Problems aren’t solved by people who don’t question…well…everything.
And, sometimes, the answers to the questions aren’t necessarily new. This week Kathy Jackson brought us her thoughts on a new/old solution to a relatively recent issue.
If you’ve been working in the HVAC service industry for a while, you’re probably (SHOULD BE!) well aware that the EPA is phasing out Freon (HCFC-22 or R-22) and plans to ban it completely by 2030. What will replace Freon? It’s a question on a lot of technicians’ minds. When looking to the future of refrigerants, it might be worthwhile to consider the past.
Ammonia Quick Facts
Ammonia: A Natural Coolant
Consisting of nitrogen and hydrogen, ammonia has a lower boiling point than water and can be mixed with water to create refrigerant, notes RSI. Ammonia is a naturally occurring element in and doesn’t contribute to ozone layer depletion or global warming in its refrigerant form.
Ammonia Refrigerant Health Risks
Ammonia won’t damage the environment, but it could certainly hurt you on the job. High concentrations are harmful to human health. The eyes become irritated at between 100 and 200 parts per million (ppm). At 400 ppm, the throat becomes irritated; a cough develops at 1,700 ppm. If breathing air with an ammonia concentration of 2,400 ppm, death may occur after 30 minutes. Fortunately, ammonia’s pungent odor is noticeable at 5 ppm, so an HVAC technician could get help before suffering any harm.
Cost of Switching to Ammonia Based Refrigerant
The modular R-22 systems often found in warehouses, blast freezers, and food factories are excellent candidates for replacement with ammonia systems. But it won’t be cheap. Industrial construction makes ammonia systems highly durable and, consequently, pricier than Freon-404A (R-404A or HFC-404A) units. HVAC owners could save in the long run, though. Ammonia units may consume 30% to 50% less electricity than Freon-404A systems. Designing ammonia systems with a lower charge and placing them outside can address toxicity and flammability risks.
Climate Control for a Warming Planet
Freon was the refrigerant that kept us cool for decades. Sadly, Freon has increased our exposure to the sun’s harmful rays and warmed the planet. If we can move past the toxicity risks and equipment costs; Ammonia, it could prove to be an excellent eco-friendly replacement for Freon.