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The Role of Refrigerants in AC Cooling


Air conditioning has become integral to our daily lives, providing comfort in residential and commercial spaces. Behind the scenes, a crucial component plays a pivotal role in the cooling process—refrigerants.

These chemical substances circulate within the air conditioning system, facilitating the transfer of heat and enabling the regulation of indoor temperatures. Here, we will delve into the significance of refrigerants in AC cooling systems, exploring their functions, types, and the evolving landscape of environmentally friendly options.

What is a Refrigerant?

It is a substance or mixture, usually in a fluid or gaseous state, that is used in a refrigeration cycle. Its primary purpose is to transfer heat from one area to another, facilitating the cooling or heating of a space.

In air conditioning and refrigeration systems, refrigerants undergo a continuous cycle of evaporation and condensation to absorb heat from one place and release it to another.

How Does a Refrigerant Work?

The refrigeration cycle typically involves four main components: compression, condensation, expansion, and evaporation. Here’s a brief overview of the refrigeration cycle:

  1. Compression: The refrigerant is compressed, raising its temperature and pressure.
  2. Condensation: The high-pressure, high-temperature refrigerant gas flows to the condenser coil outside the cooling space. In the condenser, the refrigerant releases heat to the surrounding environment and transforms it into a high-pressure liquid.
  3. Expansion: The high-pressure liquid refrigerant moves to the expansion valve, rapidly decreasing pressure. This causes the refrigerant to expand and cool rapidly.
  4. Evaporation: The low-pressure, low-temperature refrigerant flows to the evaporator coil inside the cooling space. As air from the space passes over the evaporator coil, the refrigerant evaporates, absorbing heat from the air and cooling the space.

This cycle repeats to maintain the desired temperature within the refrigerated or air-conditioned space. Remember that refrigerants are prone to leaks if the AC is improperly maintained. So, maintain it properly to prevent cooling loss, control added costs when fixing leaks, and save money on utility bills.

Role of Refrigerants in AC Cooling


The role of refrigerants in air conditioning cooling is central to the system’s ability to regulate and maintain indoor temperatures. Refrigerants play a crucial part in the heat exchange process within the AC system, facilitating heat transfer from the indoor environment to the outdoors. The primary functions of refrigerants in AC cooling include:

Heat Absorption

Refrigerants have the unique property of absorbing heat efficiently. As warm air from the indoors passes over the evaporator coil, the refrigerant within the coil absorbs this heat, causing the refrigerant to evaporate.

Phase Change

Heat absorption leads to a phase change in the refrigerant, transforming it from a liquid state to a gaseous state. This phase change is a key aspect of the cooling process.

Cooling of Indoor Air

As the refrigerant absorbs heat and turns into a gas, it cools the surrounding air. This cooled air is then circulated back into the indoor space, providing the desired cooling effect for occupants.

Transport of Heat

The gaseous refrigerant, now carrying the absorbed heat, is then transported to the outdoor unit of the AC system.

Heat Release

In the outdoor unit, the refrigerant undergoes a process where it releases the absorbed heat to the external environment. This is facilitated by the condenser coil, which causes the refrigerant to condense or transform back into a liquid state.

Repeating the Cycle

The refrigerant, now in liquid form, is ready to return to the indoor unit to repeat the cycle. It undergoes compression to increase its pressure, initiating a new cycle of heat absorption and release.

Pressure Changes

Throughout the cycle, the refrigerant experiences changes in pressure. Compression raises its pressure, increasing its temperature, while expansion lowers the pressure, causing it to cool. These pressure changes are vital for efficiently transferring heat within the AC system.

In essence, refrigerants act as the medium through which heat is absorbed from the indoor air, transported to the outdoor unit, and then released to the external environment. This cyclical process is fundamental to the cooling effect generated by air conditioning systems, providing comfort and maintaining the desired temperature in indoor spaces.

The selection of an appropriate refrigerant is essential, considering factors such as efficiency, environmental impact, and compliance with regulations to reduce ozone depletion and mitigate climate change.

What are the Types of Refrigerant?

Refrigerants come in various types, each with its own chemical composition and characteristics. Over the years, there has been a shift from refrigerants with high ozone-depleting potential and global warming potential to more environmentally friendly options. Here are some of the main types of refrigerants:

Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs)

Historically effective in cooling, CFCs like R-12 were widely used but phased out due to their severe ozone-depleting potential. Their negative environmental impact led to the development of more sustainable options.

Hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs)

Serving as transitional substitutes for CFCs, HCFCs, such as R-22, were employed in the interim. However, they were also phased out due to their significant ozone-depleting potential, prompting the search for greener alternatives. The Montreal Protocol aimed to phase out the production of CFCs and HCFC substances, leading to adopting more environmentally friendly alternatives.

Hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs)

Commonly used as replacements for CFCs and HCFCs, HFCs like R-410A and R-404A have a lower impact on the ozone layer. However, many HFCs have a high global warming potential (GWP), contributing to climate change concerns.

Hydrofluoroolefins (HFOs)

Developed as low-GWP alternatives to HFCs, HFOs like R-1234yf and R-1234ze aim to mitigate the environmental impact associated with traditional HFCs. They offer improved sustainability while maintaining effective cooling properties.

Ammonia (NH3)

With a history in industrial refrigeration, ammonia has zero ozone depletion potential and a low GWP. Its excellent heat transfer properties make it an environmentally friendly choice, particularly in larger-scale refrigeration applications.

Carbon Dioxide (CO2 or R-744)

CO2, a natural refrigerant, has gained popularity for its minimal environmental impact. With zero ozone depletion potential and a low GWP, CO2 is commonly used in transcritical CO2 systems for commercial refrigeration.

Hydrocarbons (HCs)

Natural refrigerants like R-290 (propane) and R-600a (isobutane) have low GWPs and no ozone depletion potential. They are frequently employed in household refrigerators and freezers, contributing to a more sustainable approach in smaller-scale cooling applications.

HFO/HFC Blends

Some refrigerants are blends of HFOs and HFCs, attempting to balance performance and reduce environmental impact. These blends showcase ongoing efforts to optimize both cooling efficiency and sustainability.

The choice of refrigerant is a critical consideration for industries and consumers, influenced by factors such as performance, safety, and adherence to evolving environmental regulations. As the demand for eco-friendly solutions grows, the industry continues to explore and adopt refrigerants with lower environmental footprints.

Environmental Effects of Refrigerants

The environmental effects of refrigerants have been a subject of increasing concern and scrutiny due to their impact on both ozone depletion and climate change. The choice of refrigerant in cooling systems plays a significant role in determining their environmental effects. Here’s a closer look at these effects:

Ozone Depletion

Historically, CFCs and HCFCs were widely used as refrigerants. However, they were found to have severe ozone-depleting potential. The release of these compounds into the atmosphere led to the thinning of the ozone layer, particularly the stratospheric ozone, which protects life on Earth from harmful ultraviolet (UV) radiation.

Recognizing the environmental impact, international agreements like the Montreal Protocol mandated the phase-out of CFCs and HCFCs. This led to the development and adoption of alternative refrigerants with lower ozone-depleting potential.

Global Warming Potential (GWP)

HFCs became popular replacements for CFCs and HCFCs due to their lower impact on ozone depletion. However, they have high GWP, contributing to the greenhouse effect and climate change.

Efforts to address the environmental effects of refrigerants have resulted in regulatory measures. The Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol, for instance, aims to phase down the production and consumption of high-GWP HFCs.

Hydrofluoroolefins (HFOs)

HFOs have been developed as alternatives to HFCs, with a focus on minimizing their impact on climate change. They are designed to have significantly lower GWPs, offering a more environmentally friendly option.

Natural Refrigerants

Natural refrigerants, like Ammonia, Carbon Dioxide (CO2), and HydrocarbonsAmmonia, and Hydrocarbons, have gained attention for their low environmental impact.

Ammonia has zero ozone depletion potential and a low GWP. CO2 and hydrocarbons are also considered environmentally friendly options due to their minimal impact on ozone and lower GWPs.

Environmental Considerations in Technology Development

The industry is witnessing a transition towards more sustainable refrigerants driven by environmental concerns. This includes the exploration of alternative technologies and the use of refrigerants with lower environmental footprints.

While assessing environmental effects, it’s crucial to consider the overall energy efficiency of the cooling system. More energy-efficient systems can mitigate the indirect environmental impact associated with energy consumption.

The environmental effects of refrigerants encompass ozone depletion and contributions to climate change. The industry’s response involves the phasedown of high-impact refrigerants, the development of low-GWP alternatives, and a broader focus on sustainable practices in cooling technologies. As regulatory frameworks evolve, the emphasis on environmentally friendly refrigerants is expected to grow, shaping the future of cooling systems.


Refrigerants play a crucial role in the efficient functioning of air conditioning systems, influencing both performance and environmental impact. The ongoing evolution of refrigerant technology underscores the industry’s commitment to finding solutions that balance the need for effective cooling with environmental responsibility.

As we continue to innovate, the role of refrigerants in AC cooling will undoubtedly shape the future of climate control, ensuring a comfortable and sustainable living environment for generations to come.

JP Reyes

JP has been in the aircon industry for almost as long as he has been alive. As a child JP would help his tatay fix aircon units at their junk shop in Cavite. After graduating UP in the early 2000's, JP then started his own Aircon servicing business and within 5 years had 10 shops in 8 different cities. Fast forward to today and JP brings all his experience and expertise online to give readers trustworthy advice and reviews about Air-conditioning buying, servicing, cleaning and repair in the Philippines.

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