I've been thinking how refrigerants - which are highly potent greenhouse gases (hundreds and even thousands of times more potent than CO2) - are likely to be vented to atmosphere eventually either due to system leakage, accident, neglect, theft of chiller units, or deliberate discharge. It makes me wonder if, for climate change mitigation/adaptation purposes, whether we should consider all the refrigerants deployed and in storage today as being something that will ultimately be vented.

Suppose that mass migration, economic collapse or upheaval, or other calamities may lead to the abandonment, destruction, or even careless salvage of thousands or even millions of HVAC/refrigeration systems. Given that supposition, is there a practical chemical process that could be used to convert the refrigerants that are in common use today to another material - like maybe a polymer? - that would be at least somewhat stable at standard temperature and pressure? One that sequesters CO2 in the process would be a bonus but I don't expect it'd matter very much.


closed as too broad by Mithoron, Buttonwood, Mathew Mahindaratne, Karsten Theis, Jon Custer Jul 24 at 12:49

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  • $\begingroup$ Ammonia may once again become a popular choice as a refrigerant in the near future, exactly to avoid the environmental issues with CFCs and HCFCs. Toxicity is an issue, though. $\endgroup$ – Nicolau Saker Neto Jul 24 at 8:38
  • $\begingroup$ @NicolauSakerNeto - ammonia is also explosive, yet another issue. $\endgroup$ – Jon Custer Jul 24 at 12:49

Polymerization might be viable (if complex and costly; one important feature of refrigerants is their inertness) for selected refrigerants. It's simpler to convert the refrigerant into gases with a smaller heat trapping capacity, rather than convert it into a polymer. Presuming that, after the fact or prior to the calamity, you'd want to dispose of refrigerant in abandoned units, your best bet might be simply to incinerate it (see Figure 1 in this EPA article, or search for "refrigerant incineration"). The question is how to perform incineration in place rather then remotely at a centralized collection facility. It would probably remain much simpler to collect the gas and incinerate it at centralized locations, rather than travel around with a mobile incinerator.


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