Domestic, Global Policies Serve as a Catalyst for Growth of Natural Refrigerants

The regulatory burden on synthetic refrigerants is much stiffer than it ever has been before, which is opening more opportunities for natural refrigerants in the U.S. Lowell Randel, vice president, government and legal affairs for the Global Cold Chain Alliance, said a number of factors are contributing to the growth of natural refrigerants, including the Significant New Alternatives Policy (SNAP) Program, which is authorized under the Clean Air Act and administered by U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, as well as the Montreal Protocol, a multilateral agreement under the United Nations designed to phase out the production of certain substances.

The SNAP program continues the EPA’s phase-out of certain hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) and hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs) and looks at substitute chemicals for those currently being used that impact the environment. SNAP is a dynamic program, so the list of alternative chemicals it provides can change.

“It can evolve as policies evolve. Things that were acceptable in the past may not be [acceptable now],” Randel said. “There is a list but that list will change as new chemicals and substances are developed.”

Currently, SNAP is moving its focus to global warming from ozone depletion, including HFCs. “With that transition you’re going to see more changes to the list where they’re going to be removing HFCs due to higher global warming potentials,” Randel said.

Randel said HFCs with various levels of global warming potential have a higher potential to be phased out of SNAP first. “Then potentially you’ll see that expand to HFCs with lower global warming potentials. I think it is a matter of when – and not if – you’re going to see those global warming HFCs be phased out,” he explained.

R-22 is already among the chemicals being phased out and the EPA has called for an end to R-22 production by 2020. “Because R-22 is on its way out, this would say, ‘Here are alternatives that are appropriate,’” Randel said, adding that ammonia will be an acceptable alternative. “We know that ammonia does not deplete the ozone and it doesn’t cause global warming. It will be one of those options that will not be taken off of the list because of global warming.”

The Montreal Protocol is also contributing to the growth of natural refrigerants. “You’ve got all of these countries that have come together and agreed to the Montreal Protocol and said things like R-22 has to go away,” Randel said. “Now there are efforts to expand the Montreal Protocol to include HFCs.”

During recent meetings to lay out a plan on how to incorporate HFCs into the Montreal Protocol, there was consensus that 2016 is an important year for outlining how that would occur. “There will be meetings this year to put together this framework of incorporating HFCs into the Montreal Protocol. Their goal is to have that plan in place by the end of the year,” Randel said.

However, things tend to move slowly with multilateral agreements, Randel said. “Some [countries] are more hesitant to limit HFCs because they feel they wouldn’t be able to transition as efficiently as some other countries,” he said.

Within the Montreal Protocol, the United States has been one of the chief proponents of phasing out HFCs, and there is a North American Amendment, with the U.S. and Canada leading the charge.

Regardless of the speed with which the Montreal Protocol moves, Randel said President Obama could try to accelerate the United States’ move away from HFCs during his last year in office. “That could bring more changes to SNAP or other policies that would move in that direction,” he said.

In November, EPA published a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking entitled “Protection of Stratospheric Ozone: Update to the Refrigerant Management Requirements under Section 608 of the Clean Air Act.” That proposal is another step towards implementing the Obama administration’s Climate Action Plan. The proposed rule is designed to cut carbon pollution and reduce the use and emissions of substances that deplete Earth’s ozone and contribute to global warming.

Randel said that overall, the industry is recognizing the policy shift on HFCs and is looking at how that transition can be done in a way that causes the minimum number of disruptions.