An air conditioner is an embodiment of multiple different components that perform different tasks for the sole purpose of efficient heat transfer from the inside of the room to the outside. Various components connected in a sequence form a cycle which is called the refrigeration cycle that explains the working principle of an air conditioner in general.
As simple air cannot be used to force the heat outside of the room, air conditioners are operated on a special heat transfer medium which is known as a refrigerant. Today, we will try to understand the basic definition and working principle of a refrigerant so that it gets easier to choose the optimum one from the selection.
What is a Refrigerant in Air Conditioners?
A refrigerant is a basic yet most important part of the air conditioner cycle. The overall operation and the cooling capacity of an air conditioner is highly dependent upon the refrigerant used in it. Thus, an ideal refrigerant results in a much better performance as it allows a greater heat transfer under minimum power consumption.
In simple words, a refrigerant is a chemical compound that has a very low boiling point as compared to any other fluid. Thus, it offers exceptional heat transfer rates. The refrigerant easily changes its phase at room temperature and absorbs the heat in the process. Therefore, refrigerants are highly essential with refrigerators as well as air conditioners.
How Does a Refrigerant Work?
The refrigerant passes through all of the components of the air conditioner’s system, starting from the compressor. The compressor increases the pressure and temperature of the refrigerant to push it throughout the system.
The next part is the condenser that manages to transform its phase back into a liquid and attain a very low temperature. Thus it can absorb the temperature from the air coming in from the outside while it flows over the evaporator.
In this process, it changes the phase again to a gaseous state so that it absorbs as much heat as possible from the air and brings down its temperature to a regulated level. This way, an air conditioner gives you the temperature level which you assign via the remote control.
What is the importance of a refrigerant in an Air conditioning system?
After reading the working principle of an air conditioner given above, you must have realized how important a refrigerant can be for an air conditioner. In almost every component of the air conditioner cycle, the refrigerant has a certain task. To achieve the best performance possible for the given capacity, an ideal refrigerant is crucial in an air conditioner system.
Using a proper refrigerant in your system not only makes your conditioning system perfect but also helps with environmental issues and prevents global warming. All refrigerants have a certain rated global warming potential that represents their effect on the environment. Choosing a low global warming potential refrigerant is always the ideal choice.
Life Cycle of A Refrigerant
If you have previously owned an air conditioner, you must know how fast the performance degrades if there is a problem with the refrigerant like leakage or contamination. Thus, a prepper refrigerant is of utmost importance in an air conditioner for both, a great cooling performance as well as for environmental safety.
Similar to all chemical compounds, refrigerants also have a predefined life cycle. After the said life cycle period is exceeded, you will observe changes in the chemical properties of the refrigerant. These changes affect the performance of the system and decrease its efficiency over time.
Types of refrigerants/gas used in AC
The refrigerants are special types of liquids that are created to achieve the required levels of performance. Thus, it should not come as a surprise that there are more than hundreds of different refrigerants manufactured by now out of which only a handful have been selected by major brands.
These refrigerants are selected on the basis of their chemical properties that are:
- Boiling Point
- Condensation Temperature
- Global Warming Potential
- Freezing Point
- High Vapor Density
- High Heat Transfer Rate
Popular AC Refrigerants
Here are some of the most commonly used refrigerants in the industry right now that are powering more than millions of air conditioners all around the world:
- R134: This is the preferred refrigerant for both refrigerators and air conditioners in the world right now as it is the most efficient refrigerant that poses little to no damage to the environment. Due to zero chlorine content, it does not produce any toxic gases.
- R410A: This refrigerant is almost similar to the previously mentioned R134 as it shares an almost similar chemical formula. But, the R410A has a few advantages such as better air quality, increased comfort levels, and overall improved reliability that makes it a better pick.
- R22: This refrigerant was quite popular a decade ago due to it’s cheaper production rate and highly efficient output. But, it was proved to be harmful to the environment and thus, according to the Clean Air Act which was passed in the year 2010, it was decided to phase out this refrigerant within the next decade.
- R12: You will not see this refrigerant with any air conditioner or refrigerator in the year 2020. Due to its increased contribution to the greenhouse effect and global warming, it was banned by official bodies in the year 1994.
Which AC Gas is Termed as the Most Energy-Efficient?
While it is quite difficult to point out a single refrigerant that works perfectly in all working conditions, we can say that the R290 refrigerant is the most energy-efficient compound to date. It was revealed in a detailed analysis of the refrigerant that it provides the best working performance for high capacity air conditioners.
As a result, you will only find this compound in a high cavity air conditioner that has at least 1.5 tonnes or more capacity. It gets even more assured as various national, as well as international bodies, have provided approval for the R290 to be used in an air conditioner. Unlike other options, it also poses lesser threats for the user and is marked safe by many authorities.
Does AC Gas/Refrigerant Require to get Replaced?
Theoretically, one should never need to replace a refrigerant from an air conditioner. The refrigerant is not a fuel that is consumed within the process. Hence, it’s volume is supposed to be identical throughout the air conditioner’s life cycle.
But, most users can agree on the fact that as time passes, the output quality and performance of the air conditioner starts going downhill. Now, it is not necessary that the refrigerant is the sole reason behind the decline of the performance as it can also be the result of faulty components or infrequent maintenance. But in most cases, it is observed that the refrigerant is the culprit.
While the refrigerant does not get consumed, it comes in contact with various impurities over time. If even the minuscule particle manages to slip in through the cracks and get mixed with the refrigerant, it starts changing its chemical properties.
Also, the minor impurities also flow throughout the system along with the refrigerant. Thus, it can create small openings in the pies that results in leakage of the refrigerant. For these and many other reasons, a refrigerant loses its capabilities after a certain period of time.
For example, the phase change rate and a heat transfer rate of an impure refrigerant will always be slower than a pure one.
There will be a point where you may need to get the refrigerant replaced so as to get back a perfectly functioning device.