HFC Refrigerants Phase-Down Is Coming. Is Your Company Prepared?

by | May 3, 2016

supermarket refrigerationCarbon dioxide emissions aren’t the only greenhouse gases that corporations need to address when considering how to close the emissions gap and keep global warming below 2 degrees Celsius.

Hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) are greenhouse gases that the EPA says can be up to 10,000 times more potent than carbon dioxide and are used in commercial refrigeration, building and vehicle air conditioning and other equipment.

In March the EPA issued a proposed rule under the Significant New Alternatives Policy (SNAP) program that will expand the list of climate-friendly HFC alternatives and phase out certain HFCs in favor of safer options that are already available.

And globally, 197 countries are working to amend the international Montreal Protocol agreement to phase out HFCs. The phase-down could begin as early as this year.

HFCs are man-made chemicals, developed to replace chloroflourocarbons (CFCs) in refrigeration systems, which deplete the ozone layer and were banned in 1992 by the Montreal Protocol. While HFCs don’t deplete the ozone, when used as refrigerants, for example, in air conditioning systems in both vehicles and buildings, they are potent greenhouse gases. Depending on the exact type of HFC, they can be up to 20,000 times more powerful than carbon dioxide — and have atmospheric lifetimes of up to 260 years.

Some businesses are already taking steps to reduce and eliminate HFC use and emissions. In 2014 more than 20 companies, working with the White House, announced a series of commitments to curb HFCs. Among these: Coca-Cola set a goal for 100 percent of its newly purchased cold drink equipment to be HFC-free. And Honeywell committed to increase production of its low-global-warming-potential (GWP) refrigerants, insulation materials, aerosols and solvents.

Last October the White House hosted a second HFC roundtable discussion with businesses that saw additional HFC progress. Lapolla, a small spray-foam-insulation company, announced that it has completed a transition of all foam operations to climate-friendly alternatives ahead of schedule. Target announced that all new stand-alone coolers in its stores will be HFC-free and said it will expand the use of carbon dioxide refrigeration systems to replace HFCs in new stores.

“There is tremendous leadership and innovation in American business, all up and down the value chain — from deploying new, safer chemicals all the way to the freezer in your local grocery store,” wrote EPA administrator Gina McCarthy in a blog about the roundtable.

A global HFC-phase out also means growing demand for low-global-warming-potential refrigeration chemicals — and the opportunity for chemical companies to grow this piece of their business.

Occidental Chemical last month said it will spend $145 million to expand its Geismar, Louisiana, site to make a raw material for “next-generation, climate-friendly refrigerants,” according to a Chemical & Engineering News report.

Also in April, Honeywell announced that it and its suppliers are investing about $300 million to scale up the global production capacity of Solstice yf, its low-global-warming-potential air conditioning refrigerant, for use in vehicle air conditioning and commercial refrigeration. Solstice yf, also known as HFO-1234yf, has been approved by the EPA as a climate-friendly HFC alternative.

Honeywell last month entered into a supply agreement with a Chinese manufacturer to produce Solstice yf and is also building a new “world-scale” manufacturing plant at its existing Geismar refrigerants manufacturing site.

Meanwhile EOS Climate has developed a way for companies to reduce HFC emissions immediately while they are transitioning their equipment to lower-global-warming-potential alternatives.

EOS Climate just completed the first project to generate verified emission reductions (VERs) — or carbon credits — from the reclamation and re-use of HFCs. Credits created from this methodology represent carbon emission reductions from the displacement of virgin HFCs with reclaimed and reused HFCs.

EOS says it authored the methodology, approved by the American Carbon Registry, to support global HFC reduction efforts.

Hannaford Supermarkets is one of the initial companies that will test how the VERs enhances its efforts to mitigate HFC emissions while it phases out the refrigerant.

EOS Climate senior VP Jeff Cohen told Environmental Leader that the HFC credits program has a range of applications including hotels, universities, data servers, food production, supermarkets, sports stadiums, and appliance and automobile manufacturers.

“Much of the focus on mitigating the climate impacts of HFCs is on a gradual production phase-down and restricting use of HFCs in newly manufactured equipment,” Cohen said. “Even with these measures there will be continued demand for HFCs to service existing HFC-based refrigeration and air conditioning systems beyond the next decade. This new methodology creates a financial incentive to recover and re-use HFCs to fill that servicing demand, rather than rely on new production. It is a great illustration of how market-based mechanisms can enhance the effectiveness of command-and-control approaches and how commodities like refrigerants can be differentiated based on their environmental impacts.”

A white paper authored by EOS Climate found that if just 30 percent of HFC refrigerants are reclaimed for re-use by 2030, the equivalent of about 18 billion metric tons carbon dioxide (CO2) would be prevented from reaching the atmosphere over the next 25 years.

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