US to Ban Refrigerants With High Global Warming Potential

The EPA proposed a ban on refrigerants with high global warming potential by 2025.

refrigerant cylinders
Refrigerant gas cylinders.

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In a warming world, more people are buying air conditioners, and heat pumps are touted as a tool for getting off fossil fuels. But there's a problem: Many of them are filled with refrigerants that are serious greenhouse gases. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is proposing a ban on refrigerants with high global warming potential (GWP) by 2025.

This is in accordance with the American Innovation and Manufacturing (AIM) Act that was enacted on December 27, 2020, and authorized the EPA to phase down their production. The new rule focuses on the transition with sector-based restrictions.

After President Joe Biden issued a memorandum on electric heat pumps, we called for a Defense Production Act Memo for Refrigerants, worrying that if the heat pump industry took off, there would mean that a lot more refrigerant would leak into the atmosphere. That is essentially what happens here: There are fixed limits set on the GWP of refrigerants used for different functions.

“With this latest proposal under the bipartisan AIM Act, EPA continues to advance President Biden’s ambitious climate agenda while investing in American innovation and ingenuity,” said EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan. “This proposal will support a transition away from super-pollutant HFCs in key sectors of our economy while promoting American leadership in manufacturing of new climate-safe products, making our nation more globally competitive and delivering significant environmental and economic benefits.”

These are tough limits. By January 1, 2025, industrial coolers and refrigerators are limited to refrigerants with GWPs of 150 or 300. For reference, vending machines are at 150 and residential refrigerators are at 150. Blowing agents for polyurethane and polystyrene are limited to 150. Residential heat pumps, air conditioning, and dehumidifiers are limited to 700.

The GWP of refrigerants.


The relatively high limit of 700 for heat pumps is interesting. It's just above the GWP of R-32, the only HFC that can comply. The other refrigerants are R-290 and R—600a, propane and butane, both flammable hydrocarbons. R-32 is made by Japan's Daikin, which notes that it has been considered difficult to use.

R-410A is currently the most popular refrigerant in the U.S. but has a GWP of 2,088 times that of carbon dioxide. It's made by Honeywell, which fought the introduction of R-290 for years. There's lots of money in HFCs and none in propane. It is unlikely that the industry is going to take this sitting down. Chemours, formerly part of Dupont, is running advertorials on Politico touting the virtues of F-gases, with statements like:

"F-gases enable energy and resource efficiency in building and renovating and are also critical for heat pumps, which have become an increasingly recognized technology to reduce household emissions while providing a versatile heating and cooling solution. Buildings account for 40 percent of energy consumed in the EU (as well as 39 percent of energy consumed in the U.S.). The EU objective to “leave no one behind” specifies the need to help 50 million consumers in the EU who struggle to keep their homes adequately warm and safe (climate proofing)"

And don't forget, F-gases fight Covid: "In an era when effective and efficient cold chains have never been more critical, F-gases contribute to sustainable cold and food value chains to ensure the safe distribution of vaccines and pharmaceuticals."

The Environmental Investigation Agency noted that "the Chemours plant in Louisville, Kentucky was number four in the top seven worst offenders due to its emissions of HFC-23, a by-product from the manufacture of other F-gases." It also calls the Politico article "toxic greenwashing, full of spurious claims and misdirection."

No doubt we will be hearing a lot more spurious claims and a lot more videos of exploding refrigerators.