Refrigerants: What’s New in 2017?

The United States has passed a number of regulations regarding refrigerants since the signing of the Montreal Protocol in 1987. Many of these regulations have been implemented in phases, and we are now on the brink of a wave of new restrictions. It can be hard to keep up with the shifting bans and limitations, so here we have laid out a little bit of the history behind refrigerants and the coming timeline of future regulations and restrictions.

Refrigerants: What’s New in 2017?
Refrigerants: What’s New in 2017?

The roll back on CFCs (Chlorofluorocarbons) officially began in 1989 when the Montreal Protocol went into effect with its series of staggered limits on their use and production. During the 1970s scientists observed a marked drop in the Earth’s ozone content around its polar regions. The ozone is a crucial layer of Earth’s atmosphere that shields the planet’s surface from harmful Ultraviolet radiation. This thinning or depletion of the ozone layer was determined by scientists to be caused by CFCs present in the upper atmosphere. To combat the widening hole in the ozone layer an international treaty was drafted that became known as the Montreal Protocol. This treaty bans the production of not only CFCs, but also Halons and other compounds with ozone depleting properties. The Montreal Protocol is widely considered to be one of the most successful and rapidly implemented international environmental endeavors.

The Montreal Protocol has been expanded and updated since its creation to phase out more refrigerants that have a high Global Warming Potential (GWP), also known as high ozone depleting properties. HCFCs (Hydrochlorofluorocarbons) are part of one of the Montreal Protocol’s subsequent long-term goals. According to the full text of the Montreal Protocol the United States must incrementally decrease HCFC consumption and production, with the end goal of a complete elimination of HCFCs in 2030. The prior benchmarked goals included a reduction to 90% below baseline levels in 2015 and a 99.5% reduction by 2020. The Clean Air Act bolstered and organized this phase out with a “worst first” mantra. The highest ozone depleting HCFCs were targeted and systemically eliminated. Some of these HCFCs that the Clean Air Act targeted first were HCFC-22, HCFC-141b, and HCFC-142b.

The latest step in the refrigerant phase-out was announced by the EPA in September 2016. This new step will ban a host of high GWP refrigerants including R-404a, R-134a, R-407c, and R-410a potentially by January 1, 2021. This applies to the use of R-404a and R-507a in new retail food refrigeration by January 1st, 2021 and in new cold storage warehouses by January 1st, 2023.

Regarding R-134a, the ban requires that it no longer be used for new centrifugal and positive displacement chillers by January 1, 2024. Some other refrigerants that this ruling affects are R-407c and R-410a, in addition to some interim “drop-in” blends. R-134a is also banned in new domestic refrigerators and freezers.

In addition to banning these refrigerants the new ruling from the EPA further intensifies leak rate rules to reduce the amount of refrigerants that escape equipment into the atmosphere. This new rule lowers the leak rate limits that trigger essential reparations of refrigeration and air-conditioning equipment containing 50lbs or more of refrigerant. The leak rate limits were lowered from35% to 30% for industrial process refrigeration, 35% to 20% for commercial refrigeration equipment and from 15% to 10% for comfort cooling equipment. The new rule also requires quarterly and/or annual leak inspections or continuous monitoring for devices that have exceeded their threshold leak rates. An additional leak requirement involves plant owners and operators. If their systems contain equal to or more than 50lbs of refrigerant and leak 125% or more of their full chargein one calendar year, then the owners and operators in question must submit reports to the EPA.

These new rules make it more important than ever for you to make regular maintenance and inspection on your building equipment routine. By doing so you can avoid violations and also ensure that you are not releasing harmful refrigerants that impact our planet’s atmospheric systems.

This Blog article has been posted by Maximum Energy Professionals, a mechanical engineering firm located in Torrance, CA. For information on Sustainability Services including: ENERGY STAR utility benchmarking and award certification, California AB802 Compliance, ASHRAE energy audits, LEED, and energy conservation/green Mechanical-Electrical-Plumbing systems and equipment design, please give us a call at 310-782-1410 or visit our website at www.mep-llc.com

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