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Transition to New Refrigerants

Until the mid-1990s, motor vehicle air conditioners (MVACs) primarily used chlorofluorocarbon (CFC)-12. CFC-12 is a refrigerant that depletes the stratospheric ozone layerHelpozone layerThe region of the stratosphere containing the bulk of atmospheric ozone. The ozone layer lies approximately 15-40 kilometers (10-25 miles) above the Earth's surface, in the stratosphere. Depletion of this layer by ozone depleting substances (ODS) will lead to higher UVB levels, which in turn will cause increased skin cancers and cataracts and potential damage to some marine organisms, plants, and plastics. The science page (http://www.epa.gov/ozone/science/index.html) offers much more detail on the science of ozone depletion. that protects the Earth from the sun’s harmful ultraviolet radiationHelpultraviolet radiationUltraviolet radiation is a portion of the electromagnetic spectrum with wavelengths shorter than visible light. The sun produces UV, which is commonly split into three bands: UVA, UVB, and UVC. UVA is not absorbed by ozone. UVB is mostly absorbed by ozone, although some reaches the Earth. UVC is completely absorbed by ozone and normal oxygen. NASA provides more information on their web site (http://www.nas.nasa.gov/About/Education/Ozone/radiation.html).. It is also a greenhouse gas that contributes to climate change.

Automobile manufacturers transitioned to the non-ozone-depleting alternative hydrofluorocarbon (HFC)-134a in the mid-1990s. Although it does not deplete the ozone layer, HFC-134a, like its predecessor, is a potent greenhouse gas.

Today, automobile manufacturers are beginning the transition to new, climate-friendly refrigerants. EPA’s Significant New Alternatives Policy (SNAP) program is designed to ensure that this transition is both safe and smooth. The SNAP program has approved the use of a number of alternative refrigerants in MVACs, subject to conditions.

Learn more about Refrigerant Alternatives and Environmental Impacts.