The long-term phase down — not phase out — of HFC refrigerants remains in the crosshairs of the U.S. State Department and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). But such action still has a long, rocky road to go and there is no certainty of its success.

At the second Atmosphere America Natural Refrigerants conference, attendees got a report on the most recent — at the time — U.S. government proposal for a worldwide agreement on what to do with HFCs.

The U.S. proposed a phase down starting around 2020 as a baseline year and ending in 2050 with an 85 percent reduction in the production and consumption of HFCs. It was repeatedly mentioned at Atmosphere America that this was a phase down, not a phase out. A phase out was the case with CFCs and HCFCs. So even if the proposal takes effect, some HFCs would apparently be available as long as equipment utilizing HFCs remained operational.

It is the intention of the U.S. to get other countries to sign on to the proposal and to have it incorporated into the existing Montreal Protocol. There was a preliminary meeting of representatives of many countries to explore this in June. The soonest any action could come on any proposal would be this October at the Meeting of the Parties to the Montreal Protocol.

Similar proposals regarding HFCs have been shot down three times at previous Meetings of the Parties and optimism was cautious, at best, among many of those who follow developments for success in October.

One of the stronger historical opponents to an HFC phase down is China, which is now starting to move from HCFCs and toward HFCs. But this spring President Barack Obama met with Chinese President, Xi Jinping, and, according to a statement from the White House, they agreed to “work together and with other countries through multiple approaches that include using the expertise and institutions of the Montreal Protocol to phase down the production and consumption of HFCs.”

How that all plays out is really unclear. And there is still opposition to an HFC phase down from Brazil and Argentina among others.

One other aspect of the equation is the possibility that European Union action on a phase down could find its way into California state regulations and end up being adopted by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). That’s kind of a backdoor approach to the global effort the state department and EPA want, but it bears watching. Also, Obama, in a recent speech, advocated moving away from HFCs regardless of the pace of global talks, but that seemed to be “where and when possible” rather than demanding unilateral action.

A few advocates of natural refrigerants at the Atmosphere America conferences were looking at the regulatory landscape for assistance. They were interested in showing how technological improvements in equipment running on natural refrigerants were making them a cost-competitive and energy-efficient option to f-gases. About the only point made regarding any uncertainty surrounding the future of HFCs was that naturals aren’t facing such concern, so the naturals were propositioned as true long-term options when it comes to consumers not having to change out equipment.

For the 99.9 percent of readers who work with f-gas refrigerants, the takeaway is that your favorite HFC refrigerants will likely be around many years after you retire. The reality is that this concern could be one that is passed along to the successors in your businesses.

At the same time, be aware that for many reasons, there will be more equipment running on naturals such as CO2 in supermarket refrigeration, and propane refrigerants in self-contained coolers, in the near future. Codes are changing to encourage the use of natural refrigerants and training is on the uptick in the industry.

It might not be a bad idea to invest in some of those courses. In fact, I’d call it a very good idea.

Publication date: 7/29/2013

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