Fake refrigerants cause havoc

A series of reefer explosions could have been caused by impure refrigerants
A series of reefer explosions could have been caused by impure refrigerants

It is believed that methyl chloride was cut with R22 and then sold as R134a to various Asian service companies. This could be the cause of a number of explosions and at least three casualties in Vietnam, leading hundreds of reefers to be grounded by their owners.

Container company Maersk Line initially informed the World Shipping Council of incidents with four of its reefer containers, three of which exploded, resulting in three casualties. The company then subsequently grounded around 800 reefers while investigations were carried out.
But at least two other shipping lines reported refrigerated container explosions in 2011 and one company reportedly identified contaminated gas as the cause.

Even German compressor manufacturer, GEA Bock confirmed a similar fake refrigerant, responsible for an increasing number of compressor failures. It is unkown whether the incidents are linked with those in other companies, but GEA Bock Europe pinpointed bogus refrigerants purporting to be R134a, but which in fact are composed of R22, R30, R124b and R40, also known as methyl chloride, which can dissolve the aluminium body in a compressor and produce highly inflammable, self-igniting trimethyl aluminium, which can explode in contact with air. Standard tests can identify R40, but making the systems safe is more difficult because of the possible presence of trimethyl aluminium, which can make access dangerous and require the injection of a reagent or blowing out the explosive material under water with dry nitrogen.

GEA Bock Europe also warns of another refrigerant posing as R134a, but found to be a cocktail of R134a, R22 and occasionally, propane. The fake refrigerant confuses the temperature/pressure characteristics and reducing the pressure, making it impossible to monitor the correct amount of refrigerant in the system and causing other technical problems, while the addition of propane increases flammability risks.

Campaigns led by refrigerant producers such as DuPont, MAC and Neutronics, warn customers against counterfeit refrigerants, in particular those containing methyl chloride.