The European Community has enacted guidelines with the objective of reducing greenhouse gas emissions. By 2050, the European Union wants to reach climate neutrality, a target of common interest and of major importance for our planet, our health and that of future generations. The most important role to reach this objective is surely played by the Eco-friendly gas, the one utilised in the industry that should have zero impact on the climate. We will now explore and see what is the impact of gases that are used today.
A bit of history! Everyday, in our houses, we use our refrigerators, often even air conditioners, but sometimes we do not give enough credit to the invention of the former. We know that Newton formulated the law of universal gravitation in 1660; Edison invented the incandescent light bulb, patented in 1880; Marconi invented the radio in 1896; but what about the refrigerator?
How it works or who created it is not common knowledge. Among other things, its invention is somewhat controversial. Obviously, we know that, since the beginning, food has been preserved through cold and maybe not everyone knows that until the refrigerator was invented, there were “ice houses”: caves where snow was gathered exactly to preserve food. Already in 1756 the Scottish doctor William Cullen demonstrated that when a liquid evaporates, it extracts heat from its surroundings and hypothesised that a refrigerating machine based on this principle could be made a reality.
We have to wait for 1835 when Jacob Perkins, American engineer of Scottish origins, patented a “cold machine” in England, based on pressure of Vapour of Diethyl Ether. Then in 1851, a patent for an ice machine was assigned to John Gorrie, with his invention and scientific papers being well preserved in the Smithsonian museum in Washington. These are the first scientific documents available about the refrigerator. Sadly, John Gorrie passed away in 1855 and couldn’t make his studies a reality.
Charles Terrier, from France, was the first to fully develop a working refrigeration system in 1876, that was assembled on a steamboat that ferried meat from South America to France. This invention was one of extraordinary magnitude, because it allowed commerce of food even from different continents, without altering their organoleptic properties even after extensive travel. Thanks to Terrier, we can now benefit from long-term preservation of food.
The first refrigerator was produced in Chicago in 1913 (the Domelre, which was unsuccessful), and then the more famous Frigidaire (which instead was successful) in 1916. With their diffusion, new refrigerating gases were also introduced.
In the 30s, the market saw the arrival of the first chlorinated liquids: Freon 11 and 12. With a growth in the production of refrigerators, there was a need to use chemically stable liquids that couldn’t be toxic or flammable with good thermodynamic properties. They started to employ CFCs (Chlorofluorocarbons), that are the first generation of refrigerating gases, with refrigerators starting to become common in our houses in 1950.
In the second half of the 70s, chemists Frank Sherwood Rowland and Mario J. Molina suggested a new theory in which the CFC gas had a destructive impact on the ozone layer. Immediately, they were opposed by some industries that accused them of being “creators of science fiction stories”. Their studies were confirmed a few years later instead; then, in 1995, they were awarded the Nobel Prize for Chemistry: such was the extent of their discoveries.
The cold chain had to react immediately to respect environmental needs. With the Montreal Protocol, which came into effect in 1989, there was a goal to reduce and then completely eliminate the use of CFC by year 2000.
New gases, HCFCs (such as R22 and R502) were introduced, where chlorine molecules were replaced by hydrogen ones, making the effect of the gas less harmful for the ozone.
In HCFC the replacement of chlorine with hydrogen is only a partial one, making the effect of the destruction of the ozone still an important matter. In 1991 and 1992, Europe established the early suspension of CFC production, but also the ban of HCFC. This marks the birth of HFCs, which are cooling liquids where chlorine is completely replaced by hydrogen.
In 1998 the World Conference on climate change in Kyoto concluded that even HFCs must be banned, because even if they do not have any effect on the ozone itself, they contribute to the formation of the greenhouse effect.
With the EU Regulation 2037 in the year 2000, there was a total disposal of HCFC and HFC that had, unfortunately, a major contribution regarding global warming. Eco-gas started to have more space and to replace all of the more polluting gases.
Natural gases such as R290, R600 etc. have then started to spread, not only having virtually zero impact on the ecosystem, but also consuming less energy, which doubled their benefit.
To understand the impact caused by refrigerating gases on the atmosphere, we have to introduce the figure of GWP, which is an acronym that stands for GLOBAL WARMING POTENTIAL. It is a means of measurement relative to the effects of different greenhouse gases on global warming. A certain value is assigned to the amount of heat that is inside a precise mass of CO2 in a given period of time.
Carbon dioxide was chosen by IPPC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a scientific branch of the United Nations) as a reference gas with a GWP of 1. The F-gas regulation 517 in 2014 has forced a series of restrictions in Europe to the production of installations with high impacting F-Gases, with the objective to reduce the emission of greenhouse gases of 79% by 2030,
It is then forbidden to market:
- Commercial freezers and refrigerators (hermetically sealed) with GWP higher than 150 from 01/01/2022;
- Mobile and hermetic air conditioners with GWP higher than 150 from 01/01/2020
- Air conditioners with gas charging inferior to 3kgs with GWP higher than 750 from 01/01/2025
One of the gases that were used by the refrigeration industry until recently was R134a, an HFC that was banned in Europe only in 01/01/2022. Its GWP is approximately 1360, very high compared to carbon dioxide. Anyway, to give an idea, the first CFC (R12) had a GWP of 10.300! Only by 01/01/2022, which is almost yesterday, GWP inferior to 150 have been imposed as a maximum limit in systems of refrigeration for commercial purposes. This is only for Europe though, a lot of other countries still didn’t introduce all these kinds of limitations and continue to build installations that use extremely high GWP gases.
Today the European organisations have the merit of having enacted directives in favour of the environment and to impose a change which aims for the improvement of the world we live in. European industries are at the forefront in a lot of fields, such as the implementation of eco-gas for refrigeration, with European products that embrace technological improvements allowing to reduce the impact and emission of greenhouse gas. There is also to consider that cooling gas doesn’t pollute by itself because it is hermetically sealed inside the refrigeration circuit, it would start polluting only by having a leak that could make the fluid scatter on the environment.
From this it follows that maintenance must be done by qualified personnel and by following correct regulations. In any case, we need to pay attention to the specifics of what we buy.
Quaba was founded in 2022 and already employs a natural gas, R290, which has a GWP of 3, incredibly inferior to the minimum of 150. Our responsibility, although the sector of Carbonated water coolers is very small in terms of quantities and production of gas, has always been to embrace eco-gas as a better solution for our environment.
It’s in the spirit of the company and of all the people that work in it to consider the use of all the innovative technologies only as a first step and not as the ultimate goal. Innovation is also a mindset, a personal boost, a strong demonstration of willingness to improve our surroundings and to do all that is in our power to give ourselves and the future generations a better world to live in.