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Gearing Up for Refrigerant Phaseout

Al Gore was not the only one talking tough on the issue of global warming in 2007. DuPont Fluoroproducts made bold statements recognizing many current HFCs as contributors to the global warming situation. The company also noted increasing pressure to further regulate HFCs and industry efforts to find refrigerants with lower global warming potential (GWP).

“The basic science of global warming is sound; there is a natural greenhouse effect,” said Mack McFarland, an atmospheric scientist for DuPont Fluoroproducts. “Increasing concentrations will cause an enhanced greenhouse effect, global climate change, or global warming,” he said. McFarland, citing the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that has documented the global warming issue for 17 years, said that part of the equation is HFC refrigerants.

To address the phaseout of CFCs and HCFCs because of ozone depletion questions, the HVACR industry turned to HFCs - of which R-410A, -404A, and –134a are the most familiar - only to have questions about their GWP arise.

Even though HFC refrigerants remain “the best option to meet many needs,” McFarland said he expected HFCs to continue to face attack as well as calls for phaseout because they are seen as “a small but very visible part of the global warming issue. The bottom line: HFCs are a target for global warming regulations.”

On the heels of HFCs being approved for use in stationary equipment, the European Commission (EC) issued a new report calling for “further restricting or prohibiting uses of fluorinated gases.” Meanwhile, in California, regulations continued to move forward to “adopt specifications for new commercial refrigeration (that) limit the global warming potential of refrigerants used in refrigerators in retail food stores, restaurants, and refrigerated transport vehicles.” As a result of this push to eliminate HFCs, the industry continued to develop refrigerants with lower GWP.

McFarland also commented on the ozone depletion issue that originated 20 years earlier and led to the phaseout of CFCs and HCFCs. He encouraged the acceleration of the phaseout of HCFCs, especially R-22, and more efforts “to capture and destroy CFCs contained in equipment and products.” As a further incentive, he noted that the EPA is expected soon to be tightening its rules regarding leak rates and record keeping for CFCs and HCFCs.

As the 2010 deadline for the use of R-22 in new equipment edges closer, education efforts increase. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) provided training for HVACR and plumbing instructors, among multiple other efforts made by industry associations and manufacturers. The production of HCFCs, including R-22, has been on a decline since the base year of 1995. There was a 35 percent reduction in 2005 and will be another 30 percent in 2010 (the ban on the use of R-22 in new equipment), for a total 65 percent reduction since the baseline year. The next bellwether year will be 2015, when the reduction will be 90 percent of the baseline year; 2015 is often seen as the crossover year, when supplies could fall short of demand unless better recovery and reclamation efforts are implemented. The reduction will be 99.5 percent in 2020 and 100 percent in 2030.

Approaching the phaseout deadline, the issue is supply. According to the EPA, “After 2010, supplies of R-22 will be more limited and after 2020, only stockpiled or reclaimed 22 will be available.” The 2015 crossover date is based on supply-demand statistics. The EPA report said the industry could need 43,200 metric tons of R-22 in 2015, whereas production caps on new R-22 are expected to be under that. So, “use of recovered reclaimed refrigerant will be necessary to avoid 22 supply shortages.”

With this in mind, the HVACR industry is looking in 2008 for the EPA to propose “allowance allocations” for HCFCs that includes 22, 142b, 123, 225ca, and 225cb. At the same time, the EPA spent much of 2007 calling on the industry to help it “set allocations for future consumption caps by projecting units of equipment using HCFCs beyond 2010, and HCFCs needed to service equipment after 2010.”

Publication Date: 12/24/2007

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