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EPA Opens U.S. Market for Climate-Friendly Refrigerants

By Lowell Chandler, EIA Climate Policy and Research Associate

With the signature of Administrator Gina McCarthy this past Friday, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) gave final approval of a rule that will allow the use of climate-friendly refrigerants in several end-uses, such as household refrigerators and freezers, stand-alone retail food refrigeration equipment, very low temperature refrigeration, non- mechanical heat transfer, vending machines, and room air conditioning units.

The rule, Listing of Substitutes for Refrigeration and Air Conditioning and Revision of the Venting Prohibition for Certain Refrigerant Substitutes, lists four climate-friendly hydrocarbon refrigerants as “acceptable” substitutes for ozone depleting substances and other fluorinated gases which are hundreds and thousands of times more damaging to the climate than CO2. The rule also exempts those refrigerants from a costly venting prohibition under Section 608 of the Clean Air Act. The approval of the four climate-friendly hydrocarbon refrigerants approved in this rule is very exciting, as it will lead to a reduction of emissions of super greenhouse gases, known as hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), through encouraging market development of climate-friendly HFC-free technologies. It will also give consumers the ability for the first time to directly participate in protecting the climate by buying climate-safe and more energy efficient appliances.

The rule approves four refrigerants: Ethane, isobutane, propane, and a hydrocarbon blend called R-441A are low-global warming potential (GWP) altneratives with GWP under 20 units. Right now, all room air conditioners use HFCs, so the EPA has approved the use of both HFC-32 and hydrocarbons since neither have yet been commercialized in the United States. Though HFC-32 has a lower GWP than the most common refrigerant in air conditioners today—HFC-410A (2,090 GWP)—when compared to the GWP of propane (3 GWP) which is being used elsehwere around the globe in room air conditioners, it’s clear that propane is the better climate-friendly option for use in air conditioners in the United States.

The table below shows the end uses that each refrigerant was listed as acceptable for use, as a result of the new rule. Refer to the rule for further information on use conditions of each substitute in each end-use.

President Obama’s Climate Action Plan (CAP) directs the EPA to use its authority through its Significant New Alternatives Policy (SNAP) Program to encourage private sector investment in low-emissions technology by identifying and approving climate-friendly chemicals while prohibiting certain uses of the most harmful chemical alternatives. The approval of this rule signifies the EPA’s commitment to the CAP’s directive to curb emissions of HFCs. To continue moving forward the CAP, EIA encourages the EPA to promulgate more rules that seek to list climate-friendly refrigerants as acceptable throughout all sectors and end-uses.

As of January 1, 2015, 100 percent of all new refrigerators and freezers in the European Union are required to use hydrocarbon as a refrigerant. The hydrocarbon refrigerators and freezers are more energy efficient, quieter, and better for the environment. In the United States, refrigerators and freezers still use HFCs with high GWP. Fortunately, several companies have announced that they will begin selling hydrocarbon refrigerators and freezers in the United States in 2015. Now U.S. citizens can do their part to protect the climate by buying a low-GWP refrigerators, freezers, or air conditioners while saving money due to better energy efficiency.

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