Last December, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) published a proposed rulemaking that outlined its strategy to prohibit the use of high-GWP HFCs in new air conditioning and commercial refrigeration systems. The rulemaking is a component of the AIM Act, which mandates that the EPA reduce the production and usage of HFCs by 85% by 2036. The Act also requires the EPA to increase refrigerant reclamation, minimize leaks, and regulate the use of HFCs in specific sectors or subsectors. This proposed rulemaking focused on the third objective, transitioning to alternatives through sector-based restrictions.
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The proposed rule outlined a two-stage restriction process. The manufacture or importation of affected products would be banned by 2025 or 2026, depending on the industry sector. This would be followed a year later by a prohibition on selling, distributing, exporting, or engaging in any activities related to those products. The proposed rule covers all the petitions that EPA had granted to date. The Agency accepted feedback on the rule until January 30, 2023, and over 150 written comments were submitted from various stakeholders in the HVACR industry. Many voiced concerns about some of the provisions in the proposed rule.
TABLE 1: Proposed GWP limit restrictions on HFCs by sector and subsector. (Courtesy of EPA)
|Sectors and Subsectors||Proposed GWP Limit||Compliance Date|
|Refrigeration, Air Conditioning, and Heat Pumps|
|Industrial process refrigeration systems with refrigerant charge capacities of 200 pounds or greater||150||January 1, 2025|
|Industrial process refrigeration systems with refrigerant charge capacities less than 200 pounds||300||January 1, 2025|
|Industrial process refrigeration, high temperature side of cascade systems||300||January 1, 2025|
|Retail food refrigeration – stand-alone units||150||January 1, 2025|
|Retail food refrigeration – refrigerated food processing and dispensing equipment||150||January 1, 2025|
|Retail food refrigeration – supermarket systems with refrigerant charge capacities of 200 pounds or greater||150||January 1, 2025|
|Retail food refrigeration – supermarket systems with refrigerant charge capacities less than 200 pounds charge||300||January 1, 2025|
|Retail food refrigeration – supermarket systems, high temperature side of cascade system||300||January 1, 2025|
|Retail food refrigeration – remote condensing units with refrigerant charge capacities of 200 pounds or greater||150||January 1, 2025|
|Retail food refrigeration – remote condensing units with refrigerant charge capacities less than 200 pounds||300||January 1, 2025|
|Retail food refrigeration – remote condensing units, high temperature side of cascade system||300||January 1, 2025|
|Vending machines||150||January 1, 2025|
|Cold storage warehouse systems with refrigerant charge capacities of 200 pounds or greater||150||January 1, 2025|
|Cold storage warehouse systems with refrigerant charge capacities less than 200 pounds||300||January 1, 2025|
|Cold storage warehouse, high temperature side of cascade system||300||January 1, 2025|
|Ice rinks||150||January 1, 2025|
|Automatic commercial ice machines – self- contained with refrigerant charge capacities of 500 grams or lower||150||January 1, 2025|
|Transport refrigeration – intermodal containers5||700||January 1, 2025|
|Residential refrigeration systems||150||January 1, 2025|
|Chillers – industrial process refrigeration||700||January 1, 2025|
|Chillers – comfort cooling||700||January 1, 2025|
|Residential and light commercial air conditioning and heat pump systems||700||January 1, 2025|
|Residential and light commercial air conditioning – variable refrigerant flow systems||700||January 1, 2026|
|Residential dehumidifiers||700||January 1, 2025|
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ACCA has always maintained that contractor and consumer safety be the No. 1 priority when it comes to this refrigerant transition, wrote Barton James, president and CEO of the contractor association. As such, he appreciated that EPA was taking training into consideration in order to ensure that contractors and technicians know how to safely handle the new flammable refrigerants.
“The alternative substances to HFC refrigerants, including but not limited to mildly flammable A2L refrigerants and flammable A3 refrigerants, pose potential hazards that are not present with HFC refrigerants,” wrote James. “As such, anyone using these substances in a professional setting should demonstrate a minimum basic competency regarding proper storage, safe handling, and ignition prevention. The cost of requiring basic training and demonstrating basic competencies to handle these substances is dwarfed by the potential costs in terms of property and life that could result from their improper handling.”
Mile High Equipment, a manufacturer of automatic commercial ice maker (ACIMs), also has concerns over the safety of the field service industry.
“During the proposed two-year transition period, ACIM manufacturers will be focusing 100% of their resources on the development of new refrigeration systems,” wrote Erica Motes, president of Mile High Equipment. “Even with additional resources available, it would take approximately one to two years to properly train the field service network on the safe handling of A3 refrigerants, and proper procedures for working on ACIM equipment containing A3 refrigerants. The proposed transition date of January 1, 2025 does not allow enough time to train and educate service technicians to ensure their health and safety.”
Another reason why some are concerned about the January 1, 2025 deadline is that in many areas, building codes and standards still require updating to allow the installation of flammable refrigerants. That’s one of the reasons why Emerson supports a transition date of January 1, 2026 for commercial refrigeration equipment. Jennifer Butsch, director of regulatory affairs – air conditioning at Emerson, wrote that this extra year is also necessary to allow for:
- Testing at Nationally Recognized Testing Laboratories (NRTLs), which are currently at capacity;
- EPA Significant New Alternatives Policy (SNAP) listings for refrigeration applications to be finalized; and
- Manufacturing facilities to make upgrades necessary for the safe storage and handling of flammable refrigerants.
NO CLEAR PATH: Ice cream machines do not have a clear path to compliance, as their safety standard does not allow the use of flammable refrigerants. (Courtesy of Roy Buri from Pixabay)
In addition, Butsch wrote that ice cream products, which have a proposed GWP limit of 150 in 2025, do not have a clear path to compliance, because their applicable product safety standard — UL 621 — does not allow for the use of flammable refrigerants. The only alternative option is CO2, which is currently not economically viable for this small equipment, she said.
The proposed transition date of January 1, 2025 simply does not allow sufficient time for all the necessary building codes to adopt the latest safety standard for commercial refrigeration (UL 60335-2-89), wrote Chris Forth vice president of regulatory, codes, and environmental affairs at Johnson Controls.
“While industry including JCI is working diligently to speed the adoption process, there is simply not enough time to ensure that jurisdictions will be able to complete this work prior to a January 1, 2025 deadline and thus could limit installation locations,” said Forth. “JCI is concerned that this date could lead to ‘market coverage gaps,’ whereby existing products cannot be installed due to the proposed EPA sector-based prohibition and the new lower-GWP products not being legal to install due to state and city building codes not being updated to allow for increased quantities of A2L refrigerants used in many of the sector prohibitions. … JCI believes the additional time to secure safety standard adoption is the only viable path we are aware of to resolve this risk.”
Alex Ayers, director of government affairs at HARDI, also agreed that the commercial refrigeration transition date is too soon, noting that not all refrigerants for this sector have been approved by EPA’s SNAP program. As a result, time will be needed for manufacturers to develop products to use these refrigerants, with many companies waiting to spend research dollars until the SNAP Program has approved these refrigerants.
“HARDI encourages EPA to delay the compliance date for commercial refrigeration until January 1, 2026, in line with the industry petitions, to give enough time for the industry to comply with the provisions using the substitute refrigerants awaiting SNAP approval,” said Ayers.
Another area of concern for HARDI is EPA’s proposed one-year sell-through of noncompliant equipment, which could take effect as soon as January 1, 2026. A nationwide sell-through period would adversely affect the wholesale distribution industry, said Ayers, adding that the easiest method for determining if a product is legal to sell and install is to use the date of manufacture as the sole compliance deadline.
“Establishing a nationwide limited sell-through date for already manufactured HVACR harms distributors and contractors and is unnecessary to reach the environmental benefits of the HFC phasedown,” he said. “Therefore, HARDI opposes a limited sell-through on any products already entered into commerce.”
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce also encouraged EPA to eliminate the sell-through requirement, noting that the time is too short and the supply chain is too strained for stockpiling of old equipment and product.
“A sell-through period attempts to solve a challenge that simply cannot exist at a large scale,” wrote Chuck Chaitovitz, vice president of environmental affairs and sustainability at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce “If the sell-through period is not eliminated, flexibility should be provided, and it should be extended to multiple years.”
Given current supply chain realities, Daikin also believes that the proposed one-year period is not realistic to apply to all products. The company suggested a minimum sell-through period of two years be allowed, or even three years in the case of larger commercial and applied equipment.
“The reality for larger applied products is that often they are custom-designed, and the building may be designed around the equipment,” wrote David Calabrese, senior vice president of government affairs Daikin U.S. Corp. “The HVAC equipment for such applications may be built and then retained for a period of three or four years while the building design, permitting, and construction phases are completed, and the equipment is eventually installed on site. Similar timeframes can also impact the time between the manufacture and delivery of light commercial and VRF equipment.”
HARDI also encouraged EPA to include provisions that do not prevent components such as compressors and coils designed to use high-GWP refrigerants from being manufactured after the compliance deadline to allow for repairs to existing equipment, as long as the initial charging of the equipment was before the compliance deadline. For example, a compressor made in 2028 could be used to repair an air conditioning system installed in 2021 because the system existed before the compliance deadline of January 1, 2025, wrote Ayers.
Several companies commented on the GWP limits outlined in EPA’s proposed rule. The rule requires a 700 GWP limit for most new comfort cooling equipment, including chillers, starting January 1, 2025, while VRF systems have until January 1, 2026 to comply with the restrictions. The rule also proposes a 150 or 300 GWP limit for most new commercial refrigeration equipment used in supermarkets and convenience stores, also starting in 2025.
Chemours noted that while it generally supports the GWP limits for retail food refrigeration in the proposed rulemaking, it believes that EPA should allow a 300 GWP limit for vending machines, stand-alone units, and domestic refrigeration. In addition, EPA should revise its proposed GWP limit for ice rinks to allow refrigerants of up to 700 GWP, wrote Esther Rosenberg, global regulatory advocacy at Chemours.
“EPA’s proposed limit of 150 GWP would have serious impacts on communities and businesses seeking to build new ice rinks,” said Rosenberg. “The substitutes EPA has identified [which include R-717, and R-744] have serious limitations based on toxicity, upfront capital costs, and long-term maintenance.”
In addition, Chemours urged EPA to revise its proposed GWP limit of 150 for ACIMs to distinguish as between self-contained ACIM — where 150 GWP and lower-GWP refrigerants are not feasible — and remote-condensing ACIM, where such low-GWP refrigerants can be used.
Daikin would also like to see some clarification regarding EPA’s proposal of 700 GWP for residential and light commercial air conditioning, residential and light commercial VRF, and chillers. Most of the HVACR industry was expecting EPA to propose a 750 GWP limit, in alignment with California’s HFC phasedown.
“Daikin joined the AHRI petition request for a 750 GWP cap, because that limit would simplify compliance by harmonizing federal, state, and global standards,” said Calabrese. “In addition to simplifying compliance for manufacturers, harmonized standards make it much easier for the market to understand the HFC phase-down regulatory framework.”
He added that to date, EPA has only provided a cursory explanation for its rejection of the 750 GWP limit.
“Given the need to maintain flexibility for products utilizing approved alternatives, Daikin believes it is important for the EPA to provide a more complete rationale for the proposed 700 GWP limit.”
A number of other concerns were raised in the comments, such as burdensome obligations related to recordkeeping and reporting, requirements for labeling, and the need for clearer definitions of terms such as "product," "imports," and "manufacture." EPA is expecting to issue its final rule in October 2023.
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