Molecule of the Day

I really, really love refrigeration. I will go so far as to say that it’s the most important invention of the modern era. More than internal combustion, nuclear bombs and power, or electrification, refrigeration defines the US. If you’re like most Americans, you preside over at least THREE refrigeration units – one in the house, one in the kitchen, one in the car. The Central Valley in CA, DC, Las Vegas, Phoenix, Dallas, Houston, Atlanta – a huge swath of the country would look very different without AC. Not to mention your grocery store.


Awhile back, we began getting concerned about the ozone layer. Out with R-12, in with R-134a. The C-Cl bond in R-12, see, was labile enough to break apart in the upper atmosphere and destroy ozone. R-134a didn’t have a C-Cl bond, only hale and hearty C-H and C-F bonds. If you take a look at the earlier link, you can read where some old AC jocks claim that R-134a was just a political pet and a pretty crappy refrigerant.


Interestingly, one iodinated refrigerant has been suggested. Apparently, it’s sufficiently reactive it doesn’t even make it into the upper atmosphere. No idea how far it’s made it. I really, really love refrigeration. Whenever I move into a new place I inspect the fridge and central air to see if it’s still an R-12/R-22 unit or if it’s made it over to R-134a.

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Comments

  1. #1 Uncle Al
    July 15, 2008

    The Ozone Hole roared along during the 1957-1958 International Geophysical Year. Enviro-whiner refrigerants have two goals,

    1) Exacerbating probems to justify more regulation and its costs. Hydrochlorofluorocarbons and hydrofluorocarbons are astoundingly potent Greenhouse Effect gases in otherwise transparent IR spectral windows. An advocate makes virtue of failure. The worse the cure the better the treatment – and the more that is required.

    2) Money; patents in force. HCFC and HFCs are awful working fluids. CFCs would lubricate with a little oil. HCFCs require exotic ester lubricants. A trace of moisture precipitates devastating internal corrosion. HFC lubricants cost four figures/gallon.

    They are LYING to you. Go back to the 1920s with ammonia, sulfur dioxide, or butane. Too cheap, too safe, too effective, too convenient, too free of unknown hazards to be incrementally discovered, regulated, and taxed.

  2. #2 Paul Murray
    July 15, 2008

    “Go back to the 1920s with ammonia, sulfur dioxide, or butane.”

    Three chemicals that I would just *love* to have a couple of liters of, under pressure, in my kitchen.

  3. #3 wackyvorlon
    July 16, 2008

    My understanding is that there were several deaths due to leaks in refrigerators during that period.

  4. #4 DetWaveRider
    July 16, 2008

    “Go back to the 1920s with ammonia, sulfur dioxide, or butane.”

    Germany, and much of the rest of Europe, is way ahead of you. Most refrigeration units sold there (>90%) now use iso-butane as working fluid for the cycle. Very green.

    Why not in N. America? Liability concerns (mostly imaginary) of having a small volume of combustible gas in the home. (Millions of people walk around with pressurized containers of butane in their pockets — better known as cancer-stick lighters — and don’t self-imolate.)

    If you want to get serious about rational solutions to environmental problems, addressing the looniness of U.S. liability law is a necessary step.

  5. #5 Micah Schamis
    July 16, 2008

    Is Uncle Al actually advocating ammonia refrigerants? That’s a bit wackier than usual even. Families used to end up dead because their refrigerators would leak.

  6. #6 Dane
    July 17, 2008

    You want a nasty refrigerant? Try methyl chloride. It helped burn down the Cocoanut Grove nightclub in Boston, with hundreds of fatalities, because the stuff was leaking.

  7. #7 Uncle Al
    July 17, 2008

    When did any modern home refrigerator leak working fluid? PAFT studies observed intense tumorigenesis from murine HFC and HCFC exposure. Is that safer? There was no excess mortality from exposure (e.g., perpetually leaking automobile air conditioners and you) because studies were each Officially terminated before the first mouse died.

    Programmes for Alternative Fluorocarbon Toxicity Testing (PAFT). Every chronic test of HFC-134a and HCFC-141b elicited abundant tumors and “other effects” in rodents, ASHRAE Journal 36(7) 17 (1994)

    Enviro-whiners are LYING to you.

  8. #8 Jim1138
    July 19, 2008

    How many people defrosting their freezer have driven a knife into the evaporator?

  9. #9 gibbon1
    July 22, 2008

    “”My understanding is that there were several deaths due to leaks in refrigerators during that period.””

    My dad made some mention of working with a guy a long time ago who was slowly going blind because he got a blast of SO2 in the fave while working on a refrigerator.

    Just saying.

  10. #10 True Bob
    July 25, 2008

    Oh I got into a big flail with some of my auto enthusiast correspondents. Dissatisfied with R-134, because these are 30+ yr old cars, they were asking should they stick with R12 or something else ($ concerns). I offered HC-12 as a potential replacement, and caught hell for it. Ohmigod, that’s hydrocarbons, you’ll suffocate, your car will explode in a wreck, blah blah. They wouldn’t tolerate my responses about that big old fuel tank, propane fired vehicles, etc., claiming fuel systems are so much more leakproof than AC systems.

    Is it true that most of the rest of the world has driven around with HC-12 chillers in their cars for years, without accident victims becoming crispy critters?

  11. #11 Rafe
    July 28, 2008

    For those of you interested, if you take a look at a bottle of the canned air most people use to blow off their keyboards, etc., you will find that the bottle contains 1,1,1,2-tetrafluoroethane. Otherwise known as R-134a.

    Pretty interesting that people around the country are just blowing that stuff out into the atmosphere, and we’re debating the uncommon event of a refrigerator leak.

    Just a thought…

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