Focus on: Federal restrictions on HVAC refrigerants

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A new year usually brings big changes, and that will be especially true with regards to air-conditioning and refrigeration equipment.

On Jan. 1, 2010, two important new federal rules went into effect that reduce the availability and use of hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs). The first rule reduces the amount of virgin R-22 and other HCFCs that will be available after Jan. 1, 2010. The R-22 that will be produced may be used only to service equipment that is in use by the end of 2009. The second rule prohibits the sale and distribution (including import) of any appliances and appliance components that are “pre-charged” with R-22 or R-142b—if they are manufactured or imported after Jan. 1, 2010. This rulemaking further protects stratospheric ozone by decreasing demand for newly produced HCFC equipment in the United States.

The targeted chemicals are HCFCs used as refrigerants, specifically HCFC-22, better known as R-22, as well as other HCFCs: HCFC-142b, HCFC-123, HCFC-124, HCFC-225ca and HCFC-225cb. These chemicals, which deplete the stratospheric ozone layer, are being phased out under the Montreal Protocol, an international treaty. 

While many retailers and facilities executives have heard about upcoming changes, some confusion still exists. Here are some general questions, with the answers by the rules’ authors in the Stratospheric Protection Division of the U.S. EPA.

When will R-22 (or blends containing R-22 and/ or R-142b) no longer be available for purchase? 

Currently, technicians who are certified under Section 608 of the Clean Air Act may purchase newly manufactured R-22 to service existing appliances. The EPA has restricted the total amount of produced and imported R-22 available in 2010, and will completely stop its production and import in 2020. This follows our stepwise reductions for phasing out ozone-depleting substances. The agency expects that sufficient amounts of recycled and reclaimed R-22 will remain available after 2020 to service or maintain equipment.

Technicians should properly recover and recycle R-22 from existing refrigeration and air-conditioning equipment to help ensure the availability of future supplies. Recovered refrigerant cannot be resold to a new owner for use as a refrigerant. Instead, it must be sent to a reclaimer.

What alternatives to R-22 are acceptable and available? 

The EPA has found a number of acceptable alternatives to R-22 that do not deplete the ozone layer. Most are hydrofluorocarbons and include R-134a, R-404A, R-407C and R-410A. In the United States, R-410A is the most popular choice for air conditioners used in retail stores. R-410A is sold under several trade names, including GENETRON AZ-20, SUVA 410A, Forane 410A and Puron. The EPA maintains a list of acceptable and unacceptable substitutes according to end use, including end uses in the refrigeration and air-conditioning sector. (See: epa.gov/ozone/snap/lists )

May technicians use recovered HCFC refrigerants? 

Yes, technicians have a few options when using recovered refrigerants. First, a technician may recover material from an owner’s equipment and recharge equipment belonging to that same owner, with the recovered material. The technician may also recycle the recovered refrigerant, which involves extracting it and cleaning it for reuse without meeting the requirements for reclamation. This recovered, recycled refrigerant may only be recharged into equipment belonging to the owner of the equipment from which the refrigerant was recovered. Lastly, the technician may send the recovered material to an EPA-certified reclaimer; once the refrigerant is reclaimed, it may be sold and used for servicing any existing equipment.

Are there any restrictions on the purchase of HFC refrigerants? 

HFCs are not ozone-depleting substances, but they have high global warming potential. At this time, the purchase of HFC refrigerants is not restricted. (For example, there is no technician certification requirement for those who purchase HFC refrigerants, such as R-410A or R-134a.)

Are there any limitations on the use of HFC refrigerants? 

Yes, a specific HFC refrigerant must be found acceptable as a substitute for a specific end use by the SNAP Program. A list of acceptable refrigerant substitutes is available at: epa.gov/ozone/snap/ refrigerants. In addition, it is illegal to knowingly vent or release these refrigerants.

(For more specific questions, write to: spdcomment@epa.gov.)