Global Warming Potential (GWP) significance of HCFC refrigerant gases

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Courtesy of Verisae

The global warming potential of chemicals is well documented. This is usually documented by referencing how much a chemical will impact global warming as compared to a similar amount of carbon dioxide. Refrigerants typically outrank carbon dioxide by a factor of 100 or even 1000 and stay in the atmosphere longer to our climate's detriment.

All greenhouse gases are allocated a global warming potential value. The number is used by scientists to tell how the gases, mainly refrigerants, will impact our atmosphere within the space of 20, 100 or 500 years. Almost all of greenhouse gases stay in the atmosphere longer than 20 years and many are around for up to 100 years. Action must and is being taken to control emissions as considerable harm awaits the earth and its inhabitants otherwise.

Three factors are considered when determining the global warming potential of a substance. These include the atmospheric location of the absorption point, the amount of infrared radiation absorbed, and the length of time that the substance remains in the atmosphere. A substance with high potential has a greater impact.

The lower the global warming potential of the refrigerant gas the less of an impact that gas will have on environment. All refrigerants in use today can contribute to global warming as greenhouse gases and this is why there are regulations in place to limit their use. These refrigerants will eventually be phased out and replaced with more palatable alternatives.

Hydrochlorofluorocarbons, also known as HCFCs, are chemicals with the highest global warming potential. These chemicals are found in refrigeration and cooling systems and have values ranging from 120 to 12,240 over their lifetime.

One of the most dangerous refrigerants in terms of global warming potential is R-113, Trichlorotrifluoroethane, which has a value of 4800, whilst conversely the refrigerant R- 114, also known as Dichlorotetrafluoroethane, has a very low value of 3.9. Now in development are a range of alternative refrigerants, called SNAP refrigerants, that have less of an impact on global warming and are to be found in the latest refrigeration and air-conditioning systems.

Guidelines are set forth by the US Clean Air Act which requires facilities that use refrigerants with a high global warming potential, for example those used in commercial refrigeration and air conditioning systems, to conform. Other international treaties also require such facilities to track usage of refrigerant gases and submit reports.

New regulations, particularly concerning leaks, have caused a reduction in emissions from refrigerants with high global warming potential. Regulations covering leak reporting and guidelines for leak fixing have been implemented by the United States. Harmful refrigerant gases will be phased out by 2015. Facilities must comply with regulations to avoid significant penalties, but more importantly to help sustain the environment's future.

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