US, Canadian home appliance industry to phase down HFC refrigerants

By team, Feb 15, 2016, 09:40 3 minute reading

North America’s home appliance industry is aiming to reduce the use of hydrofluorocarbon (HFC) refrigerants in household refrigerators and freezers after 2024 – with a view to eliminating their use completely. Given that the use of hydrocarbons in residential refrigeration is standard in Europe and other parts of the world, the announcement might fall far short in ambition.

Home appliance manufacturers had previously made environmentally beneficial transitions from ozone-depleting refrigerants (CFCs and HCFCs) to non ozone-depleting HFCs. However, in recognition of concerns that HFCs still have a relatively high global warming potential, the industry is on the way to transitioning away from the use of HFCs in foam insulation by 2020.

The Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers (AHAM), which represents the home appliance manufacturing industry in the US and Canada, has set itself the goal of eliminating the use of HFC refrigerants from 2024, and is seeking support from government, manufacturers, refrigerant suppliers and safety standards bodies to reach this goal.

Viable substitutes: hydrocarbons

R290 has been used in residential refrigeration in Europe for many years and is now a standard for all new products. With the ban on HFCs with GWP >150 in this sector as of 2015 under the EU F-Gas Regulation, the use of propane in new equipment has reached 100%. This trend is also apparent in other regions such as Japan and China, where hydrocarbons largely dominate the market.

Globally, already more than 700 million domestic refrigerators and freezers use hydrocarbons. Such equipment has been widely proven to be safe and highly energy efficient both in developed and developing countries, with a large number of suppliers offering a range of products. The announcement by AHAM suggesting to phase down HFCs as of 2024 or eight years from now might therefore seem as rather unambitious, giving the North American industry too much time to adjust their product portfolio.

Hydrocarbons approved for use in the US

Hydrocarbons R600a and R441A have been approved for use in residential refrigeration in the US since 2011, when the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) listed these refrigerants as suitable substitutes for HCFCs under the Significant New Alternatives Policy (SNAP) programme. Nevertheless, with a charge limit of 56g for A3 (flammable) refrigerants in domestic refrigeration (compared to 150g in Europe), manufacturers operating in the US have faced significant challenges in introducing such products. The use of propane, approved under the SNAP programme in February 2015, is seen as a game-changer for the industry as it can deliver lower temperatures than R600a.

Earlier this month, the EPA sent proposals to phase out a second raft of HFCs to the White House for pre-publication review, in keeping with the agency’s intent to release a new proposed rule early this year. While the details of these rules are yet to be revealed, at a September 2015 stakeholder meeting the EPA announced it was considering including household refrigeration among the sectors to be addressed.

Complying with energy efficiency and safety standards

“Regardless of the next-generation refrigerant chosen by appliance manufacturers, products must still adhere to stringent energy efficiency requirements, be compatible with product components, be safe for consumers and manufacturing workers and be functional and cost-effective,” said AHAM President and CEO Joe McGuire.

“That is why the industry has projected that with everyone’s full cooperation, 2024 is the earliest possible transition date. The timetable is longer for room air conditioning products, given the added work needed to address viable alternatives and building codes for multi-housing units,” said McGuire.

AHAM warns that strict safety standards in the US and Canada will present design and engineering challenges for manufacturers in transitioning away from HFCs. To facilitate the HFC phase-down, AHAM is calling on the EPA and the Consumer Product Safety Commission – and their counterparts in Canada – to further evaluate alternatives to HFCs and to “provide protective, justified updates to safety standards”.

By team (@hydrocarbons21)

Feb 15, 2016, 09:40

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