Chlorofluorocarbon – What it is and Why it’s Bad for the Environment

Scott Stanley - Saturday, March 07, 2015
Mar 7th

What are chlorofluorocarbons?

You’ve probably seen “CFC Free” labels on a wide variety of everyday products or heard that CFCs are bad for the environment. However, do you really know what they are... Read more

Michigan Refrigerant Services ChlorofluorocarbonsYou’ve probably seen “CFC Free” labels on a wide variety of everyday products or heard that CFCs are bad for the environment. However, do you really know what they are, where they are used, and how they impact our environment? Read on to find out more.

What are Chlorofluorocarbons?

Chlorofluorocarbons, or CFCs for short, are compounds made up of chlorine, fluorine, and carbon, as the name suggests. They are derived from methane, ethane, and propane. They are also known by the brand name Freon.

CFCs were synthesized in the 1890s by Frederic Swarts and improved by Thomas Midgley, Jr. in the 1920s in search of a new refrigerant and fire suppressor. Up until then, chemicals used for such like ammonia, chloromethane and sulfur dioxide were highly toxic. In developing CFCs, characteristics the scientists aimed for were very low boiling point, toxicity, and reactivity.

Though technically different compounds, hydrofluorocarbons (HCFCs), bromochlorofluorocarbons, bromofluorocarbons, and hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) are often referred to as CFCs alongside their predecessor. They are basically derived from the same elements and used in the same ways.

Where are CFCs used?

As mentioned, CFCs were developed specifically for use as refrigerants and fire extinguishers. In a demonstration for the American Chemical Society, Midgley famously inhaled some CFC and blew out a candle with it to demonstrate its non-toxicity. CFCs were also used as propellants for “aerosol” cans. Some types of CFCs or similar compounds were/are used as fumigants and solvents.

CFCs and/or their closely related predecessors and successors were used heavily in military applications, particularly in aviation and the navy. Its uses in such scenarios were greatly appreciated for their effectiveness at putting out fires without exposing people to toxins. Their use quickly spread to civilian and commercial applications, especially where water and dry-powder extinguishers would damage the property they’re supposed to protect in the first place, such as rooms with electronics, lab equipment or valuable works of art. They were also widespread in everyday items such as hairspray.

How do CFCs Impact the Environment?

In the 1970s, James Lovelock carried out an expedition measuring CFC levels in the North and South Poles. While significant amounts were detected, he concluded that they were not hazardous to the environment.

Soon after, however, Sherry Rowland and Mario Molina, taking off from Lpvelock’s work, found that CFCs’ most useful feature – low reactivity – was also its most destructive. With a lifespan of over a century, CFCs were found to diffuse into the upper stratosphere, where the sun’s radiation caused the separation of the chlorine atoms, which are another long-lived element that forces the conversion of ozone into oxygen.

With less and less ozone, more and more high-energy UV-B radiation gets through to the Earth’s surface. Quickly enough, it was found that there was a drastic seasonal depletion over Antartica, with NASA projecting a complete loss of the ozone layer by the year 2060 if no action was done.

The Montreal Protocol was drawn up for the complete halt of production of CFCs in developed countries by the year 2000 and in developing countries by 2010. It is backed by all 197 member states of the UN, “has a near perfect compliance record,” and was called “perhaps the single most successful international agreement to date” by former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan. Production of new CFCs is believed to have ceased completely by 1994.

The Situation Today

One problem, for starters, is that there are still almost 6,000,000 tons of CFCs in existing equipment and appliances. Some applications, such as aviation fire control and medicinal purposes, have yet to have a viable alternative. This poses a major threat to the environment if not captured, recycled and eventually destroyed using proper techniques and technology.

A temporary solution has been the use of HCFCs in lieu of CFCs, but these gasses still contribute damage to the ozone layer, and are greenhouse gasses to boot. Probably the most widely used is HCFC-22 or R-22, whose production also creates HFC-23, an even more potent greenhouse gas. HCFCs are also being phased out by the Montreal Protocol by the year 2020 (2030 for developing countries).

HFCs are being touted as the next step, with 0 ozone depleting potential, but are considered super greenhouse gasses. Natural alternatives are continuously being sought out as a phase out of HFCs looms. All in all, however, the best quick fix we can come up with while waiting for more permanent solutions is to properly capture, recycle and destroy harmful refrigerants to prevent them from leaking out into the atmosphere.

That is where Refrigerant Services is ready to help! We use the latest technology to recover potentially harmful refrigerants to ensure that they do cause any damage to the environment. If you would like to work with a company dedicated to providing a green alternative call us today at 844-PURECFC (787-3232) to learn about our buy back and clean exchange program. You can also schedule a pick up right from our website.

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Scott Stanley - Tuesday, January 06, 2015
Jan 7th

Visit Our Social Media Accounts

Stop by our new social media accounts to stay connected with Refrigerant Services. You can find us on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn, and YouTube... Read more

Stop by our new social media accounts to stay connected with Refrigerant Services. You can find us on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn, and YouTube. You can visit us by clicking on the following links:

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We Are Excited To Announce The Launch of Our New Website!

Scott Stanley - Thursday, November 06, 2014
Jan 7th

New Website Launch!

We are very excited to announce the launch of our new Refrigerant Services website. Please look around and be sure to visit our social media accounts to stay... Read more

We are very excited to announce the launch of our new Refrigerant Services website. Please look around and be sure to visit our social media accounts to stay up to date on all our latest news and events. If you are interested in learning more please fill out one of our contact forms and one of our staff will be in contact with you shortly. We look forward to speaking with you.

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