Refrigerants: Ozone Depletion, Global Warming, the Montreal Protocol, and What it All Means for Your
September 16, 2017, marked the 30 year anniversary of the original Montreal Protocol, an international treaty that phases out substances that deplete the ozone layer. Use of CFC refrigerants is now banned in the U.S., and the phase-out of HCFCs is now in its final stage; new production and import of HCFCs will cease in 2020. Replacing these HCFCs in new equipment and for system retrofit are many new HFC and HFC-blend refrigerants that include R-410A and R-407C.
When the first stage of the Montreal Protocol took effect in 1987, most countries were primarily concerned with ozone depletion potential (ODP); global warming potential (GWP) was scarcely on the radar. First-generation CFCs like R-11, R-12, and R-502 were gradually replaced with HCFCs (and some HFCs) with much-lower ozone depletion potential (ODP). The highly-popular R-22 has a pound-for-pound ODP that is roughly eighteen times lower than the CFCs it replaced. As an added benefit, the global warming potential for most HCFCs is at least six times lower than CFCs.
The second stage of the Montreal Protocol was a gradual migration from second-generation HCFCs to third-generation HFCs, which have zero ODP. The HCFC phase-down process is now in its final stage, with new production and import slated to cease in 2020 and all new systems prohibited from using HCFCs. This has resulted in the dramatic rise in the price of R-22 and other HCFCs. Once new HCFC stores are depleted, repairs can only be done with reclaimed refrigerant that has been cleaned and reprocessed, and these supplies will become increasingly scarce as time goes on, as well. This is an important point of consideration for users who own HCFC systems, which are becoming more and more costly to service due to skyrocketing refrigerant prices. For preferred HFC replacements in various applications, please refer to PJM’s Refrigerant Overview.
The elimination of HCFCs in favor of HFCs has been complicated by the enactment of the Paris Accord, in spite of the United States’ rejection of the global pact aimed at curbing greenhouse gas emissions. Under the voluntary agreement, third-generation HFC refrigerants that, until recently, were acceptable under the Montreal Protocol are now either outlawed by participating nations (with substantial supply and use restrictions, or new equipment bans) or are in active phase-out due to their elevated global warming potential. Even though HFCs are still permitted here in the U.S., users considering near-term replacement decisions must take into consideration the fact that many states and municipalities will side with the international community by scaling back or banning HFCs in favor of low-to-zero GWP hydrofluoroolefins (HFOs) and natural gas refrigerants. Some commercial equipment using natural gases and HFOs are already available on the U.S. market.
Please refer to PJM’s Refrigerant Overview for a list of high- and medium-GWP HFCs that are most likely to be targeted for replacement in the near future, along with their likely replacements. Additionally, all manufacturers and nations are considering moves implement natural gas refrigerants that satisfy both the Montreal Protocol and Paris Accord, but with several other design and use considerations. These are included in our Refrigerant Overview as well.
PJM can help clients implement HCFC-to-HFC system retrofits and replacements, and we also provide expert consultation for owners interested in leapfrogging to fourth-generation HFO or natural gas conversions or new systems. Contact us today at (609) 921-1394 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
PJM Mechanical Contractors, Inc. is a multi-faceted mechanical contractor providing construction and installation, service and maintenance, and design/build services in a comprehensive range of mechanical disciplines that include HVAC, plumbing, controls, refrigeration, custom metal fabrication, piping, fire protection, and backflow preventer testing. PJM primarily serves clients in pharmaceuticals, manufacturing, healthcare, institutional, and other various commercial and industrial sectors.