October Refrigerant Roundup – A brief history of the refrigerant regulatory road map, why we are where we are, and where we go from here.
October 2023 represents a significant milestone for all HVAC/R, EHS&S, and Sustainability professionals and business owners, building managers, commercial property companies, investment funds, and shareholders responsible for owning, operating, or servicing any A.C., Refrigeration systems for any use from cooling data to food, or keeping a building or bank comfortable, or safeguarding drugs or people.
5 Significant events occurred this month:
- EPA publishes final management practices for refrigerants. We published a blog last week; we will post another next week related to reclaim and cylinder management and expect another the week after associated with EPA’s new mandates for fire suppression equipment.
- EPA finalized Allocation Allowances for 2024
- EPA updates requirements for handling flammable refrigerants, shifting responsibility to RCRA.
- California signed into law two bills, SB 253 & SB 261, known as the Climate Accountability Act.
- The E.U. fully adopted ESRS, The European Parliament on October 18, MEPs rejected a resolution (p170) calling for limitations to be introduced on the ESRS, paving the way for final adoption.
How did we get here? The Refrigerant Regulations Road Map has been under construction since 1993 – there have been no rapid or unexpected outcomes, only delays
Many people have called or emailed me regarding the rapid action of Actions this month. Some have viewed the regulations as abrupt, politically charged actions that won’t stand and will be dropped as party control over one body of the legislature or another changes. I wanted to set the record straight and provide some context because these regulations were developed in a Bi-partisan process over many years and have the overwhelming support of the industry, government, and investment community.
Each year, the US consumes more than 600 million pounds of refrigerant, primarily used in Air conditioning and Refrigeration systems. If you are like many people, you may have assumed that there are bans on refrigerant venting, and it’s even widely believed that refrigerant leaks are minor and that almost everyone feels the organization they work for, manage, or own has nothing to do with chronic leaky systems.
Evidence contradicts the myth that systems don’t leak; all systems do. The EPA has tried to regulate emissions for three decades, but industry practices and limited authority from Congress have often undermined their efforts—the EPA’s 1993 refrigerant laws targeted larger commercial systems to spare homeowners and small businesses. Initially, buildings had 2-3 large (50L.B.B +) A.C. units, which the EPA’s regulations were based on. However, over 30 years, a shift occurred where buildings switched to multiple 49LB systems, just under the EPA’s 50LB—regulatory limit, avoiding tracking requirements. As designs have adapted to this threshold, less than 5% of equipment now exceeds 50 LBs.
With limited authority to make changes, the EPA did its best to firm up control of refrigerant emissions. Still, due to limits placed on their authority to control non-ozone-depleting substances) and Congress’ slow nature of change, the bulk of the marketplace stayed just outside the impact of the EPA regulations. The ban on CFCs and HCFCs, ozone-depleting (ODS) Refrigerants, went into place in 1994 but did not conclude until 2014 due to loopholes. During that time, ODS refrigerants were replaced with very high GWP (Global Warming Potential)refrigerants (let’s call these Gen-3 refrigerants) because, in the ’90s, we were not paying attention to Global Warming potential (GWP), and the EPA had no authority to regulate them. By 2014, architects and engineers were in full swing, tearing out larger old systems and installing newer non-regulated Gen-3 systems; by many estimates, the equipment population grew from 40 million refrigerant-based units in 1994 to more than 120 million in 2020.
This dramatic expansion in equipment installations is made even starker when you consider that during the last 30 years, the HVAC/R service staff that do the maintenance has remained flat at roughly 300,000 – so 3x more equipment, with the same number of people servicing them.
In 2010, the industry came together to begin the transformation from Gen-3 to a new group of refrigerants known as lower GWP (Global Warming Potential)refrigerants that I am referring to as Gen-4 (4th Generation of refrigerants) comprised of a patented blend of high GWP Gen-3 with a low slightly flammable material called HFO’s which have a very low GWP (Global Warming Potential)of between 2-10 CO2e (Carbon Dioxide equivalent). HFO refrigerants (Hydrofluoroolefins) are composed of hydrogen, fluorine, and carbon atoms but contain at least one double bond between the carbon atoms. Due to its composition, this class of refrigerants (we refer to them as Gen-5) does not damage the ozone layer or has minimal global warming impact.
As a reference point, Gen-3 refrigerants have as much CO2 (Carbon Dioxide) equivalency as 1000 – 5000 lbs. of CO2e (Carbon Dioxide equivalent). Gen-4 looks comparatively better, with GWPs (Global Warming Potential) ranging from 50 – 1500 LBS of CO2e. But along the way toward this transformation, Federal and State policy teams ran into political and industry headwinds.
The EPA was cornered between the Courts, Congress, Lobbyists, and Politics, and their authority was restricted to managing Gen-1 & Gen-2 (mostly). However, they still had certain powers to manage newer generations of refrigerant, but because legal actions and court mandates sliced up the rules, the marketplace needed more clarification about when and where to apply which rule, so most ignored the rules.
Congress stalled in its legislative development, and the State Department, which is responsible for managing international agreements, sidestepped commitments, no longer participating in actions related to transitions and policy development, moved from Washington DC to places like California, Colorado, and New Jersey; Washington state and states started to form their regulations – marginalizing the EPAs central position as policy lead for all things refrigerant, which they had retained since 1987 when the Montreal Protocol was signed.
On June 1, 2017, several States joined together. It formed a policy clearing house association called the U.S. Climate Alliance. This bipartisan coalition now counts 25 governors securing America’s net-zero future by advancing state-led, high-impact climate action. This bi-partisan group of states acted to coordinate policy developments and facilitate a dialogue between the states committed to making progress. Regardless of the connection and shared goals, these states all had unique ways of applying regulations; here are some highlights:
California, Washington & New Jersey – Each has an asset registry and fee-based periodic reporting requirement.
New York State has adopted a 20-year GWP (Global Warming Potential) factor for all refrigerants.
Ten states adopted EPA’s 2015/2016 set of regulations for allowable refrigerants under the Significant New Alternative Program (SNAP)
California has adopted a new set of reporting requirements for all refrigerants under a new bill called the Climate Accountability Act.
From Resistance to Resilience: The Evolution of the HVAC/R Industry Amid Global Refrigerant Shifts and Pioneering Innovations
Challenges to EPA’s authority came from industry groups like HARDI (Heating Air Conditioning Refrigeration Distributors) and ACCA (Air Conditioning Contractors of America), a nationwide association for professionals that install and maintain HVACR equipment, even foreign companies intent to continue importing high GWP (Global Warming Potential) refrigerants into the U.S. joined the resistance because these materials had been banned, restricted, or limited in other countries, essentially making U.S. U.S. a dumping ground of Gen-3 ref refrigerants. By 2014, places like Australia, Japan, Europe, and the U.K. had all begun transitioning.
During this time, the industry remained pitted in conflict; manufacturers of next-Gen-4 refrigerants were trying to make progress, advanced equipment companies were trying to transition to more efficient advanced technology to catch up to advancements already underway in Europe and parts of Asia, the business as usual attitude of architects, engineers and status quo producers of old tech and old refrigerants, remained committed to squeezing out the most from decades-old technology that was supporting old supply chain patterns and producing the obsolete refrigerants and equipment.
However, some leaders did their best to push and pull the transition into the marketplace. These companies were investing in technology like CO2(Carbon Dioxide)-based refrigeration, and although the cooling Process is still based on CO2 (Carbon Dioxide), which has a GWP (Global Warming Potential) of 1, at least it’s not 1000 GWP. These investments paved the way for advancements in a space that relied on aspirations more than economics since each CO2 (Carbon Dioxide)cooling system costs 2-3x more than a traditional system. These investments represented a commitment to resiliency, and EPA rewarded them with GreenChill awards, recognizing their commitment to deliver a best-in-class solution.
Digital technologies like Trakref emerged to replace old, outdated tracking solutions that acted more like file cabinets of data from the ’50s, and we created new pathways targeting gaps in the existing “Measure & Manage” frameworks and began building solutions that engaged the entire workforce. Getting buy-in has always been the key to success, and we proved that in Polar Technology by pioneering the first-of-its-kind cylinder exchange and online gas banking program, which led to the highest net yields (92%) and 100% transparency on transactions. Our collection network outperformed other networks by 600% on average.
From 2015 – 2020, the HVAC/R – refrigerant marketplace followed a Private Environment al Governance business model. A concept framed by Michael Vandenburgh, Under this model, Corporations and other non-governmental entities worked to develop voluntary agreements, standards, and other practices to foster sustainability and reduce environmental impacts, including ISO 14001, the Dow Jones Sustainability Impact (DJSI) and EPA voluntary emissions reduction programs like GreenChill. These voluntary standards had a meaningful impact on future developments since the participants were committed to developing the best practices regardless of convenience with the industry’s best interest in mind.
In 2017, two Senators from different states joined forces to architect a bi-partisan solution, and after soliciting input from stakeholders across the industry, they published it in 2018.
“The bipartisan AIM ActU.S.motes U.S. innovation in HFC alternatives, aligning with the updated Montreal Protocol while benefiting our environment,” stated Senator Carper. “Our dedication to domestic HFC substitutes U.S.tions U.S. firms at the industry’s forefront. As we create domestic jobs and combat climate change, it’s vital to maintain our momentum and global leadership. Together with Senator Kennedy and other colleagues, we aim for a sustainable future for all.”
On December 27, 2020, President Trump signed the AIM Act, The American Innovation and Manufacturing Act, into Law (Public Law 116-260). The AIM Act authorizes the EPA to address hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) by providing new authorities in three main areas, and here are their updates as of today:
Phase down the production and consumption of listed HFCs (Allocations- completed)
The EPA has issued an Allocation to specific companies, and they updated the future allocations.
I found this very interesting; the EPA has also taken away some companies’ allocation because of bad behavior:
Here are the three reasons that caused the companies to lose access to their allocation:
Here are the companies that lost their rights
Total amount of rights revoked:
The EPA withdrew about the same amount of Allocation rights in 2021.
Manage HFCs and their substitutes. Here is what has been proposed this month. – In Process,
Good news for Trakref clients: we have been tracking these changes from the beginning, and the system is architected to support 100% of the pending and proposed changes. We are at Readiness level 7-9 on everything, and we are just waiting for the Fed to finish the review process. and then we will activate all aspects of their requirements.
Technology transition that facilitates the transition to next-generation technologies through sector-based restrictions. Fully Baked
The EPA has published phasedowns, and here are three critical changes to the refrigerant market. We have been talking about this for nearly three years, and we all expected the EPA to align with the State of California, and they did. This is an example of California policy informing EPA regulations.
Here are three examples of Changes. (Please note that this transition ruling is very granular, and these are only 3 of many examples.
October is important for more than just EPA regulations, and there was more
October has been a busy month. The EPA is moving, and you will hear us repeat Business as Usual is over. It’s time to look forward and figure out how to accommodate the changes; the longer you wait, the less time you will have to test, sample, and scale your solution across your entire team and all your properties.
The EPA is not the only place targeting refrigerant emissions; California’s Climate Accountability Act mandates that owners and operators disclose their emissions and consumption of refrigerants. This bill will roll out over the next two years, and we will continue to share as this regulation evolves, fluorinated greenhouse gases will need to be scrutinized and this rule applis to any public or private business doing business in California, regardless of company headquarters:
ESRS is a key set of provisions that act as the reporting standards to support the EU CSRD requirements. We have been discussing the EU CSRD since 2022 to prepare the Trakref software system for reporting obligations and data collection needs and inform operational teams on what to expect.
Trakref is a frontrunner in the refrigerant regulatory space, pioneering solutions in response to evolving standards like the ESRS, CSRD, California, EPA, and anywhere else these high GWP (Global Warming Potential) gasses are being spotlighted.
As regulations intensify, industries must abandon the “Business as Usual” mindset and adopt a proactive approach. The importance of partnering with experts like Trakref to transition smoothly through these regulatory shifts cannot be overstated. October 2023 marked pivotal changes in the HVAC/R, EHS&S, and Sustainability sectors with the introduction of the EPA’s new refrigerant management directives and California’s Climate Accountability Act. With the environmental effects of refrigerants clear, a shift to better management and lower-impact alternatives, such as HFOs and natural refrigerants, is vital. Despite hurdles like varied state policies and industry pushback, collaborative efforts have initiated sustainable practices. Trakref has guided stakeholders through these regulatory changes, championing compliance and environmental stewardship.
Ted is the President & CEO of Trakref, a cloud-based HVAC/R and refrigerant management software company that provides unprecedented solutions for commercial properties. He has spent more than 20 years in the HVAC/R industry, even owning and operating one of the nation’s largest refrigerant reclaim and recycling companies.