigerator’s to be more temperamental? If you’ve ever had a freezer full of meat that decided to stop working, you understand the pain as you’re throwing away hundreds of dollars of food.
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