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Regulatory Round-up: AIM Act, CARB, A3 and A2L Charge Limit Increases

Jennifer Butsch | Regulatory Affairs Director

Emerson’s Commercial & Residential Solutions Business

If you’re like many stakeholders in the commercial refrigeration industry, you know how important it is to keep track of the dynamic regulatory climate. From making refrigerant decisions and selecting next-generation equipment to plan for compliance and meeting sustainability goals, many companies are basing some of their most important decisions on these developments. I recently provided an article to HVACR Business that reviewed several key regulatory updates taking place this year. If you’re hoping to bring the sometimes-confusing regulatory picture into clearer focus, hopefully this will help. You can also view our formatted article here.

AIM Act establishes federal HFC legislation

Signed into law in late 2020, the American Innovation & Manufacturing Act (AIM Act) gave the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) authority to regulate hydrofluorocarbon (HFC) refrigerants in three primary ways:

  1. Phasing down HFC refrigerant supplies by reducing their production and consumption over a 15-year period. Supply-side restrictions began on Jan. 1, 2022, requiring a 10% reduction in HFC production and consumption through 2023. An additional 30% reduction will take effect between 2024 and 2028 with 70% and 80% reductions needed by 2029 and 2034, respectively. These phasedowns are expected to drive up HFC prices significantly as supplies decrease.
  2. Establishing sector-based approvals and HFC restrictions to support the industry-wide transition to lower-global warming potential (GWP) refrigerant technologies. Use restrictions will enable specific sectors to transition more quickly while providing additional flexibility for those who may need more time. The EPA can approve new lower-GWP alternatives per sector-based rulemakings, which are expected to begin in 2022.
  3. Regulating HFC management by establishing and enforcing standards in servicing and repair best practices, such as: lowering leak rate thresholds and requiring proper recovery of “used” HFCs for purification and resale (aka reclaim). Previously, the EPA had created Section 608 to govern these best practices; we expect their revised HFC management rulemaking could be built off the Section 608 framework.

CARB rulemaking takes effect

After several years of collaboration with state and HVACR industry stakeholders, the California Air Resources Board’s (CARB) proposed rulemaking became final in late 2021 and went into effect on Jan. 1, 2022. The final rule establishes HFC phasedown requirements for new and existing facilities, including a company-wide provision for food retailers operating with a fleet of existing stores within California.

  • New facilities — Installation of new refrigeration systems containing more than 50 pounds of refrigerant are required to use refrigerants with less than 150 GWP.
  • Existing facilities — Refrigeration equipment containing more than 50lbs of refrigerant in existing facilities are subject to company-wide, fleet GWP reduction targets by 2030 compared to their 2019 baselines — with two potential paths to compliance: 1) Weighted-average GWP (WAGWP) reduction <1,400 GWP by 2030, where WAGWP is the sum of the total refrigerant charge of every system greater than 50 pounds in every store in California; 2) Greenhouse gas emissions potential (GHGp) reduction by 55%, where GHGp is the sum of the total refrigerant charge of every system greater than 50 pounds in every store in California multiplied by the GWP values of the refrigerant types in use.

Regarding new stationary air conditioning (AC) equipment, refrigerants with a GWP greater than or equal to 750 will be prohibited, starting in 2025.

Evolving safety standards for flammable (A3) and mildly flammable A2L refrigerants

Governing bodies that regulate the safe use of refrigerants in the U.S. have long been evaluating the prospect of increasing charge limits in the flammable A3 (propane, aka R-290) and mildly flammable A2L refrigerants. In 2021, the Underwriters Laboratories (UL) approved the second edition of its UL 60335-2-89 standard, which included higher charge limits that would expand the potential uses of R-290 and A2Ls in commercial refrigeration.

R-290 charge limit increases — R-290 has a long-held maximum charge limit of 150g and has primarily been used in smaller, self-contained units. The updated UL standard raises the charge limits on these commercial stand-alone displays based on whether they have an open or closed design:

  • 500g maximum charge limit in open appliances (without doors)
  • 300g maximum charge limit in closed appliances (with doors or drawers)

From an application design perspective, higher charge limits will help to increase system capacities while capitalizing on R-290’s high efficiency and low-GWP rating (GWP = 3).

A2L charge limit increases — Per the recently updated UL 60335-2-89 safety standard, new A2L charge limit guidelines have been established for self-contained and remote refrigeration systems. For self-contained equipment, charge limits are determined by equipment design (e.g., open or closed with doors or drawers). Degrees of flammability will vary among different A2L refrigerants, so it’s important to calculate charge limits based on the specific A2L characteristics.

For example, R-454C has a lower flammability limit (LFL) of 0.291 kg/m3, thus:

  • A closed-door case can be charged with up to 2.33 kg (5.1 lbs.) of R-454C.
  • An open case with R-454C can be charged with up to 3.78 kg (8.3 lbs.) of R-454C.
  • In remote or field-erected systems, UL 60335-2-89 supports R-454C charge sizes up to 75.7 kg (166 lbs.) per circuit.

The updated standard requires remote A2L systems to be designed with requisite safety strategies and mitigation measures to keep gas concentrations below flammable thresholds:

  • Leak detection at various points of the refrigeration circuit (e.g., compressor, condensing unit and case)
  • Action plans that immediately mitigate flammability risks

The UL 60335-2-89 second edition update is only the first step in a larger series of regulatory approvals needed to enable higher charges of R-290 and the use of A2Ls in U.S. commercial refrigeration. Additional regulatory and/or policy changes will also need to be approved:

  • EPA Significant New Alternatives Policy (SNAP) approval of specific A2L refrigerants and increased R-290 charge limits
  • ASHRAE 15 safety standard update for refrigeration systems
  • Model code updates in the upcoming code revision cycle, such as: Uniform Mechanical Code (UMC), International Mechanical Code (IMC) and International Fire Code (IFC)
  • State and local building code updates

In the meantime, installing an A2L-based refrigeration system would typically require the approval of local authorities having jurisdiction (AHJ), such as fire marshals and/or building inspectors.

To stay informed of the latest regulatory updates that could impact your operational decision-making, please visit our regulations hub.

 

 

 

[New E360 Webinar] Will Provide Regulatory Update on Refrigerant Rulemaking and Climate Initiatives

Jennifer Butsch | Regulatory Affairs Director

Emerson’s Commercial & Residential Solutions Business

The environmental regulations landscape continues to be a source of great uncertainty for the commercial refrigeration and AC industries. Sorting through the latest developments in an ever-evolving mix of global policy, federal and state rulemaking — for both refrigerant and energy efficiency regulations — is a complicated task. In our next E360 webinar, my colleague Dr. Rajan Rajendran, Emerson’s vice president of systems innovation center and sustainability, and I will explore recent regulatory activities and help you to understand their potential impacts on your business. The webinar will take place on Tuesday, Feb. 16 at 2 p.m. EST/11 a.m. PST.

From all indications, 2021 is shaping up to be a transitional year among the federal and state regulations governing commercial refrigeration and AC applications in the U.S. At the federal level, the recent enactment of the American Innovation and Manufacturing Act of 2020 (AIM Act) gives the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) the authority to phase down the consumption and production of hydrofluorocarbon (HFC) refrigerants and establish sector-based limits. In addition, the introduction of the EPA’s Significant New Alternatives Policy (SNAP) Rule 23 proposal in 2020 was an indication of the agency’s desire to approve certain mildly flammable (A2L) refrigerants as acceptable for use — subject to use conditions — in new residential and light commercial air conditioners and heat pumps.

For several years, the California Air Resources Board (CARB) has stepped up its efforts to phase down the use of HFC refrigerants. This started with the adoption of EPA SNAP Rules 20 and 21 and now continues with a proposal that calls for increased HFC and refrigerant global warming potential (GWP) reductions, which could take effect as soon as January 1, 2022. As a result, retailers in California may soon face the prospect of making significant changes to their refrigeration systems — in at least some of their stores — to achieve compliance.

While retailers outside of the state of California currently may not face an imminent regulatory mandate, member states of the U.S. Climate Alliance are moving forward with their own HFC phase-down initiatives, which include the adoption of EPA SNAP Rules 20 and 21. And with a new administration taking office, we are also likely to see a new tone and urgency with respect to broader climate initiatives, as well as the potential for greater participation in global environmental policies.

All these moving pieces set the stage for a potentially active period of regulatory developments in 2021 and beyond. The primary goals of our upcoming E360 webinar are to explore these developments in more detail, place them into their proper context, and offer insights to help you understand the impacts on your business.

Attendees will learn:

  • Status of CARB regulations/proposals and their potential impacts
  • Review of U.S. Climate Alliance state activities and adoption of EPA SNAP Rules 20 and 21
  • Overview of AIM Act and its potential impacts
  • Update on the codes and standards for flammable refrigerants, such as UL 60335-2-89 and ASHRAE 15
  • Impacts that a new administration may have on climate initiatives

Register now for this informative and free webinar.

Refrigerant Transition Continues Along State and Federal Lines

Jennifer Butsch | Regulatory Affairs Manager

Emerson’s Commercial & Residential Solutions Business

Emerson recently participated in the Atmosphere America online conference, where commercial refrigeration industry stakeholders discussed the ongoing transition from hydrofluorocarbon (HFC) refrigerants to those with lower global warming potential (GWP). Dr. Rajan Rajendran, Emerson’s vice president of system innovation center and sustainability, and I were speakers at the event; ACHR The News reported on our thoughts on the topic in a recent article.

Recapping recent events that impacted refrigerant rulemaking

To recap the activities regarding U.S. federal refrigerant regulations, I explained how these policies have faced many legal headwinds over the past few years. These began in 2017, when in response to a court challenge, a federal court vacated the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Significant New Alternatives Policy (SNAP) Rule 20 on the basis that the EPA didn’t have authority to regulate non-ozone depleting substances. If you remember, SNAP Rules 20 and 21 had been adopted on the basis of reducing global warming by phasing down the use of higher-GWP HFCs in some commercial and air conditioning equipment.

In response to the court’s ruling, the EPA released a guidance document stating that they would no longer be enforcing the delisting of HFCs under SNAP Rules 20 or 21. As a result, the scope of the SNAP program — including its ability to regulate HFCs and implement Rules 20 and 21 — remains to be seen. As of this time, the industry is still waiting for clarification from the EPA on this matter.

Reviewing new regulatory activity

However, as I explained at the conference, the EPA did introduce a SNAP Rule 23 proposal earlier this year, which recommended the use of three additional lower-GWP refrigerant alternatives for commercial refrigeration — R-448A, R-449A and R-449B — subject to narrow use limits. While the industry is currently awaiting the EPA’s final rule on SNAP Rule 23, this new activity demonstrates that the EPA is continuing to evaluate new refrigerants and list additional substitutes — which is a positive step in the right direction for our industry.

But in the absence of federal regulations governing HFCs, many states have taken measures into their own hands. The U.S. Climate Alliance now consists of 25 member states that are taking the lead on climate policy and in general, refrigerant regulations. So far, the majority of those efforts have been through the adoption of SNAP Rules 20 and 21, which California was the first to adopt into state law via its California Air Resources Board (CARB) initiatives. And as we’ve discussed previously in this blog, additional CARB proposals are currently under review and being formulated with guidance and input from industry stakeholders.

Rajan also spoke about a pair of new bipartisan bills that have been introduced in the House and the Senate which would phase down the production and consumption of HFCs over a 15-year period in accordance with guidance from the Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol. The passing of these companion bills — known as the Senate American Innovation and Manufacturing (AIM) Act of 2019 and the House American Innovation and Manufacturing Leadership (AIML) Act of 2020 — would authorize the EPA to regulate HFCs and establish standards for HFC management (service, repair, recovery, recycle, reclaim, etc.).

Both the AIM and AIML Acts would not affect existing equipment but would provide allowances for the aftermarket servicing needs of our industry. Their goals would be to preserve previous technological investments while supporting innovation and potential job creation.

As Rajan stated, by adopting a federal approach proposed by these bills, our industry would benefit greatly from much-needed regulatory consistency and certainty. It’s important to note that Emerson and its industry partners, such as the American Heating and Refrigeration Institute (AHRI), have pledged their support for these new bills. In addition, since these bills do not preclude states’ rights, efforts that have taken place in California and other states are still valid. While these states might be slightly leading in the refrigerant transition, our hope would be that the rest of the country would soon catch up and follow a standardized approach.

Why Refrigerant Leak Repair Still Matters

Jennifer_Butsch Jennifer Butsch | Regulatory Affairs Manager

Emerson Commercial & Residential Solutions

Proactive refrigerant management isn’t just good for the environment. It is also sound business practice. I was recently interviewed by ACHR’s The News magazine on the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) partial rollback of Section 608 provisions for appliance leak repair and maintenance. You can read the full article here  and more on our perspective below.

Why Refrigerant Leak Repair Still Matters

In February, the EPA eliminated leak repair and maintenance requirements on appliances containing 50 or more pounds of substitute refrigerants, such as hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs). As a result, equipment owners are no longer required to:

  • Repair appliances that leak above a certain level
  • Conduct verification tests on repairs
  • Periodically inspect for leaks
  • Report chronically leaking appliances to the EPA
  • Retrofit or retire appliances that are not repaired
  • Maintain related records

But just because these leak repair provisions are no longer required doesn’t mean food retailers should ignore these best practices. There is a price to pay for refrigerant leakage that extends far beyond environmental damage. Detecting, repairing and even proactively reducing refrigerant leaks will help operators avoid a variety of associated costs.

The high cost of refrigerant leaks

The rollback of legal penalties for refrigerant leaks does not change the math on the operational costs. An average food retail store leaks an estimated 25 percent of its refrigerant supply each year, which can quickly add up to thousands of dollars in lost refrigerant. In addition, retailers must consider the maintenance and equipment costs. Persistently low levels of refrigerant can cause:

  • Excess compressor wear and tear
  • Reduced compressor and system capacities
  • Premature system failures
  • Double-digit efficiency losses

Left unchecked, even minor leaks can eventually lead to equipment failure. When this occurs, emergency repair costs are often only the tip of the iceberg. Operators may also be looking at revenue loss from food waste, business disruptions and reputational damage.

Proactive refrigeration management

So what can operators do to prevent leaks, even in the absence of federal requirements?

In the near term, they can — and should — implement rigorous leak detection and repair programs. Refrigerant leaks can occur anywhere in a system. Thus, an effective refrigerant leak detection program will combine monitoring, detection and notification.

Multiple technologies are available to support these efforts, including active and passive devices for monitoring and detection. Internet of things (IoT) capabilities allow for remote monitoring, enabling operators to focus on more pressing tasks. And with the integration of data analytics platforms, operators can uncover trends, identify persistent problem areas, and make informed choices about equipment upgrades and replacement options.

Over the longer term, operators can adopt refrigeration architectures that reduce the potential for refrigerant leakage in the first place. Legacy, centralized direct-expansion rack systems are high leak-rate offenders. That shouldn’t be a surprise; with thousands of feet of pipe, hundreds of joints and large refrigerant charges, there are many opportunities for leaks to occur.

In contrast, distributed micro-booster, indoor distributed and outdoor condensing unit (OCU) architectures experience lower leak rates by design. As an added benefit, they offer more options for lower-GWP alternative refrigerant use. This is a crucial advantage for operators who want to position their business for future regulations.

Sustainable best practices

The EPA’s Section 608 leak repair provisions were good for the environment. They are also part of a larger body of best practices for optimizing HVACR equipment. As states take the lead in adopting standards for leak detection and control, operators may find the rollback of these regulations to be short-lived.

Emerson is proud to take a lead in developing sustainable and cost-effective refrigeration systems and supporting technologies. Operators and original equipment manufacturers count on us to deliver strategies and solutions that anticipate emerging trends and regulations. From pioneering refrigeration architectures to refrigerant leak detection tools, we are committed to providing operators with the capabilities to meet their sustainability and operational goals today and into the future.

 

 

 

Refrigerant Regulations Update and Industry Trends

Jennifer_Butsch Jennifer Butsch | Regulatory Affairs Manager

Emerson Commercial & Residential Solutions

In the United States, the regulations governing the use of refrigerants in commercial refrigeration and AC applications remain in a state of flux. Our next E360 Webinar will take place on Tuesday, March 31 at 2 p.m. EDT/11 a.m. PDT and provide an update on the latest regulatory developments at the state and federal levels.

Refrigerant Regulations Update and Industry TrendsThe unpredictable nature of environmental regulations in the U.S. continues to be a source of great uncertainty in today’s commercial refrigeration and AC industries. While many countries around the world are following international guidelines set forth by the Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol and the Paris Agreement, the U.S. has rolled back its former federal refrigerant regulations and has yet to participate in these multi-national climate measures.

However, at the state level domestically, things are evolving quickly. The California Air Resources Board (CARB) is moving forward with its stated 2030 deadline of reducing hydrofluorocarbon (HFC) emissions by 40 percent from the state’s 2013 baseline levels. While CARB is currently drafting specific proposals on how to achieve this goal, it’s clear that supermarkets and cold storage operators will soon need to accelerate their transition to new refrigerant alternatives that offer much lower global warming potential (GWP).

California is forging a path to long-term environmental sustainability that many other states are following. Currently, 25 states and provinces have joined the U.S. Climate Alliance — which represents 55 percent of the national population — and committed their leadership on climate change initiatives, including the reduction of HFCs. But with 25 governing bodies working toward similar goals, we’re already seeing the possibility of divergent regulatory approaches that would make it increasingly difficult for our industry to manage.

Meanwhile, both the House of Representatives and the Senate have introduced new bills that would give the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) authority to regulate HFCs. With this dynamic mix of activities and new developments happening almost every week, it’s becoming more important than ever to stay informed. Our next E360 Webinar is dedicated to making sense of this turbulent regulatory climate and will provide you with guidance on how to prepare for the future.

This timely and informative E360 Webinar will take place on Tuesday, March 31 at 2 p.m. EDT/11 a.m. PDT. It will be hosted by Emerson’s leading experts on refrigerant regulations: Rajan Rajendran, vice president, systems innovation center and sustainability; and Jennifer Butsch, manager, regulatory affairs. Attendees will learn:

  • How CARB is building upon its Significant New Alternatives Policy (SNAP) ruling foundation with newly proposed HFC refrigerant phase-down efforts
  • How some U.S. Climate Alliance states are adopting the EPA’s SNAP Rules 20 and 21 on their own individual timelines
  • Status of the standards governing charge limits and safe use of A2L and A3 refrigerants, including the potential impacts on building codes
  • Availability of new low-GWP refrigerants
  • Update on the new federal HFC regulations introduced by the Senate and the House
  • New and emerging industry trends to watch closely

Register now for this informative and free webinar.

 

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