Back in the summer of 2013, an event called Atmospheres America took place in Washington, D.C. It was put on by advocates of so-called natural refrigerants like ammonia, CO2, and hydrocarbons (HCs). While the approach focused mainly on the business sense of using those refrigerants, there were references to the possibility of a phaseout – or at the least, a phasedown – of synthetic hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs).
At one point, representatives of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) made a presentation of how the U.S. was joining many other countries in trying to get HFCs included within the Montreal Protocol so they could be put under some sort of phasedown schedule. This was the global consensus approach that most everybody has been willing to consider as it provides a level playing field worldwide for dealing with refrigerants.
At the same time, there was concern that the Obama administration would try a backdoor effort to unilaterally take action regarding HFCs that pays no attention to seeking a global consensus.
In February, the first salvo came from the administration. Developments were reported in the Feb. 19 online edition of The NEWS. Here are some quotes from that report, along with a few thoughts of mine.
“The EPA held a public meeting to inform stakeholders of its proposed plan for a transition to ‘climate-friendly alternatives’ to replace high-global warming potential (GWP) refrigerants.” The obvious reference here is to a number of HFC refrigerants.
There were two separate proposed rules. One said the EPA “will expand the list of low-GWP alternative refrigerants for air conditioning and refrigeration to include ethane, isobutane, propane, R-441A, and R-32 for selected applications.” The first three are HC refrigerants; the latter two are HFCs with low-global warming potential. Part of the synthetic f-gas advocates’ counterbalance to the natural push is to draw attention to low-GWP HFC refrigerants.
“Since these refrigerants are flammable, the EPA is planning to propose appropriate use conditions that adopt safety standards.” This is the focal point of the whole issue. Those HC gases are highly flammable (A2 safety rating), and the low-GWP HFCs are, for the most part, slightly flammable (A2L). Very simply, municipal building codes will have to be revised to allow greater use of the above-mentioned refrigerants.
“The second rule, which will be proposed this summer, will likely change the status of the following refrigerants to ‘unacceptable’: R-134a and HFC blends with higher GWPs in vending machines, stand-alone reach-in coolers, and various foam-blowing end uses; and R-507A, R-404A, and other HFC blends with high GWPs in multiplex supermarket systems.” This would affect new installations, not existing ones. No need to pull out anything already in place, or about to be put in place, before the rule becomes final, if that ever happens.
“In developing its proposals, the EPA said it will carefully consider the availability of alternatives and the amount of time it may take to convert to alternatives.” Actually, this is quite likely. EPA has responded quite well to what the industry is saying in terms of new refrigerants and where they work best.
At this point, it might be best to say something to a dwindling few of you who think all the ozone depletion-global warming (now called climate change) worries are a hoax, or blame all the problems on chlorine in pools or cow manure. Virtually everybody is looking well beyond those issues and has brushed them aside.
Just like the soon-to-be-phased-out production of R-22 is the HVACR industry’s response to ozone depletion, the potential global and unilateral actions regarding HFCs is a response to GWP concerns. It appears the EPA and the industry is in agreement on this, and moving forward pretty much step by step.
Those of you working in an HVACR business that deals with refrigerants and plan to do so for the next 10-20 years — and especially if you have second- and third-generation relations ready to follow — should start getting comfortable with HCs, CO2, hydrofluoroolefins (HFOs), and A2L refrigerants, just like a previous generation got used to those newfangled chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs).
Publication date: 4/28/2014