The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has announced further actions it will be taking to to phase down hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs).
The Biden-Harris administration aims to reduce HFCs by 40 per cent in 2024, and to achieve an 85 per cent reduction by 2036 under the American Innovation and Manufacturing (AIM) Act – in line with the Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol.
The first new action restricts the use of HFCs where alternatives are available to assist the transition to more efficient and climate-safe technologies. It restricts the use of certain HFCs in refrigeration, air conditioning and heat pump equipment, foams, and aerosol products.
According to the Cooling Post, the rules will impose a GWP limit of 700 for residential and light commercial air conditioning and heat pumps – meaning that R32 will be allowed. The rules will apply to the manufacture and import of self-contained products from January 1, 2025 with restrictions on the sale, distribution and export from January 1, 2028. For the installation of “field-assembled” systems the ban begins on January 1, 2025, except for VRF systems, which have a compliance date of January 1, 2026.
For retail food refrigeration equipment, a GWP limit of 150 will apply, except for remote condensing units and supermarket systems with charges over 200lb (90kg), and for the high temperature side of cascade systems, which will have a 300 GWP limit.
The second action is a proposal on managing and reusing existing HFCs, reducing leaks and promoting recycling and reclamation. It is intended to support the growing US industry for recovering HFCs from existing equipment and reclaiming them to be used again, while reducing life-cycle emissions. The proposal also includes requirements for repairing leaky equipment, use of automatic leak detection systems on large refrigeration systems, use of reclaimed HFCs for certain applications, recovery of HFCs from cylinders before their disposal, and a container tracking system.
Chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, Senator Tom Carper, says the announcement represents an important step forward.
“We know that HFCs are thousands of times more potent than carbon dioxide at trapping heat in our atmosphere,” he says. “The Biden Administration is phasing down HFCs in a way that advances our climate goals and supports American manufacturers – turning adversity into opportunity.”
According to the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA), life-cycle management is crucial to support a smooth transition and reduce emissions of the fluorocarbons already installed in equipment and those still yet to be sold under the global HFC phase-down (which amounts to 7 billion tons of CO2 equivalent in the US by 2050).
EIA Climate Campaign Director Avipsa Mahapatra says the ruling sets an ambitious timetable for refrigerants used in heating and cooling equipment to be capped by their climate-damage potential.
She believes the proposed rule ensures that the demand for “virgin” HFCs is reduced by incentivising their reuse.
EPA estimates that the final rule will provide additional cumulative greenhouse gas emissions reductions of at least 83 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (MMTCO2e) from 2025–2050 – a benefit of at least US$3 billion. It will also provide an estimated US$4.5 billion in savings for industry and consumers through energy savings and cheaper refrigerants.
“This is a momentous week signalling the beginning of the end to our decades of reliance on these synthetic super pollutants,” says Mahapatra.