“Back to the future” – the Life and Death of Air-Conditioning

In the 1920’s a brilliant physicist, Albert Einstein was getting extremely frustrated with the amount of German family’s that were being killed by a new technology that was entering the family home!

The refrigerator had been a god sent for families in the 1920’s, for the first time in history of man fresh meat, dairy, fruits and vegetables have been able to be keep for extended periods in the family home without the need of ice being brought to the home every couple of days.  However this modern invention had a very nasty draw back that was killing families. The refrigerators use NH3, ammonia, yes ammonia as the refrigerant, it would leaked through the seals and the toxic gas would kill the family, so I’m sure you could see Albert’s frustration.  So Albert put his mind to work to come up with a solution.

In the mean time Thomas Midgley, Jr an American engineer and chemist was employed by General Motors to work as part of a team in their Frigidaire Division, the manufacturer of absorption refrigerator, to come up with an alternative solution to using these toxic, flammable and explosive refrigerants. The team eventually developed the first chlorofluorocarbon (CFC) dichlorodifluoromethane and trademarked it ”Freon 12” or more commonly known as R12. A non toxic, non flammable substance that was to take the modern world by storm. Soon all refrigerators were using this marvellous refrigerant and Albert Einstein mothballed his refrigerator.

R12 was quickly followed by R11, R500 and many others Freon’s and finally with R22 a hydrochlorofluorocarbon, these refrigerants transformed our world. Their uses included propellant for aerosol cans, flux removal for electronics, the foaming agent for polystyrene cups and cushions, dry cleaning and the list went on and on. These refrigerants allowed buildings to grow taller, food to be transported across the world and for the average worker to live in comfort in their own home.

However all good things come to an end. During the 1980’s the term “hole in the ozone layer” first appeared. The stability of this remarkable compound was to be its own undoing.  Due to the longevity of CFC’s, up to 100 years in the environment, the compound although much heavier than air has sufficient time to float up to the upper atmosphere where the chlorine reacts with the ozone and in the process the ozone is destroyed and hence the hole in the ozone!

So with the 1989 Montreal Protocol all CFC’s would phased out by 1996 and HCFC’s by 2030. The supreme wisdom of the Australian Government has brought the phase out of R22 forward by 10 years to 2020, only five years away.

So where’s the problem you ask, well in 1989 the scientist of the world started working on the solution to these nasty ozone killing refrigerants and came up with HFC’s hydroflorocardons (none of those nasty chlorine atoms that eat ozone) R134a and R410a to mention a couple.

P.S did you know that ultraviolet light makes ozone, so therefore if the hole in the ozone gets bigger more ultraviolet light comes in and therefore makes more ozone, any way I digress.


Air Conditioning
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