What is GWP?

The global warming potential (GWP) of a gas refers to the total contribution to global warming resulting from the emission of one unit of that gas relative to one unit of the reference gas, carbon dioxide (CO2), which is assigned a value of 1. GWPs can also be used to define the impact greenhouse gases will have on global warming over different time periods or time horizons. These are usually 20 years, 100 years, and 500 years. A time horizon of 100 years is used by regulators (e.g., the California Air Resources Board). ARB maintains a list of GWPs for some common refrigerants. For more information, please see the IPCC website at: http://www.ipcc.ch/publications_and_data/ar4/wg1/en/ch2s2-10.html

The most common refrigerant today, R-22, has a 100-year GWP just over 1,800, almost 2,000 times the potency of carbon dioxide, so just one pound of R-22 is nearly as potent as a ton of carbon dioxide. To compare with driving a car, this means that just one 30-lb tank of R-22 is more potent if released, than the CO2 emitted into the atmosphere by driving nearly 7 additional cars each year (source data available at ARB's CoolCalifornia Calculator: http://coolcalifornia.org/calculator). 

One small cannister R-404a is as potent as annual fuel for 8 cars

The most common replacement for R-22, R-404A, is more than twice as potent a greenhouse gas than R-22. One small 30-lb tank holds the equivalent of the CO2 emitted by driving more than 14 additional cars each year (see image, above). Just one single pound of R-404A is as potent as roughly two tons of CO2. Because refrigeration systems can hold hundreds to thousands of pounds, and many of these leak at the rate of 20% or even more per year – sometimes much more – the move away from high-GWP refrigerants sooner than later will slow the pace of the global warming and climate impacts already underway.

Ensuring exceptionally leak-tight systems and near-perfect reclamation, or changing course to safer alternatives in refrigeration systems, are two options for addressing the risk to the climate posed by high-GWP refrigerants. 

Be advised that common replacements for R-22, such as R-404A and R-507A, have been identified by the U.S. EPA for future restrictions as soon as January 1, 2016 because of their high GWP values and the availability of alternatives that pose a lower overall risk to human health and/or the environment. In addition, national and international efforts to phase-down the global use of these and other high-GWP refrigerants may affect future price and availability. New low-GWP technologies and solutions are advancing rapidly and are available today.

Read more about low-GWP options when choosing a new system.

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