WASHINGTON and OTTAWA — The Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers (AHAM) has announced a goal — for which it is seeking the support of government and safety authorities — to voluntarily phase down the use of hydrofluorocarbon (HFC) refrigerants used in household refrigerators and freezers after 2024. AHAM said this effort builds on a history of environmental stewardship that includes significant gains in energy and water efficiency and the phasing out of ozone-depleting substances without losing these efficiency gains.
Home appliance manufacturers previously transitioned away from CFCs and HCFCs, refrigerants that are ozone-depleting substances, to non-ozone-depleting HFCs. These moves were made in cooperation with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and other regulators. HFCs have become a concern, however, since they have a relatively high global warming potential (GWP). Recognizing this concern, AHAM said the industry is already well on the way to transitioning away from the use of HFCs in foam insulation by 2020.
The emergence of alternatives with essentially no potential to contribute to global warming will enable the industry to phase out the use of HFCs, given sufficient time to address related safety and engineering impacts on products and factories. Because some of the next-generation refrigerants are flammable, a transition will require a cooperative effort of manufacturers, refrigerant suppliers, and the safety standards bodies in the U.S. and Canada, as well as the relevant federal safety, environmental, and energy agencies in both countries.
“Regardless of the next-generation refrigerant chosen by appliance manufacturers, products must still adhere to stringent energy efficiency requirements, be compatible with product components, be safe for consumers and manufacturing workers, and be functional and cost effective,” said Joe McGuire, AHAM president and CEO. “That is why the industry has projected that with everyone’s full cooperation, 2024 is the earliest possible transition date. The timetable is longer for room air conditioning products given the added work needed to address viable alternatives and building codes for multi-housing units.”
The association noted that a transition away from HFCs will present design and engineering challenges for manufacturers and will require significant engineering updates to refrigerators and freezers. The appliance industry, however, is willing and able to take on this task so that refrigerators continue to be a non-factor in the global emissions of greenhouse gasses. While the primary alternative to HFCs in refrigerators and freezers, isobutane, is used widely around the world and has a very low GWP, its use in the U.S. and Canada will require manufacturers to make technically challenging adjustments to products and factories to ensure that refrigerators continue to meet more stringent safety standards than those in other parts of the world. Unlike in other countries, current safety standards in the U.S. and Canada place stricter limits on the amount of flammable refrigerants that can be used in a refrigerator, and the technical changes required to keep these products functioning properly under the constraints of those standards could add significant costs to the bulk of refrigerators on the market.
AHAM is asking the EPA and Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) as well as counterpart agencies in Canada to support its voluntary efforts through further evaluation of alternatives to HFCs and justified updates to safety standards to facilitate the use of HFC alternatives.
Publication date: 2/23/2016