Navigating the Phasedown of HFCs

Headshot of author Ned Heminger, PE
Ned Heminger, PE, Vice President and Chief Engineer

In December 2020, the American Innovation and Manufacturing Act was passed, directing the EPA to address the phasedown of hydrofluorocarbon (HFC) refrigerants. A schedule was included in the Act which required an 85 percent reduction of HFCs by the year 2036 based on their global warming potential (GWP)-weighted value.

The EPA issued their ruling for public comment in April of 2021 and are required by law to finalize their ruling by October 1, 2021. This will result in significant changes for refrigerants as well as the MEPT industry, as R134a (medium pressure) and R410a (high pressure), which are both HFCs, make up a significant percentage of refrigerant used in HVAC systems today. Note, while R410a is not specifically listed in the AIM Act or the EPA’s public ruling, it will be impacted by the phasedown requirements because it is a blend of two HFCs (R-32 and R-125). R410a is primarily utilized in unitary equipment (i.e., direct refrigerant to air systems) and R134a is primarily utilized in large refrigeration equipment such as chillers. 

Most manufacturers knew the time would come when the HFC refrigerants would begin to phase out due to their higher GWP levels and had started developing new equipment utilizing alternative refrigerants. However, this has come at a substantial cost to the manufacturers,and, in a lot of cases, equipment designed from the ground up. On a recent project for which HAWA pre-bid a chiller, we base bid a 500-ton chiller utilizing R134a and requested an alternate bid for the same capacity machine utilizing R-1233zd (low GWP refrigerant). While the R-1233zd had a slightly better efficiency, it came at a 30 percent first cost premium. Ultimately, the owner chose to stay with the R-134a chiller because the payback was rather long for the newer R-1233zd chiller (over 12 years), and they thought it was a safer choice to stay with a chiller design that has been around for long time.

If you need help navigating the phasedown of HFCs in your next project, reach out to our team of experienced engineers today.

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