Freon and Refrigerant

Freon and Refrigerant 5 solid and best difference you could learn

This article explores the fundamental differences between Freon and Refrigerant and their environmental impacts to help you make informed decisions for a more eco-conscious future. Understanding their differences will assist with making more sustainable and eco-conscious choices when making cooling agent selection decisions.

What is Freon?

Freon was long associated with chlorofluorocarbon (CFC) and hydrochlorofluorocarbon (HCFC) refrigerants manufactured by different companies across North America; DuPont Chemical first trademarked it at the turn of the 20th century; manufacturers at that time commonly referred to Freon by name. Freon became widely used to describe different refrigerants made by various firms across different manufacturing facilities – eventually even the term itself became well-known and was even trademarked at one point!

What is Freon?
Figure 01: What is Freon?

Refrigerants are used in heat pumps, air conditioners, and refrigeration systems to transfer and transfer heat. Due to their exceptional thermodynamic qualities, stability, and nonflammability, they were extremely popular and suitable for many different applications.

R-12 (dichlorodifluoromethane; CFC-12), the most widely-used Freon refrigerant, was once widely utilized for cooling systems both residential and automotive air conditioning, until scientists learned it contributes to global ozone depletion through air pollution.

The Montreal Protocol and related international agreements have led to the gradual phase-out of CFCs as well as many Freon compounds. As more environmentally friendly solutions such as hydrofluorocarbons and hydrofluoroolefins have emerged to replace Freon compounds, further restrictions have been put on production of such chemicals.

Freon refers to an umbrella group of CFC and HCFC refrigerants which, due to their detrimental impact on ozone layers, have fallen out of use over the years. Nowadays more eco-friendly refrigerants with reduced atmospheric impact are used instead.

What are Refrigerants?

Refrigerators are substances used to provide cooling and transfer heat in applications like air conditioning, refrigeration, heat pumps and heat exchangers. Refrigerators work through an ongoing cycle of compression, expansion and heat absorption from their environment (evaporator) before dissipating it elsewhere (condenser). This cyclic process allows the substances to cool an area or maintain a certain temperature.

What are Refrigerants?
Figure 02: What are Refrigerants?

Refrigerant selection depends on thermodynamic properties as well as safety, efficacy, and impact on the environment. Numerous types of refrigerants have been developed over time for use in different applications –

The most popular being:

  1. Chlorofluorocarbons: CFCs were among the initial synthetic refrigerants introduced into use during the early 20th century, boasting excellent thermodynamic characteristics while simultaneously contributing to global warming potential and depleting of ozone layer protection. Due to these properties they were eventually phased out.
  2. Hydrochlorofluorocarbons: Hydrochlorofluorocarbons have become an attractive transitional replacement to CFCs due to their decreased risk of ozone depletion. These chemicals still pose serious threats to our atmosphere and must eventually be phased-out globally.
  3. Hydrofluorocarbons: Following the phase out of CFCs, HFCs were rapidly adopted as replacement products. They have no ozone depletion potential, but many HFCs have a high global warming potential (GWP), contributing to climate change. As a result, some HFCs are also being phased out, and alternatives with lower GWPs are being adopted.
  4. Hydrofluoroolefins: HFOs are a new generation of refrigerants designed to have significantly lower GWPs than their predecessors. They are considered environmentally friendly alternatives and are increasingly being used in modern cooling systems.
  5. Ammonia (R-717): Ammonia is a natural refrigerant with excellent thermodynamic properties, high energy efficiency, and zero ozone depletion and global warming potential. It is commonly used in large industrial refrigeration systems and food processing applications.
  6. Carbon Dioxide (R-744): Carbon dioxide (also referred to as CO2) is an eco-friendly refrigerant with nonflammable properties, making it increasingly popular due to its minimal environmental footprint and non combustibility. It is used in some commercial refrigeration and heat pump systems.
  7. Hydrocarbons (HCs): Hydrocarbons, such as propane (R-290) and isobutane (R-600a), are natural refrigerants with low GWP and are gaining traction in domestic refrigeration and small cooling systems.

When selecting an ideal refrigerant, it is crucial to take several factors into consideration, including energy efficiency, safety and compatibility between equipment and components of the cooling system. Regulations and international agreements govern the use of certain refrigerants to mitigate their environmental impact and address climate change concerns.

Differences Between Freon and Refrigerant

There are key differences between “Freon”, the generic term for refrigerants, and Freon specifically:

  1. Definition:
    • Freon: Freon is a specific brand name originally trademarked by DuPont for a group of chlorofluorocarbon (CFC) and hydrochlorofluorocarbon (HCFC) refrigerants. It became widely recognized and used as a synonym for various refrigerants, especially those used in older cooling systems.
    • Refrigerant: Refrigerant is a generic term used to describe any substance used in refrigeration, air conditioning, heat pump systems, or other cooling applications to transfer heat and provide cooling effects. It encompasses a broader range of substances beyond just the specific Freon-branded refrigerants.
  2. Composition:
    • Freon: As mentioned, Freon refers to a specific group of refrigerants, including CFCs and HCFCs, which have been phased out due to their adverse impact on the ozone layer and high global warming potential.
    • Refrigerant: Refrigerants include a wide variety of substances, such as HFCs, HFOs, ammonia, carbon dioxide, and hydrocarbons, each with different chemical compositions and environmental properties.
  3. Environmental Impact:
    • Freon: Freon refrigerants, particularly CFCs and HCFCs, were found to be major contributors to ozone depletion in the Earth’s atmosphere, leading to the creation of the Montreal Protocol and subsequent international agreements to phase out their production and use.
    • Refrigerant: Different refrigerants have varying environmental impacts. While some, like HFCs, have no ozone depletion potential but high global warming potential, newer refrigerants like HFOs and natural refrigerants have lower global warming potential and no ozone depletion potential, making them more environmentally friendly alternatives.
  4. Usage:
    • Freon: Freon was widely used in refrigeration and air conditioning systems for several decades, but due to environmental concerns, its usage has significantly decreased, and its production has been discontinued.
    • Refrigerant: Modern refrigerants, which include HFCs, HFOs, ammonia, carbon dioxide, and hydrocarbons, are now commonly used in various cooling applications, with a focus on reducing environmental impact and meeting regulatory requirements.
  5. Phase-out:
    • Freon: The production and use of Freon-branded refrigerants, particularly CFCs and HCFCs, have been phased out in most countries due to their detrimental effects on the ozone layer.
    • Refrigerant: As regulations evolve to address climate change, certain refrigerants with high global warming potential, such as some HFCs, are also being phased out and replaced with alternatives with lower GWPs.

Freon refers to a specific group of refrigerants, primarily CFCs and HCFCs, which have been phased out due to their environmental impact. On the other hand, refrigerant is a general term encompassing various substances used for cooling, including both older Freon compounds and newer, more environmentally friendly alternatives.

Applications and Uses

Refrigerants, including Freon (historically) and modern alternatives, have a wide range of applications and uses across various industries and sectors.

Applications and Uses
Figure 03: Applications and Uses

Some of the common applications and uses of refrigerants are as follows:

  1. Air Conditioning Systems: Air-conditioning systems installed in homes, commercial properties and industrial settings utilize refrigerants to effectively cool and dehumidify indoor spaces for comfort during hot periods.
  2. Refrigeration Systems: Refrigerants are crucial components in refrigeration systems used in grocery stores, food processing facilities, cold storage warehouses, and other applications to preserve perishable goods and maintain low temperatures.
  3. Heat Pumps: Heat pump systems use refrigerants to transfer heat between indoor and outdoor environments, providing both heating and cooling capabilities for buildings and homes.
  4. Automobile Air Conditioning: Automotive air conditioning systems rely on refrigerants to cool the interior of vehicles, providing comfort to passengers and drivers.
  5. Industrial Processes: Refrigeration systems are integral parts of many industrial processes, from chemical production and pharmaceutical development, through pharmaceutical sales and petrochemical refining to refrigerated shipping of finished goods.
  6. Commercial and Institutional Facilities: Refrigeration Systems Used in Large Commercial and Institutional Buildings, For air conditioning and refrigeration needs in commercial buildings such as schools, hospitals, or universities. In these establishments, refrigerants such as HFC-134a is frequently deployed.
  7. Transport Refrigeration: Refrigerants are employed in refrigerated trucks, ships, and containers to maintain specific temperature conditions for transporting perishable goods over long distances.
  8. Supermarket Display Cases: In supermarkets and grocery stores, refrigerants are used in open and closed display cases to keep perishable goods, such as meat, dairy products, and produce, at the required temperature.
  9. Ice Rinks and Ice Skating Rinks: Refrigerants are used in ice-making systems to maintain the ice surface for ice rinks and ice skating rinks.
  10. Cold Chain Logistics: Refrigerants play a vital role in cold chain logistics, ensuring the safe and fresh delivery of food, pharmaceuticals, and other temperature-sensitive products from production to consumption.
  11. Data Centers: In some cases, refrigerants are used for cooling in large data centers to manage the heat generated by computer servers and equipment.

As refrigerant technologies advance and environmental concerns increase, more applications are opting for refrigerants with reduced global warming potential and no ozone depletion potential – natural refrigerants like ammonia, hydrocarbons, carbon dioxide as well as synthetic refrigerants like HFOs have lower environmental impacts. Alternative cooling technologies to improve efficiency and sustainability may also be explored by industry players.

Health and Safety Considerations

As with any hazardous substance, when dealing with refrigerants it is critical that health and safety considerations be given proper weight. Mishandling them could endanger both humans and the environment – this should always be kept in mind when using refrigerants.

Below are the most essential safety and health aspects when using them:

  1. Toxicity: Some refrigerants, such as ammonia (R-717), are toxic and can cause health issues if inhaled or come into direct contact with the skin or eyes. Proper handling, storage, and use are essential to prevent exposure.
  2. Flammability: Certain refrigerants, including hydrocarbons like propane (R-290) and isobutane (R-600a), are flammable and can pose fire hazards if not handled with care or if leaks occur in confined spaces.
  3. Asphyxiation Risk: Some refrigerants, like carbon dioxide (R-744), can displace oxygen in enclosed spaces, leading to a potential risk of asphyxiation if leaked in poorly ventilated areas.
  4. Pressure Hazards: Refrigerants are typically stored as compressed gases or liquids under high pressure. Improper handling or equipment failure can lead to pressure-related accidents, such as explosions or leaks.
  5. Ventilation: Adequate ventilation is crucial when working with or around refrigerants to prevent the buildup of potentially harmful concentrations in the air.
  6. Personal Protective Equipment (PPE): Proper PPE, such as safety goggles, gloves, and respiratory protection, should be worn when handling refrigerants to minimize exposure and protect against accidental contact.
  7. Leak Detection and Repair: Regular leak detection and prompt repair are essential to minimize refrigerant emissions, which can contribute to global warming and air pollution.
  8. Flammability-Resistant Equipment: For flammable refrigerants, equipment that meets specific safety standards, such as explosion-proof electrical components, should be used to reduce fire risks.
  9. Training and Certification: Personnel working with refrigerants should undergo proper training and certification to handle and manage these substances safely.
  10. Safe Disposal: To protect the environment and ensure compliance with regulations, it is vital that proper procedures be observed when disposing of old or unused refrigeration.
  11. Regulatory Compliance: Compliance with local and international regulations is vital to maintain safety and environmental standards.
  12. Emergency Response: Establishing emergency response protocols for refrigerant leaks or accidents is essential to minimize risks and protect personnel and the public.

Many countries have instituted regulations for refrigerant use and handling to promote safety while mitigating environmental impact. Therefore, it is imperative that compliance with such standards and best practices adhered to so as to maintain air conditioning and refrigeration system safety as well as protect people and the planet.

Current Regulations and Future Outlook

As of my last knowledge update in September 2021, regulations concerning the use of refrigerants have been evolving to address environmental concerns and mitigate their impact on the ozone layer and climate change.

Some key regulations and agreements that have influenced the refrigerant industry are:

  • Montreal Protocol: Signed into law in 1987, the Montreal Protocol is an international treaty intended to preserve ozone depleting substances by gradually restricting production and consumption – CFCs, HCFCs and other refrigerants among them – that deplete ozone. Since enacting it has had significant results on emissions reduction by significantly cutting harmful emissions of harmful compounds into our environment.
  • Kigali Amendment: Adopted and implemented since 2019, the Kigali Amendment seeks to decrease production and consumption levels of hydrofluorocarbons – powerful greenhouse gases with high global warming potential – through specific targets established under this amendment.
  • National and Regional Regulations: Many nations and areas have regulations in place for managing the use and emissions of refrigerants, with an emphasis on minimizing high GWP refrigerant emission rates while encouraging more environmentally friendly alternatives.
  • F-Gas Regulation: To curb HFC use and production as well as fluorinated gasses with high global warming potentials (GWPs), European Union implemented F-Gas Regulation. This law sets production and import quotas, along with bans of certain high GWP refrigeration refrigerants.

Future Outlook:

  • Continued Phase-Out of High-GWP Refrigerants: The global trend is expected to continue towards phasing out high-GWP refrigerants, particularly HFCs. This will drive the adoption of alternatives with lower GWPs, such as hydrofluoroolefins (HFOs), hydrocarbons, and natural refrigerants like ammonia and carbon dioxide.
  • Emergence of Low-GWP Alternatives: Research and development efforts are ongoing to discover and develop new refrigerants with even lower GWPs and improved performance characteristics. These low-GWP alternatives are likely to gain popularity as they align with environmental objectives.
  • Adoption of Natural Refrigerants: Ammonia, hydrocarbons and carbon dioxide are natural refrigerants which have become increasingly popular due to their reduced environmental footprint, non-ozone depleting qualities and decreased global heating potential.
  • Enhance Refrigerator Management: Raised awareness and tightened regulations will likely result in enhanced refrigerant management practices, including leakage detection, recovery/recycling programs and responsible disposal methods.
  • Technological Advancements: Advancements in refrigeration technology can reduce environmental impact while simultaneously increasing energy efficiency.

The future of refrigerants is moving towards more sustainable and environmentally friendly options. The industry is making substantial efforts to transition to alternatives that have minimal impact on the ozone layer and contribute less to global warming, leading to a greener and more sustainable cooling sector.

It’s important to note that developments beyond my last update in September 2021 may have occurred, and it is recommended to refer to more recent sources for the latest information on regulations and the future outlook of refrigerants.


Today’s world of sustainability and environmental awareness requires knowing what makes Freon different. Freon was once widely used brand name for chlorofluorocarbon (CFC) and hydrochlorofluorocarbon (HCFC) refrigerants but has largely been phased out due to their damaging impact on ozone layers and global warming impact.

Refrigerators is the term given to substances used for cooling applications like air conditioning, heat pumps and refrigeration. It includes old but environmentally damaging compounds like CFCs and HFCs as well as newer alternatives with reduced global warming potential and no ozone depleting potential such as hydrofluorocarbons, hydrofluoroolefins, ammonia or hydrocarbons.