Air handling and air quality technologies have rapidly evolved to provide more effective, efficient, and green solutions. While most of the industry has been focused on anticipating “what’s next,” government agencies have been helping change along by implementing bans on R410A refrigerants after 2025.
The History of the AIM Act
Experts know that R410 refrigerant contains high levels of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs). HFCs are one of the substances known to deplete the Ozone. In 1987, The Montreal Protocol introduced a plan to successfully phase out ozone-depleting chemicals, including chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs).
2016 The Kigali Amendment, an extension of the Montreal Treaty, was adopted. It targeted the reduction of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) used in air conditioning, refrigeration, and other applications. In this agreement, countries around the globe committed to cutting HFC emissions, fostering technological innovation, and addressing global warming.
In compliance with the Montreal Treaty and The Kigali Amendment, the Senate passed the American Innovation & Manufacturing (AIM) Act in 2020, allowing the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to set more specific standards for HFC use. In September 2021, the EPA released its detailed plan to reduce HFC consumption drastically from 2022 through 2036.
The Act prohibits using R410 refrigerant in HVAC systems across the country by 2025. It also outlines new SEER requirements (SEER2), which mandate increased energy efficiency standards for HVAC equipment produced after 2024.
Many Options for Transitioning Away from R410 Refrigerant
Once R410A refrigerant is no longer an option, manufacturers must shift towards more environmentally friendly alternatives. Many viable options are already being used in some applications.
Manufacturers in the United States seem to be trending towards R-454B as a replacement for the widely used 410A. It’s better known under trademarked names including Opteon XL41, Solstice 454B, and Puron Advance, R-454B is a zeotropic blend of difluoromethane, hydrofluorocarbon and 2,3,3,3-Tetrafluoropropene. It has a GWP of just 466 compared to R-410A’s GWP of 2088.
R-454B is already being used in many residential and commercial air conditioning units, commercial chillers, and commercial heat pumps. In addition to being more ozone-friendly, it also has a better performance record. R-454B is non-toxic and mildly flammable, with an ASHRAE safety classification of A2L.
R-32 is another replacement alternative. Also known as difluoromethane, this refrigerant can also be used in air conditioning and heat pump systems. It is still a hydrofluorocarbon (HFC) but presents a global warming potential (GWP) about two-thirds lower than R-410A. Therefore, its potential to contribute to global warming is about two-thirds less than R-410A.
R-32 is already being adopted by some manufacturers as a more sustainable option. However, like all refrigerants, it requires careful handling. Its flammability, for instance, presents special challenges when using it in HVAC.
R-1234yf is a hydrofluoroolefin (HFO) refrigerant that was developed as a more environmentally friendly alternative to high-GWP refrigerants. It was initially developed to replace R-134a in automotive AC systems. The GWP is about 99 percent less than R-134a. But again, R-1234yf demands special handling due to its mildly flammable nature.
Some manufacturers are testing the efficacy of natural refrigerants such as propane (R-290), CO2 (R-744), and ammonia (R-717). While both have extremely low GWPs, they also come with safety considerations, so using them to replace R410A is not necessarily simple or straightforward.
Compliance Will Come in Many Forms
The transition to alternative refrigerants won’t be a simple switch out. Manufacturers are choosing the replacement that works best with their products’ unique construction and performance considerations. In most cases, the switch also requires some redesign or modifications.
Compliance with the AIM Act will be particularly challenging given that many end users will continue using air quality and AHU systems reliant on R410 refrigerant for years to come. However, as new regulations go into effect, commercial HVAC professionals are responsible for understanding these shifts and adequately preparing for them. Industry professionals must adapt in the following ways.
Manufacturers are investing in R&D to develop systems that use low-GWP refrigerants, such as R-454B, A2L refrigerants like R-32 or R-1234yf, or natural refrigerants like R-290, R-744, or R-177. Product innovation is one of the most effective ways to accommodate the requirements of the AIM Act.
Supply Chain Management
All parts of the supply chain will be challenged to ensure a reliable supply of the new refrigerants. Changes may include new types of partnerships with chemical manufacturers or suppliers, new logistical models, or even new transportation strategies.
Educating and Training
It’s crucial for every part of the industry, including technicians, engineers, distributors, and salespeople, to understand the new regulations, safety protocols, and handling of new refrigerants. Training programs can be a powerful tool in the transition of servicing and installing updated systems.
It will be critical for manufacturers, refrigerant suppliers, and distributors to continually communicate with engineers, contractors, commercial clients, and facility managers. All stakeholders must be informed of the benefits of low-GWP refrigerants, legal and industry changes, the benefits of new systems, the impact on maintenance, and associated costs.
While the transition will present new challenges, the commercial HVAC industry is already well-versed in innovation and change. Manufacturers have begun to develop new and exciting ways to improve air quality, heating and cooling, and energy consumption, while also addressing GWP. In the twenty-first century, the North American HVAC industry has become even more skilled in ensuring compliance with regulations while maintaining effective communication and superior service to its clients worldwide.
Want to Find Out More?
Coward Environmental Systems, Inc. is here to assist customers who want to understand how to work through the phase-out in Philadelphia, Southern Pennsylvania, Southern New Jersey, Maryland, and Delaware. Contact us today to learn how we can help.