Tricks of the Trade
The Future of HFC Refrigerants
The AIM act passed by Congress in October of 2020 will limit the future production and consumption of Hydrofluorocarbon (HFC) gases. This mirrors global initiatives such as The Kigali Amendment, and State initiates such as CARB in California. These campaigns will direct the industry away from using high GWP refrigerants such as R-410 to lower GWP alternatives like R-32, R-454B, and R-452B. But there will be trade-offs. These next-generation refrigerants are designated mildly flammable or A2l. This, in turn, requires code adoption and training, which will take time to roll out. The good news is that in addition to having lower GWP, R-32 systems will have higher efficiency and capacity than an equivalent R-410 system.
What's Next with HFCs Restrictions
"410A is just one part of the whole hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) family of gases, and it's the most popular," explains John Maiorana, Forane Refrigerants® Product Support Manager. "The EPA has reduced the amount of HFCs that are allowed to be produced through a mechanism of allocation allowances relative to CO2 (GWP=1). Therefore, since R-410 has a GWP of 2028 and R-32 a GWP of 677, much more R-32 will be available than R-410 in the future. Very high GWP refrigerants such as R-404a (GWP- 3922) used in refrigeration will disappear more quickly.
The first step down happens in 2022, then a larger step down in 2024 and 2029, eventually leading to a final phase down in 2049. Once code adoption is completed, contractors can expect to see new equipment with A2l refrigerants, perhaps as soon as 2023 and for sure by 2024/2025. Training on the new refrigerants is already available, and R-32 has been used in window and PTEC units since 2018.
From the Contractors Perspective
Apart from keeping up with legislative and regulatory updates, contractors have a job to do servicing their customers who are experiencing refrigerant issues. One HVAC contractor working in Southern California currently keeps three refrigerants in each van. He's noticed the mixing of refrigerants keeps costs down and saves time on each job. "We see lots of mixing of refrigerants. When we find this, we reclaim the freon, vacuum the system and add one type of refrigerant."
"When I put my gauges on [the system], I can tell by the difference with the numbers that the previous service provider didn't do what they were supposed to do," says Marcus Myles, an operations manager in HVAC, when asked about what he sees on the job with refrigerant mixing. "EPA regulations say there's no such thing as a drop-in refrigerant. I tell all my technicians that we're all responsible as individuals when it comes to our EPA license."
"We sometimes try to rebalance a refrigerant that might not be balanced due to the previous mixing," explains Cameron Lucas, an HVAC contracting business owner in Florida. "We're getting callbacks on hot days, and our gauges show the pressures are off. Getting those repeat calls makes you start to notice the issues from past mixing."
In addition to fixing troublesome errors like mixing, contractors are staying up-to-date with all the news that's coming out around diagnostics and general best practices from key sources. "I go directly to the EPA and read up on what I'm supposed to know, and I relay that information to our technicians. The EPA is the say-all. As long as you're keeping your focus on what the EPA is saying, you can't go wrong. EPA license providers also send out newsletters, and that's typically where I receive my information first," says Lucas.
Key Dates to Keep in Mind
With so much nuance and information surrounding the 410A phaseout, contractors can look forward to many more updates, information, and insights in this series. "Technically, 2049 is the phaseout deadline," says Maiorana. "But even then, you'll still have ten percent left of HFC gases. That's why it's more like a phase-down than a phase-out. So, you'll probably see some equipment coming out in late 2023."