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U.S. EPA Proposes California-Type GWP Caps for Refrigeration and AC

The proposed rule would set a 150-GWP limit on the use of refrigerants in many new refrigeration systems and a 700-GWP cap on new residential AC.

The U.S .Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has released a proposed rule setting a 150-GWP limit on the use of refrigerants in many new refrigeration systems, and a 700-GWP limit on the use of refrigerants in new residential and light commercial air-conditioning and heat pump systems as well as other applications.

The proposal would ban such refrigerants as R134a, R404A and R410A in HVAC&R applications and require most new equipment being manufactured or imported to transition to more climate-friendly alternatives by 2025, as well as exported equipment beginning in 2026. The estimated additional emission reductions of the rule are up to 903 million metric tons of CO₂e by 2050, with net climate benefits of up to US$56.3 billion. 

The rule would implement the so-called technology transitions piece of the American Manufacturing and Innovation (AIM) Act, enacted in December 2020. The EPA was guided in the new rulemaking by a series of petitions from NGOs and industry groups, including one from the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA), to which ATMOsphere, publisher of R744, was a co-signatory. The rule will be finalized by October 7, 2023.

EPA will accept comments on this proposal for 45 days after publication in the Federal Register and will hold a virtual public hearing after publication in the Federal Register. For more information on the rule and how to comment, as well as information on the virtual public hearing, visit the EPA website: https://www.epa.gov/climate-hfcs-reduction.

“This rule is nothing short of critical for the U.S. to meet its climate commitments under the Montreal Protocol by transitioning these sectors to less harmful alternatives,” said Christina Starr, Senior Policy Analyst for the EIA, in a statement.   “This is an ambitious and comprehensive proposal that is very consistent with our petition to replicate California’s policies nationwide.”

150-GWP caps

California has been the most proactive governmental entity in the U.S. in regard to HFC regulations. In December 2020, it approved sweeping regulations that, for example, limited new refrigeration equipment  with more than 50lbs (22.7kg) of refrigerant – typically used by supermarkets and industrial facilities – to refrigerant with a GWP of less than 150, effective January 2022. It set a GWP limit of 750 for new room air conditioners and dehumidifiers as of January 2023.

The EPA’s proposed rule would also place a 150-GWP limit on new supermarket systems or remote condensing units with 200lbs (90.7kg) or more of refrigerant and on any new supermarket stand-alone unit or vending machine, beginning January 1, 2025. The 150-GWP limit would also apply to cold-storage warehouse and industrial process refrigeration with 200lbs or more of refrigerant, as well as any ice rink application, as of January 1, 2025. It also would apply to residential refrigeration systems, motor vehicle air-conditioning, and automatic commercial ice machines with 500g (1.1lb) or less of refrigerant.

The proposed EPA rule would set a GWP limit of 700 for residential and light commercial air-conditioning, transport refrigeration (intermodal containers) and chillers for both comfort cooling and industrial process refrigeration. It also would ban specific high-GWP refrigerants in automatic ice machines and transport refrigeration.

EPA’s fact sheet on the proposed rule provides detailed information on the GWP limits for more than 40 different specific equipment types and end-use applications.

“Establishing specific GWP caps sends a strong signal to the market that for any technology to be future-proof its climate impact needs to be as close to zero as possible,” said Avipsa Mahapatra, Climate Lead at EIA. “The EPA analysis shows that meeting the limits proposed in the rule, in addition to the massive climate benefits, would have net negative compliance costs for the industry.”

To support compliance with the proposed prohibitions on the use of HFCs in specific sectors and subsectors, the EPA is proposing labeling, reporting, and recordkeeping requirements for companies that import, manufacture, sell, or offer for sale products using HFCs.

The AIM Act authorizing the new technology transitions rulemaking mandates the EPA to phase down the use of HFCs by 85% by 2035, as required by the Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol; the U.S. became the 140th country to ratify the amendment earlier this year.  The AIM Act has two other pieces, HFC allowance allocations, which have been implemented for 2022–2023 and proposed for 2024, and managing use and reuse of HFCs, for which the EPA is seeking information.

“Establishing specific GWP caps sends a strong signal to the market that for any technology to be future-proof its climate impact needs to be as close to zero as possible,”

Avipsa Mahapatra, Environmental Investigation Agency

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