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CFCs to HFCs to low-GWPs…Is Your Company Ready?

Change is coming. Companies will soon need to phase out the use of hydro-fluorocarbons (HFCs) found in refrigerants.

For decades, chlorine-containing chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) were used as refrigerants. Scientists then discovered that CFCs damage the Earth’s ozone layer. The international Montreal Protocol, adopted in 1987, banned the use of these chemicals by 1992 through a phase-out mechanism. CFCs were among the chemicals commonly used in refrigeration, air-conditioning, and fire extinguishing.

Synthetically produced HFCs, which have zero ozone depletion potential, quickly replaced CFCs in the 1990s. However, while HFCs do not deplete the ozone layer, they are potent greenhouse gases. In fact, the EPA says that HFCs can be up to 10,000 times more potent than carbon dioxide and have atmospheric lifetimes of nearly 300 years.

Accordingly, in March the EPA proposed a new rule under the Significant New Alternatives Policy (SNAP) program that will provide an expanded list of HFC alternatives and phase out the more dangerous HFCs in favor of safer options that are already on the market. Nearly 200 countries are also currently working to amend the Montreal Protocol to phase out HFCs—a move that may happen as early as this year.

Some companies have already taken steps to reduce their HFC use and emissions. For example, Coca-Cola aims for 100 percent of its new cold drink equipment to be free of HFCs. Target says that new stand-alone coolers in its stores will be free of these chemicals, too.

With a decreased demand for HFCs will come an increased demand for low-global-warming-potential (GWP) refrigeration chemicals. Companies like Occidental Chemical are already rushing to fill this market. The chemical company says it will spend almost $150 million to expand one of its sites to produce the raw material for climate-friendly refrigerants. Similarly, Honeywell recently announced that it and its suppliers are investing about $300 million to increase production of Solstice yf, a climate-friendly HFC alternative.

Another organization, EOS Climate, has just completed its first project to create verified emission reductions (VERs) from replacement of high GWP HFCs with low GWP HFCs. This creates carbon credits—approved by the American Carbon Registry—that can be sold to defray the costs of switching to the new HFCs and support the transition.  According to EOS Climate, if just 30 percent of HGW HFC refrigerants are reclaimed by 2030, about 18 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide will be saved from reaching the atmosphere.

Forward thinking companies are already gearing up for changes in HFC policy. How will these policy changes affect your company? Is your company ready?

For more information on the HGW HFC phase-down, Johnson Controls has written a good white paper.