Gold medal for Freon analysis and potential replacement – University of Copenhagen

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04 December 2013

Gold medal for Freon analysis and potential replacement


Global warming and the destruction of the Ozone layer are two of the worst environmental shocks that humanity has experienced over the past decades. Refrigerators are the culprit of both. Now, Freja From Østerstrøm, a PhD student at the Department of Chemistry has received the University of Copenhagen's gold medal for a prize paper about how we can provide an environmental assessment of the chemicals that, among other things, keep the fridge cool and are used in air conditioners.

"Before, people used these substances without any deeper understanding of their effect upon the environment

Freja From Østerstrøm

PhD student, Department of Chemistry

University of Copenhagen

Environmental analysis big step

The simple fact that there are methods to environmentally judge substances is already a step in the right direction believes Freja From Østerstrøm. 

-Before, people used these substances without any deeper understanding of their effect upon the environment. Now we perform a thorough investigation of them before we allow them out into the environment. That's a big step,” concludes Østerstrøm.

Ozone eater replacements had problems too

The first refrigerants had actual CFC’s but they were sold under the name Freon when in the 80’s, researchers found out that they caused a breaking down of the atmosphere’s protective ozone layer. A total ban on CFC’s caused them to be banned and they needed to be replaced. And this they were by a massive transition to HFC-134A.

The new agents were good because they didn’t contribute to the deterioration of the ozone layer. However, they proved to contribute to global warming. And gram for gram, they were 1370 times worse than CO2.

Award for analysing environmental assesment

Freja From Østerstrøm studies atmospheric chemistry at the University of Copenhagen’s Department of Chemistry. Her prize paper examined how to judge the environmental effects of chemical substances on the atmosphere in general, and more specifically, judging CFC’s and its replacements. This was carried out in part through a study of available literature on the matter and also through her own theoretical and experimental work with a so-called third generation refrigerant: The substance CF3CH2OCH3, an HFE (hydrofluoroether), which presents itself as a worthy replacement for the climate destroying second generation refrigerants.

Just being better for the climate may not be enough

In contrast with HFC-134a that had a potential to contribute to global warming to the tune of 1370 times worse than CO2, the HFE substance is only 8 times worse than CO2. However, Freja Østerstrøm is not convinced that “her” substance will be used in future cooling devices.

-We still need some information about this substance before we can say that it can replace the old ones. Firstly, we still don’t know what happens when it leaves the atmosphere. That is not my competency. And then, we still need to find out how effective it is as a replacement. Is it as effective as a coolant? Typically, the lesser the environmental impact, the lesser the cooling capacity,” explains Freja From Østerstrøm.

She received her gold medal in the presence of Queen Magrethe II at the Annual Commemoration Ceremony held on the 15 November 2013.