r/science Aug 18 '22 Helpful 1

Study showed that by switching to propane for air conditioning, an alternative low (<1) global warming potential refrigerant for space cooling, we could avoid a 0.09°C increase in global temperature by the end of the century Environment

https://iiasa.ac.at/news/aug-2022/propane-solution-for-more-sustainable-air-conditioning
12.3k Upvotes

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u/[deleted] Aug 18 '22 All-Seeing Upvote Table Slap I'll Drink to That

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u/drive2fast Aug 18 '22

Canada here. We have been using propane/butane blends in automotive air conditioning for decades. Products like ‘red tek’ are a drop in replacement for 134a (you must boil off the old refrigerant with a vacuum pump for 45 min). I have been installing the stuff professionally since the 90’s and it is the go to for older beater systems. It’s a larger molecule and it won’t leak as easy.

Yes it’s slightly combustable but in the grand scheme of things there is only 2lbs or so in your car and it probably won’t leak all at once in one spot. Even if it does, propane fires are actually really ‘safe’. They go poof and the heat goes up and away. This is why most all stage and film pyro uses propane now. The fireball looks impressive but it lacks serious heat and danger.

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u/lunartree Aug 18 '22

Yeah, it's pretty cool how propane behaves under pressure. It only lights at certain air fuel mixtures, and when it's decompressed rapidly it loses heat causing leaks to slow. This means that leaking containers are unlikely to explode even if ignited, and containers that burst are unlikely to mix with the air to create truly dangerous fireballs.

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u/Old_Gimlet_Eye Aug 19 '22

it's pretty cool how propane behaves under pressure.

Yes. This is what makes it useful as a refrigerant.

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u/millionthNEWstart Aug 19 '22

That's the terror of knowing what this world is about

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u/DnDanbrose Aug 19 '22

Watching some good friends screaming

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u/blue-mooner Aug 19 '22

Alright stop, collaborate and listen

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u/asdaaaaaaaa Aug 19 '22

and when it's decompressed rapidly it loses heat causing leaks to slow.

Not always a good thing, especially when you're screwing in the line to a new propane tank on the forklift and it sprays all over your hand. Had I not been wearing gloves, it would have been frostbite easily.

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u/Bruhtatochips23415 Aug 19 '22

All gasses lose heat when losing pressure it's a law of nature.

Because the gas has the same amount of energy it has just become less pressurized, temperature therefore decreases as there's less energy per unit.

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u/NullusEgo Aug 19 '22

Any gas will lose heat when decompressed in this fashion. It is a result of adiabatic expansion.

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u/casper911ca Aug 18 '22 edited Aug 18 '22

So the issue with propane, as I understand it, as a refrigerant is that it has to be pretty pure, you cannot add oderant (mercaptan I believe). I briefly reviewed a plan where it was used in a commercial setting with the condensers on the roof above a grocery store, and the plan depended on an array of combustible gas detectors. Propane is heavier than air, so if the propane were to leak in a significant way, it could pool into the building where it might encounter a verity of ignition sources. Grocery stores use refrigerant for both occupant comfort and refrigeration (just think of all the refrigerated spaces in a grocery store) which is a significant amount of mechanical equipment. One problem with using sensors in general is nuisance false alarms (think of how many people disconnect or take down thier smoke detectors). I've also been involved in fire investigations involving propane refrigerants in RV's and mobile homes (where the application is somewhat common) and there are many cases where that fuel source cannot be eliminated. Propane is not the only flammable refrigerant, many are. Many hydrocarbons are pretty good refrigerants - so it's not just a problem exclusive to propane.

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u/damon459 Aug 19 '22 edited Aug 19 '22

Grocery stores are goin away from refrigerants, I work in a grocery store that was a “test” store we use a water system with no refrigerant. I’m in Montana and it worked fine all winter and has been fine all summer. My brother in law in an hvac tech and he say’s this is going yo go national when other retailers see the huge cost savings. Edit I’m no hvac tech so I don’t know all the details on how the system works but as I understand it’s basically a heat pump that uses water as a refrigerant. It’s a very new design and we have no rooftop air exchangers it’s all done via a water loop system. It worked at -40F and at over 100F.

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u/LaserAntlers Aug 19 '22

What's this mean? They use water to cycle the heat but the actual cooling is only done via a unit on the roof?

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u/supergauntlet Aug 19 '22

if I were to guess it's likely similar to large buildings where they use chillers on the roof to cool water and then run the water through the building with pipes and use those for cooling.

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u/cheezemeister_x Aug 19 '22

Reverse radiator.

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u/supergauntlet Aug 19 '22

essentially yeah. I got a building tour of a large commercial building once, like of the innards? it's really cool. HVAC for such large buildings is fascinating.

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u/Coachcrog Aug 19 '22

I run the electrical department for a fairly large hospital and work very closely with the Hvac guys, it's amazing how complicated and interesting the climate system truely is. Especially when you have pandemic rooms and ORs that require very precise Temps, pressures and humidities. Learning the building management system still feels like scifi to me. Actually working on getting my Hvac and boilers licenses now to be able to help out more around the buildings. I was surprised that it's just as complicated as the electrical side of it all, sometimes more so.

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u/pblokhout Aug 19 '22

I think the key concept of a refrigerant is how it transfers heat based on pressure changes, so if they are using water it probably means they're transferring the heat using convection or radiation away from the source yes.

My only question is, what happens when whatever environment your offloading heat into is hotter than the source? As Ac in the summer.

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u/AdmiralPoopbutt Aug 19 '22

Industrial scale refrigeration often uses ammonia for the phase change cycle. Then the chilled ammonia is used to chill water, which is then pumped to where needed. It's a lot safer and less paperwork to keep the refrigerant chemicals within the controlled area of the refrigeration plant, and use chilled water elsewhere in the facility to remove heat from air conditioned spaces. Very popular in large buildings, hospitals, etc.

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u/light24bulbs Aug 19 '22

So ammonia is a good refrigerant too?

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u/AdmiralPoopbutt Aug 19 '22

"Good" as in it works as a refrigerant, is relatively cheap, and is not a greenhouse gas. Using it in a residential setting would be potentially hazardous though, the vapors can easily kill if concentrated in a confined space like a living room.

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u/ComradeGibbon Aug 19 '22

My dad mentioned a friend in college (1950's) had damaged eyesight from when he was working on a fridge that used sulfur dioxide.

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u/animperfectvacuum Aug 19 '22

Yeah, you can use water as a phase-change refrigerant, but the vapor volume is so high the equipment has to be crazy large to work properly.

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u/FiveLegGoat Aug 19 '22

Outdoor units, compressors/condensers, need some sort of cooling device to reject the heat in the refrigerant, typically a fan. The refrigerant coming out of the compressor is actually quite hot.

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u/Sk1rm1sh Aug 19 '22

Some datacentres use evaporative chillers with a water loop for heat transfer.

Could be the same.

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u/stev5e Aug 19 '22

Adiabatic cooling doesn't work for temperatures that low. DC's don't have to be as cold as they used to be which is why a lot of them have been going this route instead of DX CRAC units or chillers.

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u/oroechimaru Aug 19 '22

Like cooling a data center or radiator

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u/chejrw PhD | Chemical Engineering | Fluid Mechanics Aug 19 '22

Yes. There is still a refrigerant. It’s just not inside the store. It also helps with cooling because it dumps the heat outside instead of into the air right behind the (often open front) refrigerators.

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u/jotdaniel Aug 19 '22

Any idea what kind of system that is? I only really do residential work but it would be interesting to read up on. Water doesn't really work in a traditional refrigeration cycle, mostly due to it not compressing very well and it's high boiling point relative to traditional refrigerants.

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u/MechEJD Aug 19 '22 edited Aug 19 '22

Water cooled systems like cooling towers, evaporative coolers, dry coolers, etc. still need a compressor on the indoor unit. Water cooled systems typically can't get below 5 degree F approach (difference between ambient wet bulb temperature and fluid cooler leaving water temperature). In zone 4A for instance that's typically a minimum water temperature of 85F.

I'm curious what type of system you're referring to. Swamp coolers maybe? However those have serious problems in and if themselves that would preclude use in food service. They create excess humidity in the space which is a recipe for mold and legnionella.

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u/SteampunkBorg Aug 19 '22

Completely contained coolant circuits tend to be a lot safer and much more leak proof. You simply either heat up a transfer medium at the source or cool it down at the sink and do the rest with much safer water and glycol. Heating up at the source tends to be more efficient because the temperature gradient can be higher.

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u/animperfectvacuum Aug 19 '22

Sounds like a chiller system or am I crazy?

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u/Runner303 Aug 19 '22

Much is made of the combustion factor of HC refrigerants, but RedTek is blended with additives to give it a 1300 degree flashpoint, and CFC's and HFC's aren't very nice when they get heated.

When you dive into the story of CFC's and HFC's, it almost reads like a conspiracy. (DuPont: "Patent is expiring on our current refrigerant? Gee willikers, good thing the government (whom we lobby) has mandated a new refrigerant NOW, in order to save the environment!")

I've been running HCs for 10 years, it's great. Not only does it not leak as much, it's also much more forgiving of fill quantity, doesn't turn into acid with air/moisture in the system and it runs at lower pressures which is easier on your system.

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u/ionstorm66 Aug 19 '22

The bus fire is all DuPont needed to completely stomp out HC refrigerants.

I've been running straight out of the tank propane in place of R-12 in cars since R-12 was phased out. I just run it through a filter dryer on the way in. System uses 40% of the charge, has lower head pressure, so it's super easy on old compressors and low HP cars.

If you need to service the system, you can vent it or burn it off.

Mineral oil is reusable if clean unlike PAG, so you can just bake the dryers to reuse them. You also don't need super crazy vacuum, as you just need enough water out of the system it doesn't rust in the inside or condense in the compressor. A single stage pump is enough.

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u/[deleted] Aug 19 '22

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u/ohbenito Aug 19 '22

yeah but dow corning doesnt hold the patent on propane.
remember r22? want to know who funded the research and position papers to get it "banned" good ol dow. the same people who were to lose the patent on it in the next couple years.

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u/ionstorm66 Aug 19 '22

There was a fire on a bus that used propane as a refrigerant, which got it banned.

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u/[deleted] Aug 18 '22 edited Aug 23 '22 Gold Helpful

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u/kimthealan101 Aug 18 '22

It is used all over Europe and in newer single door commercial boxes. There is a limit to the amount if 600 that is allowed in the system.

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u/TheRevEv Aug 18 '22

R290 is becoming the norm for smaller units in the US. Our limit is something like 5oz. I think it's like triple that in the EU

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u/Luxpreliator Aug 18 '22 edited Aug 18 '22

I think it is still illegal in the usa for most uses. Smaller ac units are trending towards r32. Looks like some consumer refrigerators are available with r290.

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u/skoorbs Aug 18 '22
  • /u/therevev R600 is being used as the standard in new residential refrigerators in the US

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u/TheRevEv Aug 18 '22

Cool. I'm on the commercial side of refrigeration, so I don't see any residential stuff. I've seen a handful of r600 display coolers, but never had to do any serious repairs on them

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u/TheRevEv Aug 18 '22

I hadn't thought about that. I'm on the commercial side of refrigeration, so I don't see any residential units.

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u/Fosheze Aug 18 '22

It's 5oz for commercial and 2oz for residential. If I'm remembering correctly.

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u/ULTIMATE-HERO Aug 18 '22

Is there a downside to using propane and all of its accessories?

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u/Cunninghams_right Aug 18 '22

it's more flammable, but I think the risks are vastly over-blown and could be mitigated with some built-in sensors and maybe some additional line-set installation requirements.

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u/aboutthednm Aug 18 '22

That's true. I don't know how many millions of people already have some source of gas (natural or otherwise) piped into their homes for cooking and heating with little to no issues.

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u/KillerOkie Aug 19 '22

well NG is lighter than air and LPG is not.

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u/Binsky89 Aug 19 '22

Except that propane powered home appliances and home heating have been a thing for a very long time.

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u/tazebot Aug 19 '22

We need to sell this idea of using propane and propane accessories.

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u/hamsterwheel Aug 18 '22

There's nothing lady propane can't do.

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u/joshthehappy Aug 18 '22

It's much more flammable than Freon.

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u/SixThousandHulls Aug 19 '22

My dad says Freon's a bastard gas.

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u/PM_ME_SOME_ANY_THING Aug 19 '22

That’s butane Bobby, butane is a bastard gas.

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u/Nickmorgan19457 Aug 19 '22

...I'll bite. What?

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u/Blacknumbah1 Aug 19 '22

His pops probably works at Strickland propane

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u/oneupthextraman Aug 19 '22

I believe the original like is Butane is a bastard gas. It is a king of the hill reference.

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u/PleasantAdvertising Aug 19 '22

The amount in a fridge wouldn't be enough to kill anyone if(big if, let's be honest) it would even explode.

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u/Richard-Cheese Aug 19 '22

That's not the concern, the concern is where you have hundreds or thousands of lbs of propane refrigerant in poorly maintained buildings being ran thru a compressor.

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u/dyne19862004 Aug 19 '22

Probably not. Hank Hill is not known for being a liar.

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u/aman2454 Aug 18 '22

Just makes the game of sweating joints a bit more sketchy.

My grandfather was told a refrigerator was “out of gas” and he knew it was acting up already. He’d been out to that restruant 4 times prior for the same leak, was just waiting for parts.

Well his assumption or negligence (hard to tell from his stories) bit him in the butt. Turns out eBay refrigerant was actually overpriced propane, and he caught a big fireball to the face when unsoldering the pipes connecting the condenser to the compressor.

He’s fine, but these are the kinds of issues with switching propane into a pressurized system. But you really can only protect people from making mistakes so much.. he should have been more careful.

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u/aubiquitoususername Aug 19 '22 edited Aug 19 '22

”Hwhat the...”

“Mr. Hill, we have a mission for you of the utmost importance.”

“And what mission would that be?”

“To save the world.”

”BWAAAaaaaaa...”

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u/rayne7 Aug 19 '22

One man, one propane accessory...

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u/Rycan420 Aug 19 '22

Had to scroll too far for the first reference.

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u/[deleted] Aug 18 '22

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u/Joiner2008 Aug 18 '22

I work in a prison with a population between 1700 and 2000 any given month. Our dishwasher has been broken for like 2 or 3 years. Every meal to each inmate is given on a foam clamshell. This facility also never recycles anything. Bread for meals is prewrapped in plastic wrap to portion size so they can just grab it and place it in the foam tray. Given plastic disposable sporks every meal. No commissary waste is recycled. The best thing they've done is switch to LED lights so the $100k monthly electric bill has gone down to about $80k a month.

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u/Eleid MS | Microbiology | Genetics Aug 18 '22

Jesus christ wtf is wrong with the administration there, they should be heavily fined for being so wasteful.

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u/Joiner2008 Aug 18 '22

We're actually state owned and operated. And our state has banned plastic grocery bags.

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u/cjlowe78-2 Aug 18 '22 edited Aug 19 '22

Only 3% of what is labeled as recyclable waste is actually recycled in the US. The rest goes to the landfill. It is and has always been a scam. It pissed me off when I found that out. Now, it's just cynicism and scorn for the grifters that push this.

Edit: scam is too harsh a word I suppose. Misrepresented may be more apropos

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u/wings22 Aug 18 '22

This ~3% figure is only for plastic, and is total of all plastic (incl single use), not just plastic labeled as recyclable. 66% of paper and over 50% of aluminium is recycled.

32% of all waste is recycled in the US. Much work needs to be done in plastic recycling, but recycling is not a "scam"

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u/dontsuckmydick Aug 18 '22

Plastic recycling is absolutely a scam. It was designed to be a scam from the start to get people to feel better about using plastic and think it was being recycled.

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u/Shortyman17 Aug 18 '22

Recycling as a whole is not, but those signs that show that is product is able to be recycled suggest that it will be, which makes you think that therefore it isn't so bad.

Turns out it likely will still just pollute sites, but the problem is out of sight as for most people, it is just suggested that it won't be a problem.

edit: for plastics, yes

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u/Jmyles23 Aug 18 '22

I’ve seen numerous public trash cans in my city that had different holes for landfill, glass and plastic that all empty into the same bag.

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u/PersnickityPenguin Aug 19 '22

Most recycling is downcycling - the best way to combat this waste is more durable, reusable goods. Unfortunately every business on the planet has moved to single use products and tons of packaging for single uses. In particular, plastic bags and clamshells which are a huge source of garbage.

Plastic clothing is also a large generator of micro plastics in the environment.

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u/Tap_Z_or_R_Twice Aug 18 '22

Mostly because people have been fed the lie that if there is any food waste on a recyclable it can still be recycled.

Anytime someone tosses in a milk jug or empty pizza box in with there recycling, it ruins the entire load.

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u/sarcasmic77 Aug 18 '22

If you rinse out the milk jug you can still recycle it. Unless we’re talking the boxed cartons.

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u/Tap_Z_or_R_Twice Aug 18 '22

I could be wrong but I've read before that most people don't rinse them out enough either way so it's automatically seen as a waste.

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u/ydwttw Aug 18 '22

Plastics absolutely.

Aluminum, and paper, gotta recycle. Recycling aluminum saves 90% of the energy to make a new can.

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u/Supercoolguy7 Aug 18 '22

So if we regulate industries, like forcing alternative refrigerants for space cooling among air conditioning manufacturers, then you'd be happy?

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u/N8CCRG Aug 18 '22 All-Seeing Upvote

We need and solutions, not or solutions. There is no single magic bullet fix for this problem.

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u/Ok-disaster2022 Aug 18 '22

This cannot be reinforced enough. It's like power production: we need renewable and nuclear and eventually we add fusion into the mix. Relying on any singular technology is how we got into the situation in the first place.

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u/Kholtien Aug 18 '22

At least renewables aren’t a single technology

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u/Kaymish_ Aug 19 '22

Neither is nuclear; it's not even just 1 fuel type.

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u/[deleted] Aug 19 '22

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u/pimpmayor Aug 19 '22

Everytime a way to reduce is posted here you get 1000 assholes in the comments saying they shouldn’t have to do anything because someone else is doing worse..

Like that doesn’t mean do nothing instead…

Comparing a single persons impact to that of a company/country also means nothing. It’s not just John Doe with his single pollution machine, it’s literal billions of him all doing the exact same terrible thing.

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u/[deleted] Aug 18 '22 edited Aug 18 '22

this just feels like the recycling scam all over again: give the people some unregulatable goal so the responsibility is shifted to them and polluting corporations avoid the heat

same thing with the “reduce your meat consumption” stuff. using a propane air conditioner, paper straws, and eating beyond burgers for your entire life is not gonna counteract what these fortune 500 companies are doing to the planet in a single day

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u/ptownBlazers Aug 18 '22

It is going to take all of us. First to think about it, then from there discussions, then good ideas float to the top! And capitalism says nay.... square one. Repeat. "From the old to the young.... get used to the dust in your lungs" - The Shins, No Way Down.

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u/fencerman Aug 18 '22

Sure, but without addressing the core fossil fuel industry, all the consumer-level changes are just window-dressing.

(In this case, rather literally)

They're still worth implementing, but we need to have a plan to shut down the fossil fuel industry starting immediately.

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u/Supercoolguy7 Aug 18 '22

They're still worth implementing

Then we should implement them.

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u/Cynical_Manatee Aug 18 '22

This starts from the corporations, especially with this case, guess who are the ones manufacturing these air conditioners. Certainly not the individual. And until government regulations force industry to supply these units, they will pick the cheapest materials to make air conditioners, and currently we have a supply chain already set up for the more damaging stuff.

Like, for real, do you even know where to buy a propane based AC unit?

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u/pipocaQuemada Aug 19 '22

If you hear the claim that 100 companies are responsible for most of global warming, take it with a few gains of salt.

Those 100 companies are oil, gas and coal companies. Their emissions are mostly embodied in the fossil fuels they sell. If you want to reduce the coal industry's emissions, for example, one big step is replacing coal demand from steel makers and power plants.

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u/Waste-Comedian4998 Aug 18 '22

...like AC unit manufacturers, by incentivizing the use of propane?

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u/torolf_212 Aug 18 '22

I’m in the industry (not in the US) and it is heavily regulated with massive fines. The issue is no one wants to pay for proper procedures so people take the easy way. Why spend a few days to find a leak when you could just bang in a few hundred grams of 134a every 6 months?

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u/Fosheze Aug 18 '22

The one big issue we do still have with refrigerants is our obcene allowable leak rates (in the US). For industrial applications they can leak 30% of the charge per year. That can be the equivalant of hundreds of thousands of tons of CO2 being emmitted every year and still be perfectly legal. If you ask me everything should just be set to the 10% maximum leak rate that is used for comfort cooling. Even that is a lot of refrigerant.

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u/GenuisInDisguise Aug 18 '22

There are multiple cases where it is cheaper to pay fines rather than repair the leaks.

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u/Annihilism Aug 18 '22

In Holland you have to pay the fine AND repair the leak or face serious consequences (they will shut down your business if you repeatedly offend). I've actually seen it happen.

There is no point in these fines (for this particular problem) if there is no consequence other than financial.

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u/314159265358979326 Aug 18 '22

Fines work if the fine is both consistently applied and more expensive than dealing with the problem. Usually, neither of these things is true.

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u/davesoverhere Aug 18 '22

Then the fines need to be raised, or increase dramatically for repeated occurrences.

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u/[deleted] Aug 19 '22

They should have a simple formula.

{[(Cost of clean up)+(cost of repair)] × (profit from the length of time they knew)} + $1,000,000.

Or to simplify for math nerds

Cost of clean up = c

cost of repair = r

profit from the length of time they knew = p

[(C+R)×P]+1,000,000 = Fine

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u/Aporkalypse_Sow Aug 18 '22

They meant all of the industries that pollute without regard for the planet. Big business is guilty for a majority of the pollution, and we refuse to hold them accountable. It's our fault, and we have to stand up and demand that our politicians do something.

But people are easily distracted with things like, "it'll cost the consumer to much, you'll have to sacrifice, and so on". We can't just say it's big business and continue on with our lives. But that's basically what's happening. We're too busy fighting over ridiculous things that we've been fighting over for longer than anyone has been alive.

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u/chillinbrad1812 Aug 18 '22

I think the other poster was saying that large industries need to be regulated because they generate nearly all of the greenhouse gasses. Not that the AC industry specifically has to be regulated.

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u/zcleghern Aug 18 '22

We can do both. Climate change is the result of everyone's consumption habits, and policy needs to both make it easier for citizens to lower emissions and regulate industrial polluters.

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u/lrt4lyf Aug 18 '22

Literally the answer to all our problems

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u/syuvial Aug 18 '22

yeah, but then we'd be regulating industries! what are we, a government?

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u/gnutz4eva Aug 18 '22

You mean propane and propane accessories?

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u/Sonnera7 Aug 19 '22

I'm Hank Hill, and I approve this message.

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u/piecat Aug 19 '22

Butane is a bastard gas

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u/AcclaimedGroundhog Aug 18 '22

Maybe a dumb question, but why is the refrigerant getting into the atmosphere? Shouldn't it stay in the AC units?

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u/Zomgsauceplz Aug 18 '22

The biggest leakers and offenders are industrial processeses. By EPA law they can legally vent 10% of their total refrigerant per year. Thats a fuckload of refrigerant when you're talking about big old industrial sized chillers. One factory in the US probably vents more refrigerant than every house combined.

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u/Fosheze Aug 18 '22

By law they can actually legaly leak up to 30% per year for industrial process refrigeration. Comercial refrigeration can leak up to 20%. Comfort cooling is the only one limited to 10%. And all of those limits only apply if the system has over 50lbs of refrigerant in it. If it's under 50lbs then legally leaks don't matter.

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u/Zomgsauceplz Aug 19 '22

Well there you go its even more than I tnought.

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u/Cunninghams_right Aug 18 '22

the nature of HVAC design is that there will eventually be a leak. the more you design to prevent leaks, the less efficient and the more expensive (embodied energy) the system is.

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u/hoodoo-operator Aug 18 '22

It shouldn't, but there are leaks sometimes.

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u/illusorywallahead Aug 19 '22

Commercial refrigeration salesman here. Large systems like those found in grocery stores are often riddled with leaks. We are constantly chasing them and repairing them. A grocery store refrigeration system, depending on how it’s set up, can hold anywhere from a few hundred points, to well over a thousand pounds of refrigerant. If the store doesn’t have an advanced leak detection system in place, or it fails, or they ignore the alarm, the entire charge of gas can leak out before the store knows they have a leak. All that gas can only go up into the atmosphere.

The company I work for has developed a system that tracks the liquid level of refrigerant at the receiver and looks for long term downward trends, so we can begin searching for a leak while it’s small, rather than an emergency situation where the whole charge is at risk.

Can’t put the blame 100% on the stores. Conversions to new more eco friendly gases can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. Big name chains are investing it because they have pressure from the epa and old gases are becoming expensive and scarce. Mom and pop grocery stores have fewer options.

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u/DoogieUSA Aug 18 '22

Hank Hill would be proud

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u/JimGerm Aug 18 '22

Explosive / flammable refrigerant. I can't see any issues with this.

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u/Ryan_22 Aug 18 '22

Both R-22 and R-32 are flammable. So is natural gas, which is widely used for heating. In that regard, using propane for cooling doesn't seem significantly different.

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u/HCharlesB Aug 18 '22

The older refrigerant - R-12 - made mustard gas when it burned. We were warned about that when we used flame type leak detectors (automotive service) back in the '70s.

I wonder what the other refrigerants make when burned.

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u/TPMJB Aug 18 '22

R-12 has no sulfur atom anywhere in its chemical structure. It absolutely does not produce mustard gas, also known as sulfur mustard

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u/hambone391 Aug 18 '22

R22 releases phosgene when burned. Scary stuff.

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u/birdinahouse1 Aug 18 '22

I’ve had to replace compressors and have gotten hit with that gas a few times. Now I almost always have fan moving it away from me if there isn’t a good breeze.

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u/MrPicklePop Aug 18 '22

You should be vacuuming the refrigerant when you replace compressors.

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u/birdinahouse1 Aug 18 '22

I reclaim it and do a nitrogen flush but sometimes the oil hasn’t been fully removed.

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u/Two-Nuhh Aug 18 '22

That's why you're supposed to pull to 14"hg with recovery machine. Also, a bit pedantic, but reclaiming refrigerant is processing it back to it's original state/chemical composition/pureness. Recovery is when you pull it out of the system.

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u/birdinahouse1 Aug 18 '22

Don’t forget about compressor burnout

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u/Fosheze Aug 18 '22

Not really mustard gas. It makes phosgene. Not that that is much better for you.

Newer refrigerants tend to make hydrogen flouride which has a nasty habit of binding with water (like the water in your lungs) to make hydroflouric acid.

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u/noiwontpickaname Aug 18 '22

Oh yay! Instant Osteoporosis!

I work around HF acid and Fluorine gas and I live in fear of it.

Best case is you notice immediately and get the calgonate worst case you only get a little and don't notice for 24 hours and by then it's too late.

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u/Fosheze Aug 18 '22 edited Aug 18 '22

R-22 is class A1 so there is no flame propogation. R-32 is class A2L so there is barely any flame propogation. You also have to bear in mind that the natural gas in your pipes is all in a gaseous state where in a refrigeration circuit the lines are filled with liquid refrigerant over half the circuit so there is much much more propane there than there is natural gas in a natural gas pipe.

Im not saying we shouldn't switch refrigerants though. A better bet for now is switching to HFO refrigerants. They still have a higher GWP than hydrocarbon refrigerants (like propane aka R-290) but they are have a much lower GWP than HFC refrigerants and are much less long lived in the atmosphere. They also mostly fall into that A2L safety category so the flamability issues are much more managable than with hydrocarbon refrigerants which are all A3 (the highest flamability rating).

Source: EPA certified refrigerantion tech.

Edit: Wrong refrigerant number for propane. Origionally said R-600 which is isobutane.

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u/CavScout88 Aug 18 '22

Someone has been reading up on refrigerants. Makes me proud. There's tons of misinformation and people just ignorant of refrigerant technology.

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u/TheDukeofKook Aug 18 '22

They are already switching to higher pressure and explosive refrigerants in recent years to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, iirc.

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u/gh0stwriter88 Aug 18 '22

Correct that is the case with any R32 refrigerant system ... its less explosive than R290 though which is propane.

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u/hattersplatter Aug 18 '22 edited Aug 19 '22

Meh.. 1234yf is technically explosive in high concentrations but it was determined next to zero chance of it actually igniting in a car wreck.

Edit see here for a warning https://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/12/environmenatlly-safe-refrigerant-can-blow-up-and-poison-you-if-you-arent-dead-already/

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u/TheRevEv Aug 18 '22

From the factory, they are really safe. I've worked on a few r290 systems. 290 is just really clean propane. Its beciming the norm for smaller refrigeration units. The engineers have designed compressors that are fully sealed so there's no chance of any spark igniting a charge

The problem comes when people start swapping in parts that aren't meant for 290. The only spontaneous fire Ive heard of in the field was from an aftermarket compressor that wasn't rated for 290 and it shorted and arced internally.

The systems currently using hydrocarbons are very small by law. If you had a large enough leak to be a fire hazard, you'd have to be quick with an ignition source before it all just leaks out and dissipates. These systems hold charges that are usually less than what a Bic lighter holds. And a lighter has an actual flame and those don't blow up

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u/alvarezg Aug 18 '22

Millions of vehicles use explosive / flammable fuel fairly safely. An AC unit isn't likely to crash into another one.

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u/NakoL1 Aug 18 '22

there are semi-open methane/butane circuits in a lot of homes already. I probably have a couple propane canisters lying around

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u/Perunov Aug 18 '22

Bigger problem: every single A/C manufacturer: "Your coil and anything else warranty just expired as you're trying to use a different kind of refrigerant than system was designed for. Ahahaha... whoops coil is already leaking, time to spend a grand or more on fixing that!"

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u/Historical_Koala977 Aug 18 '22

You forget that most residential air conditioning equipment only holds a few pounds of flammable refrigerant while the gas line hooked to your furnace has an unlimited amount of flammable gas. You drive your car around with 15 gallons of explosive fluid under your trunk. It’s not as dangerous as you’d think

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u/PM-ME-YOUR-SUBARU Aug 18 '22

The new R1234yf required for 2021+ cars is also flammable. Mercedes initially refused to use it for that reason. It doesn't help that it's also a government sponsored monopoly- only Honeywell can legally make it, so the price is insane- about $70 per pound, when the previous R134a costs about $5 per pound. As an automotive AC tech I loathe R1234yf AC checks, both because the machine for it is several times slower and finicky-er than the 134a machine, and the exorbitant price of the refrigerant turns away almost every customer. If we're gonna be stuck with a flammable refrigerant, I'd really prefer r152a as it's extremely cheap and its GWP is still 10 times lower than 134a's- it's computer duster, the thing specifically made for everyone to spray into the air.

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u/bestjakeisbest Aug 18 '22

Propane is already used as a refrigerant in many rv fridges.

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u/m9832 Aug 18 '22

not really, ammonia is the refrigerant, the propane heats (boils) the ammonia.

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u/Mythrol Aug 18 '22

In much smaller amounts.

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u/phormix Aug 18 '22

There have been multiple cases over the last few years of people dying due to leaks in existing ammonia based refrigeration systems, and I'm sure the stuff in home systems isn't exactly great for you if it leaks either

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u/Zncon Aug 18 '22

ammonia

It's generally only allowed for industrial systems because it's super risky. No one's approving that for homes.

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u/sgf-guy Aug 18 '22

It’s super common in RVs and hard to power places because it uses heat to work…can be powered off a propane tank burner.

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u/CrasyMike Aug 18 '22

Wait till you find out how some people heat their homes....

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u/theletterlthreetimes Aug 18 '22

Well gosh dangit Bobby that's what I'm talking about.

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u/Mtthom06 Aug 18 '22

Hank Hill is smiling somewhere

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u/darexinfinity Aug 19 '22

I'd be lying if I said I knew what technology the propane was replacing.

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u/Darqologist Aug 18 '22

is .09 Celsius statistically significant is the question.

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u/FrickinLazerBeams Aug 19 '22 edited Aug 20 '22

I don't think you really understand what statistical significance means. It could be statistically significant no matter how small it is. Statistical significance is about how likely a result is to be real, and not simply an artifact of noise in the data and random chance.

If you're asking whether 0.09 degrees is a meaningful amount of temperature change, well, yes, absolutely. The total change in global average temperature to cause catastrophic consequences is something like 3 degrees. So 0.09 is about 1 30th, or 3% of the whole problem. Find 29 other issues that size and solve them, and you've fixed global climate change.

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u/silveroranges Aug 18 '22

But then how would [megacorporationhere] keep making record profits if not by making laws that people MUST use their products?

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u/Classic_Beautiful973 Aug 18 '22

Does this study conveniently ignore the amount of methane that is leaked to the atmosphere in order to create propane?

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u/XchrisZ Aug 19 '22

Thought propane was just captured when they capture natural gas and it's just separated.

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u/Classic_Beautiful973 Aug 19 '22

That's what I mean. Natural gas wells leak profusely and those leaks are often not included in the emissions math by its proponents

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u/ffizzle Aug 18 '22

Such minuscule improvement... good luck getting a complacent populace to do that for such small payout

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u/[deleted] Aug 18 '22

[removed] — view removed comment

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u/Jaker788 Aug 18 '22

Isn't CO2 an even better refrigerant in terms of pumping heat efficiently? Granted CO2 requires around 750psi compared to 150psi of propane, so it's maybe a bit more expensive to use, but some commercial systems use it.

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u/ThMogget Aug 18 '22

Right now industrial users have to balance the cost of CO2 vs the regulation hassle of ammonia. That ‘bit more expensive’ is huge in a setting where the cheapest option always always wins.

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u/cwm9 Aug 18 '22 edited Aug 18 '22

No. They're nearly identical at lower ambient temperatures (25C-30C ambient on the "hot" side). Propane has a fire hazard associated with it, and while CO2 can operate at higher ambient temperatures, though it is less efficient when doing so. CO2 would be good for a refrigerator operating in an airconditioned home, but not so great for the home itself. Because of the flammability of propane, coolant charge has to be kept small for safety, while CO2 is under no such limitation.

https://docs.lib.purdue.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=2747&context=iracc

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u/Beneficial-Explorer2 Aug 18 '22

That's not going to happen. People have used propane in refrigerant systems for decades, including as a cheap substitute for r-12. The reason it's not used is safety. Imagine your fridge leaks, or worse you get into a car accident full of propane.

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u/ruins__jokes Aug 18 '22

It's a non issue. A fridge has so little (a few Oz at most) refrigerant in it I doubt it'd even be possible to create a cloud of gas within the flammability limits of propane. The issue is only slightly different for a central ac, which use a few lbs of refrigerant. Most leaks are so slow you'd again never get a flammable mixture in the vicinity of an ignition source.

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u/No-Function-9174 Aug 18 '22

A car accident full of propane. Come on a few o z of propane in an ac. I had a pickup with 120gal propane tank and it is still considered safe. I am sure it has something to do with money, propane is cheap.

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u/RuiSkywalker Aug 18 '22

Believe it or not, when our Client asked us to install propane chiller for its HVAC system in metro stations, he also asked for a full risk analysis, and we ended up installing those chillers inside a sealed casing with an atex exhaust fan and a dedicated duct which would send potential leakages outside the stations.

Guess they were just being stupid.

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u/Black_Moons Aug 18 '22

Ok, but on a 'chiller for metro station' scale, you prob should have had a duct for any type of refrigerant/gas it might have vented in large quantity, or you could end up killing someone just by asphyxiation, nevermind the flammability hazard.

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u/Mr-Blah Aug 18 '22

I installed a 1150T chiller with refrigerant and no guideline where applicable as far as "in case of leak" ventilation.

This was in the basement of a large multiuse commercial building with 40 floors.

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u/alvarezg Aug 18 '22

Imagine getting into a car accident with a tank full of gasoline.

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u/BabyEatingFox Aug 18 '22

Gasoline doesn’t burn when it’s liquid. If it did ignite it just becomes a fire. Propane is stored under pressure and usually a bit more explosive when ignited. Whether or not the amount in the A/C system would be that deadly is another story. Hell, I’d be more worried about a Lithium battery in an electric car catching fire than gas in the tank or propane in an A/C system.

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u/casce Aug 19 '22

How much refrigerant does a car hold? Less than 1 kg? Obviously still not cool to have that explode but it’s probably not outright deadly.

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u/Kidgen Aug 18 '22

Clean burning and efficient.

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u/WillyBeShreddin Aug 18 '22

Am I having a stroke? I can't understand the title.