EIA urges U.S. states to address refrigerant leaks and end-of-life recovery

By Michael Garry, Feb 14, 2019, 20:01 3 minute reading

Report recommends adopting California’s programs and other measures to prevent HFC and HCFC emissions in the face of federal rollbacks.

The Washington, D.C.-based Environmental Investigation Agency released a report today urging U.S. states to follow California’s refrigerant management plan (RMP) and adopt other policy measures to reduce the rate of emissions of HFCs and HCFCs through leak prevention and end-of-life recovery, reclamation and destruction that on a global basis would avoid up to 96.7 gigatons of CO2e.

The report, called “Search, Reuse, and Destroy: How States Can Take the Lead on a 100 Billion Ton Climate Problem," identifies prevention of emissions of fluorinated refrigerants such as HFCs from “F-gas banks” as “the single biggest near-term strategy to reduce greenhouse gases.” It focuses mainly on commercial refrigeration and AC, but also covers transport refrigeration, mobile AC and household appliances.

Avoidable end-of-life emissions of synthetic refrigerants from retired equipment in the U.S. are estimated to be 75-80 million metric tons of CO2e annually, equivalent to emissions from 16 million cars, the report said.

The report calls the recovery and destruction of refrigerant banks at end of life “a cost-effective mitigation strategy, costing less per ton than conservative measures for the U.S. social cost of carbon.”

[Incentives encourage] retirement of old energy-inefficient equipment containing ODS or HFCs, and therefore a more rapid transition to alternative refrigerants and more energy-efficient systems.”

In 2016 The Obama administration expanded the federal Section 608 refrigerant management regulations, including rules on leak repair, to include HFCs as well as ozone-depleting gases. However, last September the current Environmental Protection Agency proposed rescinding the Section 608 rules as they apply to HFCs.

Given the federal uncertainty, the EIA report is asking U.S. states to “act quickly and decisively to address refrigerant emissions through policies aimed at scaling up refrigerant management, recovery, reclamation, and destruction — a near-term, cost-effective approach that would have immediate and significant climate benefits.”

In particular, replicating and expanding on California’s RMP regulation “would provide a consistent approach across states and counteract reversal of federal refrigerant management regulations,” the report noted.

California’s RMP requirements cover registry and reporting requirements, leak detection and repair practices, and technician certification and training for handling HFC refrigerants. EIA is advocating that California’s RMP be expanded to cover large stationary air conditioning systems, which represent “a rapidly growing portion of the HFC bank.”

The U.S. Climate Alliance, a group of 21 state governors who support the goals of the Paris climate change accord, has identified refrigerant management and end-of-life strategies as key elements of an approach to cutting HFC emissions. In addition to California, New York, Maryland and Connecticut are among the alliance members that have committed to reducing HFC emissions.

EIA’s other recommendation for U.S. states include:

  • Conducting state-level inventories to determine quantities and sectoral beakdowns of ODS (ozone-depleting substances) and HFC refrigerant banks.
  • Additional measures to increase recovery, reclamation and destruction, including mandating reclamation or destruction, banning sale of virgin high-GWP refrigerants for servicing, and incentivizing recovery through an “extended producer responsibility” scheme.
  • Banning non-refillable cylinders.
  • Piloting recovery and destruction projects in subsectors.

Policies that incentivize destruction of refrigerants at end of life have the added benefit of “encouraging retirement of old energy-inefficient equipment containing ODS or HFCs, and therefore a more rapid transition to alternative refrigerants and more energy-efficient systems,” the report said.

The report also identifies end-of-life recovery programs in other countries, including Australia, Denmark and Norway as well as demonstration projects in Columbia and other countries.

The report noted that the Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol, which organizes a global phase down of HFCs that began this year, does not address F-gas banks and will allow “substantial new production and consumption of HFCs.”

By Michael Garry

Feb 14, 2019, 20:01

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