From: John De Armond
Subject: Re: R134A retrofit
Date: Sat, 18 Mar 2000 04:41:28 EST
John Adler wrote:
> Has any one done the freon conversion on a chevy 1988 vintage i did it
> on a 88 jeep cheroke with great results
> John e mail firstname.lastname@example.org
You've gotten some good input regarding the problems with 134a
conversions. I'd like to add a bit more since I've been intimately
involved in this issue from the beginning. 134a is pretty piss-poor
even for new vehicles designed for it. The molecule has been around
for a long time but was regarded as unsuitable as a practical
refrigerant because of its incompatibility with lubricants. When
the ozone layer hoax came along, there were several alternatives to
R-12 and more were developed. But the industry leaders took the
opportunity to guarantee themselves a continuing revenue stream by
getting 134a adopted as the officially blessed substitute. As told
to me by a DuPont heir at an ASHRAE meeting, they desired to get the
"free" (patent-expired) molecules off the market and get some newly
patented ones out there to generate a continuing royalty revenue
stream. This they did with amazing directness and brutality,
squishing everyone who got in the way. I have the scars to prove
it. Details are probably sufficiently off-topic to pass for this
article but I'll highlight.
The problem they had to overcome was the one that makes 134a
unsuitable in the first place - no compatible oil. Poly Alkyl
Glycol (PAG) was basically a placeholder, a substance that would mix
sufficiently well with 134a while being at least a little bit
slick. It is a first cousin to brake fluid and has most of the
negative properties - hydroscopic, intolerant of water, low
lubricity, incompatible with many rubbers and chemically unstable.
Of particular concern to us is the fact that is tolerates almost no
chlorine residue which makes doing a PROPER conversion very
difficult. A funny thing happened on the way to the bank. "Good"
lubricants were slow coming and so many systems were rolled out with
PAG. Early rollouts were disastrous. Massive compressor failures,
recalls and so on. Better lubes are available now, such as Polyol
Alky lubricant (POL) but PAG is very entrenched and POL's market
penetration is small.
As I mentioned, PAG's biggest problem is that it is intolerant of
moisture or chlorine. This makes doing a PROPER conversion very
complex and expensive. For the chloride residue problem as well as
the fact that 134a is a smaller molecule, all hoses must be SAE
barrier type. If your vehicle does not have barrier hose (will say
"barrier hose" on the hose), 134a will diffuse right through it - if
the compressor doesn't fail from lubricant breakdown first. To see
what happens to PAG oil under various conditions, go here:
http://www.autofrost.com/hotshot/index.html. The "hotshot"
refrigerant George talks about in that article contains some R-22
which brings the chloride ion into the picture and is responsible
for what happens to the oil.
In addition to changing the hoses, all traces the old mineral oil
must be removed. Not only does the old oil carry chlorine from the
old refrigerant, it is immiscible with 134a and will collect in low
points, impairing the efficiency of the system if allowed to
remain. The dryer must be changed because the old style is
incompatible with 134a in addition to holding lots of chlorides.
Now I know that there are kits out there that purport to make
conversions just a matter of squirting in some magic juice and then
pumping in 134a. I just shake my head in disgust at these. Both
George and I have tested these kits and saw compressor failures,
sometimes literally in days after installation. I don't know how in
the world these kits are legally sold.
So the first steps to a PROPER conversion include changing out the
hoses and the dryer. The other components must be cleaned of all
old oil. I used to use R-11 for this before it was banned. I use
N-Hexane now when I can get it and liquid propane when I can't. The
reason I go to all this trouble and don't just use some common
solvent is that such low vapor pressure solvents tend to penetrate
the rubber and then diffuse back out later when the system is in
service. The solvents will also contaminate your vacuum and
If your system has either high or low head pressure switches, they
must be changed too, because they trap oil and chlorides and can't
If your AC is marginal with R-12 (many imports), it will be worse
with 134a. You lose an average of 10% cooling capacity when you do
a conversion. I recommend installing a larger condenser if
practical to help compensate for this.
When this issue started developing around 1990, I became so upset
with the nasty politics and the poor performance of the "solution"
to the R-12 ban that I started researching substitutes. My first
cut was a hydrocarbon mix of iso-butane and propane. Worked great,
better efficiency, complete oil computability. But the scream of
horror from the safety lobby and MACS that this stuff is "flammable"
(well duh, so is gasoline and the propane used by propane-fueled
vehicles) made it obvious that a flammable refrigerant would not
do. Europeans seem not so hung up on this and many domestic
refrigerators are now using hyrocarbon mixes as "green"
refrigerants. About that time I met George Gobble on the net.
George is a computer scientist at Purdue and was also a
refrigeration hacker. We found that we were working on almost
exactly parallel paths and decided to combine effort to develop a
substitute for R-12.
To make a long story short, my attention drifted off to other
projects including publishing a car magazine while George went on to
perfect a substitute, patent it and put it on the market. I
continued helping him as I could, doing testing, developing
instrumentation that would work it it and so on. Everyone lived
happily ever after, right?
George, being a scientist at heart and innocent of the ways of big
time politics, presented some papers on the refrigerant at ASHRAE
meetings while the patent was pending. Reaction was overwhelmingly
good. Carrier wanted to "use" it in their mobile applications as
did several other big guys. Then George got his patent. Da shit
hit da fan. Faced with having to license this stuff or any
derivative (good patent attorney :-), suddenly this stuff and George
was persona non grata.
At the same time, the industry was abuzz with visions of pots of
gold at their beck and call from the anticipated income from doing
134a conversions. The estimated cost of doing a proper conversion
was $1200 (not far off) and the trade journals were prattling about
how many million cars would have to be converted and the $$$
involved. George's refrigerant was going to throw a wrench into
that money machine. Suddenly at the behest of the president of Four
Seasons, the company poised to make the most money from conversion
components, who was also the prez of the Mobile Air Conditioning
Society (MACS) and the SAE Committee on alternative refrigerants,
EPA withdrew George's SNAP approval, effectively taking it off the
market. It took getting Bush's bought-and-paid-for EPA out of
office after his defeat to get this turned around. Then UL chimed
in, promulgating a flammability standard that even R-12 couldn't
have passed. This was aimed directly at George's refrigerant which
contains a minor percentage of propane. He modified his formula to
meet the requirement, again, at great expense and time. To make
another long story short, after about 5 years and hundreds of
thousands of dollars of legal fees and an election, he got his SNAP
So. Now you can buy a replacement refrigerant that is completely
compatible with R-12 components, can even be mixed with R-12 (though
EPA says it's illegal to do so), uses the same old mineral oil that
is currently in the system AND brings an average 10% IMPROVEMENT in
cooling over R-12. IF your system is marginal, this refrigerant
will improve things. The refrigerant is called R-406a and is
available either directly from here:
http://www.autofrost.com/frmain.html or from distributors
nationwide. It's cost is on par with 134a to boot.
R-406a is a blend of refrigerants and some of the molecules are
small, requiring the installation of barrier hose. This is a good
idea in any event, because with barrier hose, you will lose NO
refrigerant through the hoses. Assuming your compressor seals are
good, the annual spring freon recharge will be the thing of the
past. The first charge of refrigerant will likely last the life of
the vehicle. My wife's 90 model toyota was one of the early cars to
get barrier hoses from the factory and the factory R-12 charge is
still in it.
You must have an EPA "green card" to buy this refrigerant. The
easiest way to get it is here: http://www.imaca.org/training.htm at
IMACA. Click the "609 Certification" to take an on-line short
course and test. If you pay with a credit card and pass the silly
little test, they give you a file to print a temporary green card
right there on the spot. If you can read and know anything about
refrigeration, you can go from sign on to green card in a half hour
or less for $20.
You also will need recovery equipment to reclaim the R-12 and any
R-406a that you may need to remove from the system, at least if you
want to be legal. Best bet is probably to get a refrigeration shop
to reclaim the old R-12 and then work with your garage door closed
:-) A recovery unit can easily be built from the compressor and
condenser from an old refrigerator. If you do work for hire, your
recovery unit must be UL approved (thanks to those nice guys at
MACS) but you can do your own work with anything that works.
If you don't want to go the R-406a route, there is an alternative.
It is as follows:
* Get your green card.
* Have barrier hoses installed.
* If necessary, have the compressor seals fixed or install a new
(NOT rebuilt) compressor.
* Buy the necessary number of blow-off cans of R-12 using your green
* charge the system.
* Buy a few extra cans to make sure you can make up for any leakage
over the period of time you plan on keeping the vehicle. If your
compressor seals are good and there are no leaks, the charge will
never leak out.
If you lack the necessary leak checking equipment, it might be a
good idea to allow a shop to do the initial charge. I see
loss-leader specials on AC service all the time where the price
charged doesn't even cover the cost of the R-12. Have your green
card, buy some extra cans of R-12 and be prepared.
Frankly, R-12 is going to be around for a LONG time. All the EPA
ban has done is to turn it into smuggled contraband. India still
makes it, as do some south american countries. I believe Iran does
too. Customs has stopped propane tanker trucks full of it at the
Mexican border and they know they stop only a fraction. Regulations
allow the unlimited sale and use (subject to the green card) of
"recovered and recycled" R-12. Smuggled R-12 is "laundered" by
introducing it into the recovery stream. You do want to buy brand
names at reputable car parts stores and pay the price. There is a
lot of cheap black market R-12 out there. We've tested some of it
and found it to be saturated with moisture. Sure-fire way to
destroy your system. If you have a shop do the work, make damn sure
reputable R-12 is used.
A little note on Icor's HOTSHOT before I close. This is a heavily
marketed R-12 substitute. It has an interesting history. In the
beginning, George hired Icor to package and label R-406a. He later
discovered that they'd appropriated his formula and with a minor
change, put it on the market as HOTSHOT. One of George's central
patent claims is the technique of using blend components to properly
transport oil in an R-12 system. George took legal action against
ICOR and the result was they had to change the formula enough not to
infringe on George's oil transport claim. The result is HOTSHOT
DOES NOT PROPERLY TRANSPORT OIL! It will allow the evaporator to
become oil-locked and will starve the compressor of oil. I have
tested it and verified that it does not transport oil. Use at your
own risk. Since it is typically more expensive than R-406a (have to
pay for all that marketing and litigation, after all :-), there is
no incentive to use it.
All of the other purported R-12 substitutes such as Freeze-12 share
this problem of poor to no oil transport. Read about it here:
http://www.autofrost.com/oil/index.html. If the compressor is
starved of oil, it absolutely positively will be destroyed.
Damn, that got kinda long, didn't it? :-)
Claimer: I helped in small ways develop this product but I have no
financial ties of any sort to either it or George. We're now just
good friends and he has a really good product.
PS: Go here: http://ghg.ecn.purdue.edu/ and enjoy George's web
page. Down toward the bottom, take a look at his method for
starting a charcoal fire. The MPEG movie really is worth
From: John De Armond
Subject: Re: R134A retrofit
Date: Tue, 21 Mar 2000 14:05:28 EST
Mike Niemela wrote:
> Neon John wrote a lengthy post on this topic. All I can say is BRAVO.
> Having been in the HVAC business and having a son who still runs it I am
> well aware of the problems/headaches the R-12 hoax has caused. John's
> message is bang on target and should be required reading for anyone with
> an over the road AC system.
Thank you, Mike. There's a whole lot more to this story but it's
sufficiently off-topic to this group that I won't post it here.
Suffice to say that there's a red-hot trail of money and deceit and
intrigue that would make a good novel, were it not true. This
certainly isn't the largest screw job the American people have been
delivered by special interests wallowing in the public trough but
it's the biggest one I've been directly involved with.
Couple of interesting tidbits. A couple of years ago George read to
me over the phone a letter he'd received as a stockholder of
DuPont. He bought some stock so he could rabble-rouse at
stockholder meetings. The letter was from some high muckety-muck
that basically apologized to the stockholders for so greedily
pushing the Montreal protocol (what initiated this freon hysteria.)
Second tidbit. While the question is relatively settled that
stratospheric chlorine disassociates ozone molecules, two other
issues are not. One, the biggie - what the ozone hole really means
(not gonna wade into that one) and two, the almost-as-biggie - how
the chlorine gets to the stratosphere. One side, which I tend to
side with, says that the sources are natural. For example, When Mt.
Pinatubo (sp?) blew, it ejected more chlorine into the stratosphere
than all the CFCs man has made. The other side, championed by NASA,
claims that terrestrial CFCs does it. Important to realize in this
discussion that there are two "NASA"s. One flies spacecraft and
explores the universe and the other sucks funding for social
research (sic) and social engineering. The Ozone Bunch falls into
the latter category. MAJOR funding is contingent on the ozone issue
continuing to be a BIG THING.
A few years ago, we had just listened to a NASA talking head give a
presentation at a meeting where he described the Ozone Problem as
the worst thing facing mankind. After the talk, we strode up to
chat with the guy. George chatted a moment and then dropped the
bombshell question - If NASA is so sure that terrestrial CFCs are
responsible for the ozone hole, where is the tracer data? The
sputtering and sidestepping was worthy of Klinton. This is an
excellent question to ask anyone who hawks the Ozone Myth.
By tracer data, I mean data that shows the actual transport of
chlorine to the stratosphere. In a nutshell, it is known that
chlorine is in the stratosphere and it is believed that it damages
the ozone. It is known that there are CFCs down on the ground.
There is no hard data to show the transport mechanism to get the
CFCs from the ground to the sky. NASA relies on computer models
which in this case represent a special case of GIGO (garbage in,
garbage out) called BSIMO (bullshit in, money out.) Models give you
any answer you want, depending on the assumption set.
It would be EASY to actually trace the movement of CFCs if anyone
wanted to. All that is required is to tag some CFC with radioactive
Cl-36. Since Cl-36 does not occur to any extent in nature, if
tagged CFC is released on the ground and tagged CFC shows up in the
stratosphere a few years latter, then the model is proved. If not,
then it's time to go back to the drawing board. Funny thing, not
one single agency has yet done anything like this, to my knowledge.
It seems particularly strange since this would be an excellent
source of funding.
So if you ever get a chance, ask an ozone hole proponent where the
tracer data is. You'll get either a dumb, blank stare (if they're
true believers with no scientific background) or profuse sputtering
> The total cost to the motoring public by this R-12 scam is unbelievable.
You think that's bad, you ought to see what it's done to large
refrigeration facilities like grocery stores which use tons of R-12
in the cooler systems and very large centrifugal chiller users like
large buildings. At least we drivers have a fair (R-134a) to good
(R-406a) substitute. For a variety of reasons, they don't.
From: John De Armond
Subject: Re: R134A retrofit
Date: Tue, 21 Mar 2000 14:25:04 EST
Dusty Bleher wrote:
> "Neon John" <email@example.com> wrote in message
> > refrigerant because of its incompatibility with lubricants. When
> > the ozone layer hoax came along, there were several alternatives to
> Ya know, John, I too have been wondering about the relationship between CF's
> and ozone. My high school chemistry left me with an excellent general
> chemistry understanding. But I've never been able to puzzle out the actual
> mechanics involved in this so called "serious problem". Ozone is a
> continuously created and regenerated resource. Requiring only sunshine (the
> high energy kind found at high altitudes) and oxygen...
> When ever I've gone to anybody associated with the environmental activists
> that promote this as a "problem", I usually get a sort of sad and
> patronizing look, and an explanation pretty well summed up as, "Look, we
> both know you're too dumb to understand the real reasons behind this
> complicated chemistry. But you can trust us, we're working with the
> government on your behalf...".
> Can somebody explain to this farmboy just what it is that's supposed to be
> happening? And why, whenever something needs to be done, it's always me and
> my things that get targeted first?
Minus all the arm-waving, this is really easy, at least to
understand the lab experiments on which this theory is based.
Oxygen and chlorine both normally exist as diatomic molecules. That
is, two atoms of oxygen bind together to make O2, ditto for
chlorine. The atomic versions of these elements are too reactive to
exist for any period of time by themselves. Bleach, for example,
works by releasing atomic oxygen and to a lesser extent atomic
chlorine which oxidize stains to transparent and/or soluble
materials. It is obvious that nothing happens when those stains are
exposed to the diatomic version of oxygen (air). Ozone is simply a
3 molecule version of oxygen (O3). It is unstable and so breaks
down into diatomic oxygen and monatomic oxygen. Two monatomic
oxygens grab each other (if they can't find anything else) and all
In the stratosphere, ultraviolet light breaks the diatomic atoms of
oxygen. Some of the atomic oxygen finds other diatomic oxygen
molecules, binds on and makes ozone. Ozone, in turn, absorbs more
UV (keeping us all from burning up, Aeeeeeeeee), disassociates into
diatomic oxygen and atomic oxygen and the process repeats. During
the day, an equilibrium proportional to the UV radiation quickly
If diatomic (ordinary) chlorine is in the stratosphere, the same
thing happens, only in the case of atomic chlorine, it is so
reactive that it will strip off an oxygen from ozone if it can find
a molecule of it. this takes an ozone molecule out of circulation.
The ClO molecule is more stable so it sticks around until itself is
broken down by UV and the process repeats. The problem is, this
process takes a lot of oxygen out of circulation and so ozone is
depleted and the hole appears. Allegedly.
Here's where it gets kinky. Supposedly the chlorine is transported
to the stratosphere by the very heavy CFC molecule which somehow
survives until it reaches the stratosphere before being broken
apart. The explanation for this is to me, tenuous at best. What
really gets me is the proponents of this claim that CFCs are
horribly efficient at this while at the same time dismissing the
molecular chlorine and chlorine in the form of salt injected into
the stratosphere in vastly larger quantities by volcano eruptions.
This is the point in the explanation where the arm waving and
patronizing tone usually starts.
> How did we manage to let an out-of-control outfit like the EPA first mandate
> MTBE's into our gas of our cars and RV's; causing the price to rise. We had
> no say in the matter. It was just kinda, "Shut up idiot! We're with the
> government. We know what we're doing and what's good for you!". Now
> they've decided that MTBE's are not so good after all--something they
> couldn't determine before hand; and the price of my gas has to go up again,
> to get that stuff removed...
Every great republican civilization in history has gone down when
control of the force of the state has been allowed to fall into the
hands of the do-nothings. when people yawn at issues like this
while getting militant at any suggestion of cuts on government
largess, how can we expect our civilization to progress any other
way? To me, giving the vote to those without means or
accomplishment was a trap door through which we can't return via
From: John De Armond
Subject: Re: R134A retrofit
Date: Wed, 22 Mar 2000 01:42:41 EST
Mike Niemela wrote:
> Once again Neon John has added to the information the general public
> should have. The cost to industry and retailers is a good point. It
> all comes back to the consumer.
> One thing that should be mentioned, since we are so far off topic
> anyway, is the weight of R-12. It floats in the air like a bowling ball
> floats in water. The average home refrigerator will have about a four
> ounce charge of R-12. This will blow up a balloon to about the size of
> a medium grapefruit. Hold it out chest high and drop it and it hits the
> floor pronto. Not about to drift off toward outer space.
Thanks for the kind words, Mike. You have to be a bit careful with
your above experiment, for it doesn't take into account turbulent
mixing nor diffusion. Mixing is pretty obvious - wind, weather,
vehicles moving, etc. This will mix CFCs in the air pretty
thoroughly and prevent it settling. Diffusion isn't so obvious. A
demonstration I used to use when I taught high school physics will
illustrate. Consider elemental bromine. A heavy volatile liquid
element with a high vapor pressure. It readily evaporates in air,
yielding a nice, visible brownish orange, foul gas which, according
to the other side, has a much higher ODP (ozone depletion potential)
than chlorine. The vapor is so heavy that it can be poured from one
beaker to another with very little mixing with air. yet if a drop
of bromine liquid is placed in the bottom of a large jar and the
jar capped, when one returns in a day, the whole bottle will be
filled with a uniform orange/brown color. The molecular motion of
air components and the bromine molecules causes them to mix in
accordance with well established equations. The problem with
applying diffusion dynamics to atmospheric phenomena is, of course,
that the atmosphere isn't a nice, controlled laboratory
environment. Figuring out how diffusion really works on a large
scale is one of the keys to accurate weather forecasting. T'ain't
If you think the freon issue is bad, consider the Halon situation.
Halon is a family brominated fluorocarbons (BFC). Halons are the
best known fire suppression agents. Unlike other agents which either
exclude oxygen or cool the fuel, Halon actually interferes with the
chemical process of oxygen. Not only is it fast - fast enough to
stop an incipient explosion in progress - but it is also completely
effective at concentrations that are not hazardous to life. That
means that Halon can be discharged into inhabited spaces and not put
the inhabitants at any risk. Military planes contain fire detection
and suppression systems that are so fast they can detect and suppers
an explosion before it can grow large enough to cause any damage.
Pretty much the ideal fire suppressant. One problem. The eco nuts
have decided that BFCs are even worse on the ozone than CFCs. This
is all part of the GREAT DEBATE but it is irrelevant to halon use
because once deployed and tested, Halon is never released to the
environment unless life or property is immediately at stake. Yet
the Grand Wizards of EPA prohibited the manufacture of Halon along
with the CFCs.
The result is, the situation is critical in many sectors. The
military has been hoarding and stockpiling Halon for years. There
is no substitute in that environment. Another major use for Halon
is in race cars. A company has claimed to have a substitute but it
is a liquid agent and relies on smothering, as far as anyone knows.
Halon is clearly superior in this life safety situation. I intend
to install an automatic race car Halon system in my MH but the cost
is rising faster than I can afford. Yet another major use is fire
suppression in nuclear safety systems. My company used to deploy
and certify nuclear fire suppression systems. They are used in
places such as inside the control boards where systems must
absolutely, positively function despite fire in an adjacent area.
Halon will continue to be deployed but the cost is skyrocketing and
we can no longer do end-to-end tests where we discharged the system
and measured the concentration to verify sufficient Halon to quell a
fire. The only substitute is high pressure carbon dioxide which
extinguishes fires by smothering them (and any humans in the area).
I was in the computer room at Browns Ferry Nuclear Plant when the
CO2 (Cardox) system (that was replaced with Halon for human safety
reasons) went off without warning. There was a second of air
discharge before the CO2 arrived, which is the only thing that saved
our lives. When it hit, it was instant whiteout and an instant
sensation of strangling. Had we not already been lunging for the
door, we would have surely died. A Halon system protecting the same
area would have annoyed us with the loud noise and faintly pungent
odor but we could have strolled out at our convenience since the
Halon-containing air would still be breathable.
Unfortunately to the True Believers (and make no mistake, to the
radicals, environmentalism IS a religion), the value of human life
comes secondary to The Environment. Their literature says as much.
Some theoretical, unproven harm to Mother Environment is more
important than proven harm to humans. Sad, very sad.
Speaking of politics and nuts :-), anyone considering voting on the
Democratic side this fall should go to the library and check out a
copy of Gore's book, "Earth in the Balance". (please don't buy a
copy and give the prick a dime.) You'll see that Gore is one of
Those. Especially read the part about internal combustion engines
and his final solution. Contemplate what big, boxy homes on wheels
would be his prime target, just to wind this back around to RVing.
OK, that's my soapbox for the month. Back to having fun (Fiddling
while Rome burns?)