Evolution of Refrigerants

Evolution of Refrigerants from 1805 to 2030

When human beings wanted to conserve products, they initially turned to salt, and this has been used since the times of ancient Egypt. This technique is still used in brine solutions. The Mesopotamians (present-day Iraq) and the natives of South America both used pits where they piled up ice to create cold reserves. It was not until the 19th century that conservation processes took a more industrial turn, using different technologies and fluids, which in turn led to their being used to create more comfortable environments.

First Generation

The first generation of refrigerant fluids (1850s) included “natural” fluids: ammonia, CO2, sulphur dioxide. These are toxic and/or flammable substances that pose numerous safety issues.

Despite their attractive thermodynamic properties (as well as their availability), their physical properties made them potentially dangerous in cases of misuse or accidents. They were progressively abandoned in favour of a new generation of refrigerants, considered risk-free for people.

Second Generation

The second generation of fluid contained synthetic fluids (1930s) and halogens. These included chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) like R12, then Hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFC) such as R22. They are not flammable, toxic and hazard-free. However, they do contain chlorine which attacks the ozone layer.

Later, the members of the United Nations at the time (24 countries) reached a multi-lateral agreement to protect the ozone layer. The Montreal Protocol was agreed upon in 1987 and prohibited the use of CFCs and HCFCs and obliged member states to gradually eliminate SDOLs (Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer).

Third Generation

The third generation concerns hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) like R404a or R134a, which were largely used until 2015. They do not pose a risk to the ozone layer but they do contribute towards global warming. The Kigali agreement in 2016 (ratified by 99 states and the European Union in 2020) signalled the progressive phasing-out of these refrigerants.

In fact. R134a, from 2013 was no longer used in new vehicle models and in 2017 it was banned from new vehicles. R134a was then replaced by a fourth-generation fluid, 1234yf.

However, garages and workshops will continue to use them until the old vehicle fleet has been completely renewed.

Fourth Generation

Hydrofluoroolefins make up the fourth generation of refrigerant fluids. They have been in use since 2010. They do not pose a risk to the ozone layer and have the advantage of having a very short life of just 10 to 15 years. However, they are lightly flammable and cannot be used in public-access buildings.


Evolution of Refrigerant Fluids

Source : SNDC

SNDC designs and supplies air conditioning, heating, filtration and pressurisation systems for vehicle cabins


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