The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Significant New Alternatives Policy (SNAP) programme and the European Union’s F-Gas Regulation, which seek to phase down f-gas emissions, are forcing the HVAC&R industry to adopt environmentally friendly alternatives to HFCs – including natural refrigerants. 

“2018 will be a key first step in the EU’s F-Gas Regulation implementation, in conjunction with the development of high-efficiency products to comply with EU Eco-Design legislation,” said Régis Leportier of ASERCOM, the Association of European Component Manufacturers.

In 2020, an EU ban on using certain HFCs in new stationary refrigeration equipment comes into effect, accompanied by bans on servicing and maintaining existing equipment. “The EU phase-down mechanism is key for our industry in order to allow adaptation to sustainable alternatives,” Leportier said.

US policy is having a similar effect on the other side of the pond. Last week the EPA announced changes of listing status for certain high GWP fluorinated gases, such as R404A, R410A, R134a and R407C. These f-gases will no longer be acceptable for the following uses:

  • For new centrifugal chillers and new positive displacement chillers, as of 1 January 2024.
  • For new cold storage warehouses, as of 1 January 2023.
  • For new retail food refrigeration (refrigerated food processing and dispensing equipment) and new household refrigerators and freezers, as of 1 January 2021.

“We’re seeing restrictions and bans on HFCs in commercial refrigeration in the United States,” said Steve Yurek, president of the Air Conditioning, Heating and Refrigeration Institute (AHRI), which represents HVAC&R manufacturers in the US and worldwide.

“Big changes are coming. High-GWP refrigerants will be phased down on a global scale.

AHRI President Steve Yurek

Yurek argued that hydrocarbons (A3 refrigerants) are viable environmentally friendly alternatives to HFCs, but that safety standards currently in place in the United States are too restrictive. “In general, US codes are very restrictive for […] A3 refrigerants. Safety standards must be modified to ease restrictions on use of […] A3 refrigerants,” he said.

Montreal Protocol discussions driving global HFC phase-down

Policymakers are gathering for 28th Meeting of the Parties to the Montreal Protocol for the Protection of the Ozone Layer, taking place in Rwandan capital Kigali from 8-14 October. The meeting is expected to produce a legally binding mechanism to ban HFCs.

“Big changes are coming. High-GWP refrigerants will be phased down on a global scale. The good news is that our industry will be prepared,” said AHRI President Yurek. 

“The industry is moving forward. OEMs are starting to select alternatives [to HFCs], and to develop components and equipment for them. Now, the regulatory and safety barriers must be adopted to allow safe use of equipment using […] A3 refrigerants,” Yurek said.

Towards a ‘Refrigerants Driving License’

The AHRI president stresses the importance of training installers and technicians in how to handle flammable refrigerants. Together with AREA (the European Association of Refrigeration, Air Conditioning and Heat Pump Contractors), the United Nations Envrionment Programme (UNEP) and other bodies, AHRI is developing a ‘Refrigerants Driving License to ensure safe handling of flammable refrigerants in Article 5 countries.

“If an accident happens anywhere, it will tarnish all of us,” Yurek said.

The Chillventa Congress (10-13 October) brings together industry experts to discuss the latest market and policy trends in the HVAC&R sector. It is being held alongside the Chillventa trade show (11-13 October) in the German city of Nuremburg this week.