The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will publish its proposed HFC management provisions under the American Innovation and Manufacturing (AIM) Act by the end of the summer, according to Cindy Newberg, Director of the agency’s Stratospheric Protection Division.
The proposal will consider several factors, including requirements for leak repair, leak-detection equipment and refrigerant reclaim, she said.
“What do we do with the stock of HFCs that are out there?” she asked. “More importantly, what do we do with the stock of equipment that is out there? We have always felt that we didn’t want to necessarily shorten the useful lifetime of large capital investments, so we look at opportunities to recovery, recycle and reuse refrigerants.”
Newberg delivered her remarks during the Technology Transition Policy Panel session at the ATMOsphere (ATMO) America Summit 2023 on natural refrigerants. The conference took place June 12–13 in Washington, D.C., and was organized by ATMOsphere, publisher of R744.com.
A ‘three-legged stool’
“I think of the [AIM Act] as a three-legged stool,” explained Newberg during her presentation. “The first leg is to phase down HFCs and get in place that schedule [and] the regulations around it. The second leg is the technology transitions rule, and the third leg of our stool, which we’ll be proposing before the end of the summer, is the HFC management provisions.”
On July 11, the EPA announced its latest plans to phase down the use of HFCs by 40% below historic levels between 2024 and 2028.
On the technology transitions rule, which sets the GWP limits for several end uses, the EPA released its proposal in December 2022. The proposed rule sets a 150-GWP limit on the use of refrigerants in many new refrigeration systems and a 700-GWP limit on the use of refrigerants in new residential and light commercial air-conditioning and heat pump systems as well as other applications. The regulation is due to be finalized by October 7. According to Newberg, the rule will be a driver for innovation.
At present, the EPA is finalizing its proposed rules around HFC management, which includes establishing the “trigger rate” for leak repair, whether certain applications require refrigerant reclaim only and when leak detection equipment is needed. AIM Act provisions around leak repair will apply to HFCs in addition to HCFCs; this will restore rules enacted by the Obama administration in 2016 that were rescinded in 2020 under the Trump administration.
Newberg also noted that there will be at least two more pieces of regulation under the AIM Act, which are expected in 2024. This includes reviewing certain non-HVAC&R applications and assessing alternative refrigerant options.
In addition to working on the AIM Act, the EPA is making updates to some of its partnership programs, including GreenChill, which is a voluntary program that works cooperatively with the U.S. food retail industry to reduce refrigerant emissions and explore alternative refrigeration systems.
Newberg said that the EPA is updating the requirements for GreenChill store certification, which were originally set in 2012.
“It’s time to refresh that criteria and look at it again,” she explained. “Technology has changed, and we want to update that accordingly.”
Last year the program celebrated its 15th anniversary and recognized several retailers, including Target and ALDI US, for their work with CO2 (R744)-based refrigeration systems.
She also mentioned that there are a few additional updates the EPA is working on with regard to the GreenChill program.
“It’s time to refresh [the GreenChill] criteria and look at it again. Technology has changed, and we want to update that accordingly.”Cindy Newberg, U.S. EPA
The AIM Act is also referenced in three provisions under the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA). One aspect specifies the amount of money the EPA can use for implementation and compliance, particularly relating to customs and imports.
Another element covers grants for “reclaim and innovative destruction technologies.” Newberg noted that the grants total US$15 million (€13.5 million), and the program should be in place in roughly two years.
Other topics covered by Newberg include the Significant New Alternatives Policy (SNAP) Program under the Clean Air Act and the EPA’s ban on non-refillable gas cylinders, which has since been overturned by the Washington, D.C., Circuit Court of Appeal.
She was asked about the harmonization of f-gas regulations across the states, which she said is not necessarily a concern for the EPA, with the exception of certain applications, such as metered-dosed inhalers.
“I really enjoy looking at the state regulations,” she explained. “We get a lot of interesting ideas from the states; they try out a lot of things that we aren’t able to do at the federal level, so it’s quite informative. [However,] we do understand folks prefer not to have a patchwork of regulations.”
On the increasingly discussed topic of PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances), Newberg said that the EPA is referring to Montreal Protocol scientists for guidance but that it will be watching how things progress in the EU.
“When we are looking at alternatives, whether they are fluorinated or not, we do look at a number of factors, including TFA [trifluoroacetic acid],” she said. “The Montreal Protocol has continuously been reporting on TFA, and their global experts have been setting the tone for [the EPA].”
Regarding the use of IPCC AR4 for GWP limits versus the 2021 IPCC AR6 guidance, Newberg said that the GWP limits referenced in both the AIM Act and the Kigali Amendment match AR4’s 100-year GWP values.
“If you’re getting to the same values ultimately, the question is: Does the metric matter?” she asked. “If I were to use AR6, I’d probably set the GWP limits at a very different level so that we’re capturing the same set of refrigerants,” she noted.
“When we are looking at alternatives, whether they are fluorinated or not, we do look at a number of factors, including TFA. The Montreal Protocol has continuously been reporting on TFA, and their global experts have been setting the tone for [the EPA].”Cindy Newberg, U.S. EPA