EPA HFC phase down
Cindy Newberg presenting at ATMO America 2024.

ATMO America: U.S. Meets 2024 HFC Phase-Down Target, Cutting Consumption by 40% From 2020, Says EPA

Through administrative consequences, the EPA has retired allotted HFCs in the U.S., equivalent to 13 million metric tons of CO2e.

The U.S. has met its 2024 HFC phase-down target, cutting consumption by 40% from baseline year 2020 through its allowance allocation program that limits U.S. production and importation, according to Cindy Newberg, Director of the Stratosphere Protection Division at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

With its authority under the American Innovation and Manufacturing (AIM) Act, the EPA currently manages the phasedown of 18 listed HFCs.

  • The first stage from 2022–23 reduced HFC consumption by 10%
  • The second from 2024–28 by 40%
  • The third from 2029–34 will reduce it by 70%
  • The fourth from 2034–36 by 80%
  • The last in 2036 by 85%

According to Newburg, the EPA outlines and supports the phasedown through allocating HFCs, managing use ‒ including reclaim and reuse ‒ and “facilitating transition” to next-generation substitutes.

To enforce the HFC phase down, Newburg reports the EPA works closely with the U.S. Customs and Borders Protection and applies its authority to leverage administrative consequences.

“Through criminal prosecution, we have prevented over 1 million metric tons of CO2e from illegally entering the United States,” Newberg said. “However, through our ability to apply administrative consequences to companies expending more than allotted allowances, we have retired or reduced the amount of HFCs that would enter or be produced in the U.S. by 13 million metric tons of CO2e.”

In a policy presentation at the ATMOsphere America Summit 2024, Newberg outlined the work of the EPA to enforce the HFC phase down under the AIM Act and discussed the recently implemented and proposed EPA rulings, HFC data availability, and grants for reclaim and destruction. The event, organized by ATMOsphere, was held in Washington, D.C., June 10‒11. ATMOsphere is the publisher of NaturalRefrigerants.com.

Enforcing phase down

To prevent the illegal trade seen with the phase down of ozone-depleting substances CFCs, Newburg said that the EPA started before the HFC regulation to shore up points of entry for illegal trade. “Since the implementation of the AIM Act in October 2022, we’ve had eight civil cases and one criminal prosecution with more in development,” she reported.

However, the EPA’s ability to administer allocation consequences under the AIM Act carries a heavier impact. “For example, if a company allotted 30 tons imports 100 tons, we not only take 70 tons off of their balance for the next year, but we take another 50% off as a penalty,” Newburg explained.

“Enforcement takes time to develop, but administrative consequences are a fairly quick process,” she noted.

To help industry stakeholders and the public analyze the HFC market trends and phase down, the EPA updates production and consumption data annually, posting raw numbers on its web hub. According to Newberg, the data obtained from administrative consequences is updated more frequently.

Rulings

As part of managing the use of HFCs, the EPA released a final technology transition rule last October setting GWP limits for HFCs based on the subsector, with compliance dates ranging from 2025–28. The ruling sets a GWP limit of 150 for many refrigeration uses and 700 for air-conditioning and heat pumps.

“With the next major step down in 2029, you will notice that the 2025 and 2028 dates are not a coincidence,” Newburg said. However, she stressed that the EPA is technology-neutral. “Our job is to get out of HFCs, not to endorse any particular landing zone, with approved and accepted solutions including hydrocarbons, CO2 [R744], ammonia [R717] and various HFO refrigerant blends.”

When asked about regulating HFOs that degrade into forever chemicals, including trifluoroacetic acid (TFA), Newburg explained that the EPA follows policies outlined by the Montreal Protocol and works closely with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to monitor the chemicals in U.S. waters. “We are not ignoring the issue,” she said. “We work closely with our sister offices to stay abreast of what is happening.”

Newburg also outlined the proposed Emissions Reduction and Reclamation (ER&R) rule, which stems from the AIM Act. It directs the EPA to maximize reclamation and minimize releases of HFCs. The proposed rule includes provisions requiring the installation of automatic leak detectors, repairs to equipment leaks and using reclaimed HFC refrigerants in certain new and existing air conditioners, heat pumps and refrigeration equipment.

“The interagency review process of the robust ER&R proposal ‒ headed by the Office of Management and Budget ‒ should be finalized later this year,” she reported.

Destruction/reclaim grants

Under the Inflation Reduction Act, the EPA obtained $15 million (€14 million) in competitive grants to promote innovative technologies for the reclamation and destruction of HFCs.

“On May 28, we announced five recipients for these grants,” Newburg said, adding that individual awards ranged from $1.5–3.8 million (€1.4–3.5 million). Of the five grants, four apply to destruction projects and one to reclaim.

The selected applicants included the University of Washington, Texas A&M University, Drexel University, University of California Riverside and the Air-Conditioning, Heating and Refrigeration Technology Institute.

The destruction proposals included energy-efficient conversion of HFCs into source chemicals, application of alkaline hydrolysis and a portable HFC destruction system. The reclaim proposal seeks to improve the separability of mixed reclaim refrigerants to reduce time and costs.

“Under the program, we rarely do grants, so this is super exciting for us,” Newburg said, indicating the EPA received substantially more destruction proposals than for reclaim.

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