Energy and the environment have been at the forefront of public and government concerns for the last three decades. The Air-Conditioning and Refrigeration Institute (ARI) and its member companies have made major contributions in addressing these issues, steadily and substantially increasing the energy efficiency of equipment and making environmental enhancements to the benefit of consumers.

ARI panelists (from left) Robbie Stephens of Lennox Industries, Russell Sasnett of General Electric, and Edward (Ted) Bailey of Carrier Corporation testify at a 1982 House subcommittee hearing regarding state minimum energy efficiency standards for air conditioning.

Tackling Energy Conservation, Efficiency

Energy — or rather the lack of it — became a major issue in the 1970s. The term “energy crisis” was used quite often during this decade. And ARI set out immediately to find solutions.

In September 1972, ARI announced a symposium on energy conservation to be held at its co-sponsored International Air-Conditioning, Heating, Refrigerating Exposition (AHR Expo) set for January 1973. The symposium, “Energy Conservation — An Opportunity and a Responsibility of the Industry,” was moderated by R.H. Pearse Jr. of The Trane Company. The opening presentation discussed the problems of meeting future energy needs while providing optimum protection for the environment.

In his managing director’s report at the 1972 annual meeting in November, L.N. Hunter noted, “This country is faced with a critical shortage of energy, which is much more serious than some people realize.

“Gas and oil are in short supply, and their availability is becoming an international problem.

“The Bureau of Standards has a program underway to determine means of evaluating equipment for its efficiency and operating costs.” Also, he added, “The State of New York has a program underway to determine what might be done to reduce the power consumption of appliances and apparatus, including air conditioning equipment.”

The 1974 AHR Expo had an unofficial theme of “Energy Conservation to the Fore in 74.” More energy-efficient products and equipment were in evidence throughout the convention center, ARI reported.

In May of that year ARI premiered an energy conservation film called “King Zog and the Energy Crunch.” The family-oriented short film featured puppets in the starring roles and was distributed to educational and commercial TV stations, as well as civic clubs and adult education groups.

ARI Standard 210, covering unitary air conditioning equipment, was revised in 1974 to include a provision for energy efficiency ratios (EERs). The Directory of Unitary Air Conditioners would now show EERs in its January 1975 edition. G.R. (Monk) Munger, then managing director of ARI, said, “Publication of the EER figures will enable consumers to purchase central cooling units on the basis of energy efficiency as well as overall performance and safety.”

In December 1975, the U.S. Congress passed the Energy Policy and Conservation Act (EPCA), which required energy labeling on new appliances, including heating and cooling equipment. States, such as California, started developing their own energy efficiency requirements, and in 1976, California adopted minimum efficiency standards for central air conditioners and heat pumps. An EER of 6.7 was to become effective in November 1977.

ARI noted that equipment efficiency was already improving considerably. In 1976, 28% of the central air systems listed in its directory had EERs of 7.0 or higher. A year later, it had grown to 42%. In early 1978, that figure reached 60%.

Federal vs. State Standards

ARI testified before a U.S. Senate subcommittee on the proposed National Energy Act in 1977. Monk Munger stated, “It is vital that the authority for setting energy efficiency standards be reserved solely to the federal government.… Many different energy efficiency standards [by the states] would cause substantially increased costs for consumers.”

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) issued its proposed appliance labeling rules in 1978, following the mandates of EPCA. ARI sponsored an energy labeling workshop, attended by more than 200 manufacturers, to provide industry input to the FTC.

In January 1979, the Department of Energy (DOE) issued an Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on minimum efficiency standards for several products including unitary air conditioners. ARI assisted the agency in setting its HVAC efficiency targets. In June 1980, DOE published its proposed minimum standards rule, calling for a seasonal energy efficiency ratio (SEER) of 7.8 for split-system air conditioners manufactured after July 15, 1981. Early in 1981, DOE announced that it would not issue national efficiency standards. After receiving 1,800 comments on the proposed rule, the agency decided that further study was required.

In 1986, ARI endorsed federal minimum efficiency standards for residential air conditioners and heat pumps in order to avoid a varying, and costly, array of state standards.

The National Appliance Energy Conservation Act (NAECA) was signed into law in 1987, establishing minimum efficiency standards for a number of appliances, including HVAC products. This was an initiative originated and supported by a coalition co-spearheaded by ARI. NAECA established 10 SEER as the standard for central air conditioners and heat pumps, to go into effect in 1992.

“In the late 1980’s, our industry was challenged with moving from 8- to 10-SEER efficiency ratings,” said Bob Novello of Copeland (who served as ARI chairman from 1996-97). Scroll compressor technology helped make that happen, he related. It “enabled system manufacturers to introduce higher efficiency A/C equipment without making a major investment in equipment redesign.”

In 1996, ARI was successful in negotiating DOE’s Interim Rule, reforming the NAECA rulemaking procedure for appliance efficiency standards, applying improved analytical approaches to encourage consensus-based standards.

12 SEER Or 13 SEER?

Late in 2000, ARI issued a statement on DOE’s proposal to increase the federal energy efficiency standard from 10 to 12 SEER for central air conditioners and from 10 to 13 SEER for heat pumps, effective January 2006. The association noted that it “urges the Department of Energy to consider all the facts in adopting a fair and equitable standard.”

ARI would present its analysis of the proposal to the DOE in November. In its comments, the association questioned the merits of the proposed efficiency increases, stating, “The vast majority of U.S. consumers would not benefit from imposition of such standards.”

In January 2001, in the closing days of the Clinton administration, the DOE decided to institute a 13 SEER minimum efficiency standard for central air conditioners and heat pumps, despite urging from ARI and manufacturers to adopt a more moderate 20% hike (12 SEER). However, the effective date of the new rule was postponed by the incoming Bush administration for a review.

ARI petitioned the DOE on March 23 to reconsider the SEER 13 rule, saying it was so costly to consumers and small businesses that it “would price many people out of the market.” The administration’s review resulted in an announcement in April that the DOE would take public comment on a 12 SEER standard.

Following the July publication of the proposed 12 SEER rule in the Federal Register, ARI filed formal comments with DOE in October supporting a 12 SEER standard.

In April 2002, a possible override of the DOE was prevented when the U.S. Senate rejected efforts to legislatively mandate a 13 SEER standard, which would “wreak havoc on the elderly, our low income, and especially on the jobs of the people who work in this industry today,” said Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA). The DOE then proceeded with its rulemaking.

In a rule published on May 23 in the Federal Register, DOE set a 12 SEER standard for central air conditioners and heat pumps to be manufactured for distribution in the U.S. beginning January 23, 2006.

ARI president William G. Sutton, noting the rule will save three quads of energy over 25 years, said the standard is “a win for consumers because it keeps this equipment affordable to everyone in all 50 states, and higher efficiency helps reduce operating costs.”

Fluorocarbons And The Ozone Layer

Fluorocarbons were widely and routinely used as refrigerants and, up until the mid-1970s, were considered safe to use. Then, suddenly, everything changed.

A British magazine, Nature, published an article in June 1974 on the effects of fluorocarbons on the environment. This article set into motion a number of legislative and regulatory actions at the federal and state level. By December 1974, the first of many bills was introduced in the U.S. Congress calling for studies of the ozone problem.

In June 1975, a federal task force determined that there was “legitimate cause for concern” that fluorocarbons used as aerosol propellants and as refrigerants were damaging the earth’s ozone layer. At the same time, states began introducing legislation restricting fluorocarbons. ARI testified at the federal and state hearings on this issue, noting that there was “no known refrigerant that can be substituted for the fluorocarbon refrigerants.”

In 1976, the National Academy of Sciences released a report stating that some ozone depletion from chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) was not unlikely, but cautioned that additional research was needed.

On August 7, 1977, the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1997 were signed into law, mandating that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) study the effect of CFCs on the ozone layer. It required the EPA Administrator to regulate CFCs if, in his judgment, they would impact the ozone layer and be detrimental to public health. ARI sponsored a forum to discuss how the industry could provide information to EPA and react constructively to its proposals.

A ban on the use of CFC aerosol propellants was proposed and went into effect in October 1978. EPA then looked at CFCs in air conditioning and refrigeration applications. Public information meetings were held in 1977 and 78.

ARI announced formation of an Emission Control Task Force in January 1979. Chaired by Fred Manget of York, the task force’s goal was to develop methods and means of controlling emissions. At a Government Affairs Conference, Paul W. Halter of DuPont noted that EPA believes there is “unreasonable risk” in allowing continued release of CFCs.

In August 1980, a broad-based coalition of industries and companies called the Alliance for Responsible CFC Policy was formed to address EPA regulation. More than 200 people attended the organizational meeting. Chairing the Alliance was E. Douglas Kenna of Carrier Corporation. EPA issued proposed CFC regulations in October, including a restriction on production. The Alliance responded that the proposal was based on an unproven theory and that it could have a negative impact on the U.S. economy.

In 1981, bills were introduced in both the House and Senate calling for the EPA to postpone rulemaking pending verification of the ozone depletion theory.

Discussions on CFCs and the environment continued at both the national and international level. In 1985, governments around the world held the Vienna Convention on the Protection of the Ozone Layer. The various countries committed themselves to protecting the ozone layer and vowed to cooperate in environmental research. The Vienna convention was ratified by the U.S. Senate in 1986 with the endorsement of the Alliance for Responsible CFC Policy. After a careful review of the accumulated scientific data, the Alliance was one of the first industry organizations to call for the negotiation of an international agreement to limit the rate of growth in the use of CFCs.

In 1987, a major international agreement, the Montreal Protocol for Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer, was signed by the participating nations. The U.S. Senate approved it a year later. The agreement called for the reduction and eventual elimination of CFCs.

The parties to the Montreal Protocol agreed in a London meeting in 1990 to eliminate CFC use and production by the year 2000.

In 1990, new scientific information indicated that ozone depletion in the northern hemisphere during winter and spring was almost twice that previously believed. In 1991, additional data indicated that depletion in northern latitudes extended to the summer. Because of this new information, ARI and other organizations recommended an accelerated phaseout of CFCs and HCFCs. In 1992, the Montreal Protocol was revised to speed up the ban on CFC production to the end of 1995, with HCFC-22 production to be phased out in steps by 2030.

Refrigerant Research

In response to the phaseout of ozone depleting substances, the Materials Compatibility and Lubricant Research (MCLR) program was begun in 1991.

The MCLR program supported critical research to accelerate the introduction of substitutes for CFC and HCFC refrigerants. The program addressed refrigerant and lubricant properties, materials compatibility, system-related issues, and test methods development. An advisory committee guided the research, which consisted of technical experts from the refrigeration and air conditioning industry and government agencies. The committee identified the research needs, prepared work statements, and evaluated proposals from potential contractors.

Carrier was a founding member of the advisory committee and Howard Sibley, then Carrier’s program manager of refrigerant technology, served as its first chairman. After the inaugural year, Dick Ernst of The Trane Company served as chairman for the remainder of the program.

Over the course of 10 years, the MCLR program conducted extensive research on the properties and materials compatibility of HCFC-123, -124, and -142b, as well as HFC-32, -125, -134a, -143a, -152a, and -245ca, with a number of lubricants. Baseline comparative measurements were also conducted with CFC-11, -12, and HCFC-22 with mineral oil.

Two of the research projects (a study of lubricant circulation in HVAC systems and an investigation into the fractionation of refrigerant blends) were conducted at the United Technologies Research Center in East Hartford, CT. Trane research projects included “Compatibility of Refrigerants with Motor Materials,” “Compatibility of Refrigerants with Motor Materials Under Retrofit Conditions,” and “Evaluation of HFC-245ca for Commercial Use in Low Pressure Chillers.”

The MCLR program generated more than 50 research reports covering such topics as thermophysical and transport properties of refrigerants, refrigerant/lubricant solubility and viscosity, compatibility of the refrigerants and lubricants with motor materials, elastomers, plastics, desiccants, and process fluids. Many of these reports are in use today in laboratories around the world involved with research and product development in the air conditioning and refrigeration industry.

The program, administered by the Air-Conditioning and Refrigeration Technology Institute (ARTI), a not-for-profit organization for scientific research, was supported by a multi-year research grant from the DOE with additional funds supplied by the Copper Development Association.

The Alternative Refrigerants Evaluation Program (AREP) was established in 1992 to provide data in a quick, efficient manner on the performance of R-22 and R-502 equipment using alternative, non-ozone-depleting refrigerants. The program was created when senior executives from ARI member companies made commitments for the quid pro quo participation of their individual companies in the program.

AREP’s first meeting took place in early 1992 and later in the year, Canadian, Japanese, and European manufacturers joined the program to make AREP an international cooperative effort. Tests were conducted with 19 refrigerants identified as potential replacements for R-22 and with seven refrigerants identified as potential R-502 alternatives.

In 1994, Copeland’s Earl Muir was selected as chair of the technical committee for AREP. He noted, “ARI played a key role in bringing together system, component, and chemical manufacturers during the critical transition from CFC and HCFC to HFC refrigerants. Their ongoing efforts to conduct non-competitive testing and research has and is continuing to explore key issues such as refrigerant and oil alternatives, system controls, indoor air quality, and non-refrigerant based systems to improve energy efficiency and the indoor and outdoor environment.”

For example, members conducted testing such as Carrier’s tests on 3- and 5-ton residential split-system heat pumps with several refrigerant blends that were being considered as R-22 replacements. In addition, Carrier worked with DuPont on tests in room air conditioners to study the reliability of rotary compressors with HFC blends and the new lubricants. These tests helped the industry to determine the optimum formulation for the blends that would eventually be introduced to the market as R-407C and R-410A.

Computer simulations were conducted by the National Institute of Standards and Technology under contract to ARTI, and the Electric Power Research Institute contracted with three universities to conduct heat transfer tests.

The results of these tests allowed the industry to develop new equipment much quicker than would have been possible otherwise. By working together and sharing the results of the research programs, the industry was able to provide new, energy-efficient equipment that helped to reduce ozone depletion and to protect the environment. The AREP program was completed in 1997. Information from the program is available to the public through ARTI.

Implementing The Regulations

In 1993, ARI became one of the first 10 organizations approved to administer the EPA Technician Certification Test for the handling of refrigerants. The next year, the association won an EPA award as part of the certification team.

On Dec. 31, 1995, CFC production officially ended in the United States.

In 1997, the United Nations Environmental Program Certificate was presented to ARI for its contributions to protecting the ozone layer. After five annual awards from the EPA, ARI received a Best of the Best award in 1998 for ongoing environmental protection.

ARI was involved in the development of the European Partnership for Energy and the Environment (EPEE) in 2000. This coalition was designed to coordinate industry response to European Union policy action on HFCs.

The HVAC industry has faced many challenges over the past 50 years, but none have been as challenging as the transition to new refrigerants to protect the environment. Thus far, the industry has met the challenge and has been able to provide equipment that uses refrigerants that are safe and energy efficient. ARI has provided the forum for discussion and has administered several research programs that have allowed its member companies to move to new refrigerants smoothly and in a timely manner.

Throughout the transition from CFCs to HCFCs to HFCs, ARI has remained at the forefront of the issue, providing guidance on regulations and coordinating research efforts to identify new refrigerants and materials that could be used with them.

Publication date: 11/11/2002