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Geothermal & You - Environmental Impact - Refrigerants & CFC Issues

History and Alternatives

CFC Tanks

Refrigerant regulatory history

The refrigerant R-22, used in geothermal heat pumps, was developed in the early 1900s as a substitute for R-12. It can produce more cooling capacity from the same size compressor with no significant power penalty.

It quickly became, and remains today, the refrigerant of choice for almost all packaged air conditioners and heat pumps. Its main disadvantage is a somewhat higher pressure at any given temperature. This is a reasonable price to pay compared to the many advantages.

Because R-22 contains some chlorine, it is classified as an HCFC. Under the Montreal Protocol and Copenhagen Resolutions, HCFC consumption will be frozen at 100 percent of the 1989 Ozone Depletion Potential Weighted HCFC consumption, plus 3.1 percent of the weighted CFC consumption.

HCFC consumption will then be reduced in steps to a total phase-out in 2030. Consumption is defined as production, plus imports, minus exports. Recycled refrigerants are not included in the phase-out.

The primary regulation that applies to this and all chemical refrigerants is addressed in the Occupational Health & Safety Act. Your contractor is familiar with these requirements and will be able to meet them.

HCFC-22 alternatives

The 1990 Clean Air Act Amendments call for HCFC-22 production - not use - to be phased out by the year 2030. This could be extended at a later date if continuing atmospheric tests so indicate. Regardless, HCFC-22 will be available over the useful life of any geothermal heat pumps installed now.

There is no current "drop-in" substitute for HCFC-22, which is widely used. Research and development are underway for replacements, since HCFC-22 is the predominant refrigerant used in screw, scroll and reciprocating air conditioners.

The long-term substitutes will probably be blends of various HFC refrigerants, since they have no ozone depletion potential.

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