BLOG SUMMARY: Part of our mission at ETC Group is to help reduce energy waste and lower operating costs at client facilities they own and manage. But we’re also driven by a larger cause: We believe our energy engineering efforts are helping the environment and our planet.

Annie Wesolek, ETC Group Energy Engineer

This content was presented during a recent company meeting as a part of a technical presentation by Annie Wesolek, ETC Group Energy Engineer. The blog introduces HFC refrigerant leakage as greenhouse gasses that are negatively impacting global warming. It also summarizes some of the past and current efforts to regulate refrigerants by governments worldwide to protect the ozone layer.

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Refrigerant leakage isn’t normally thought of as a major contributor to global warming. However, commonly used refrigerants are classified as powerful greenhouse gases and can be detrimental to the ozone layer. On average, commercial refrigeration equipment will leak an estimated 35% of refrigerant charge each year.

Governments around the world have banded together to reduce the effects of refrigerant pollutants by phasing out the worst offenders. To phase out a substance, governments regulate new technologies that use the substance, then reduce production and imports of the substance. Strong regulations and reduced supply should incentivize research for alternatives allowing for dependence on the substance to diminish over time.

On average, commercial refrigeration equipment will leak an estimated 35% of refrigerant charge each year.

The international Montreal Protocol treaty, ratified by the United Nations in 1989, aimed to protect the ozone layer by phasing out the production of ozone depleting substances. Under this treaty, Chlorofluorocarbon (CFC- R11, R12, R13, R114) and Hydrochlorofluorocarbon (HCFC- R22, R123) refrigerants were scheduled for phase out due to their high Ozone Depletion Potentials (ODP). CFCs having the highest ODPs have been phased out of production since 1996. HCFCs have slightly lower ODPs and have been slated for phase out by 2030.

Hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs- R134a, R404a, R407C, R401a, R507) unlike CFCs and HCFCs pose no threat to the Ozone layer and were originally seen as a good replacement refrigerant. However, HFCs have a much higher Global Warming Potential than other alternative refrigerants. This means that HFCs trap significantly more heat in the atmosphere further contributing to the global warming crisis. Many Nations have ratified the Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol which calls for a significant reduction in HFC usage. The United States signed but has not ratified this amendment to date.

Since federal ratification of Kigali Amendment is uncertain in the United States, individual states have began regulating HFC usage themselves. California senate passed a bill that requires the state to reduce HFC emissions 40% below 2013 levels by 2030. Many other states are following California’s example, such as Washington, New York, Maryland, and Connecticut.

Increased refrigerant regulation is driving alternative refrigerant research bringing new chemically produced refrigerants to the market. Hydrofluro-Olefin (HFO) refrigerants are being developed with low toxicity, low flammability, and low GWP. Natural refrigerants such as butane, propane, carbon dioxide, and ammonia have also become more popular having little to no GWP. These natural refrigerants are more flammable and more toxic than HFCs. To implement them in commercial and industrial settings would require updated safety standards and practices.

Refrigerant technology is heavily influenced by government regulations. Refrigerant consumers should follow political trends to avoid investing in technologies that will be made obsolete in the near future. There may also be incentive programs in place for early adoption of cleaner refrigerants.

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