Phase Out of R22 in 2020
By Betty Stephens
Chlorodifluoromethane, better known as HCFC-22 or R-22 is a common refrigerant that is currently being phased out in the U.S. due to its very high potential to exacerbate ozone-depletion (R-22 is also a global warming gas). U.S. EPA has tried to reduce use of this material by imposing strict quotas on its production. Since 2010, the agency has also banned sale of new air-conditioning units containing the compound, and has promoted recycling of the gas from old machines so it will not be released. However, R-22 will still be produced in decreasing quantities until 2020.
With the phase out of the R22 now becoming eminent in the coming years, the US companies are now not investing in the R22 production. As the deadline is getting closer the availability of R22 is becoming difficult, which is making the operation and maintenance of the existing equipment quite expensive. Even the raw material used for the manufacture of R22 gas, mainly chlorine, fluorspar, and natural gas, have become highly expensive.
What does all this mean to the typical homeowner?
The choice is dependent upon several factors:
• How old is your indoor evaporator coil?
• How old is your condenser?
• Do you want the highest efficiency available?
• Do you want a unit that is environmentally friendly?
• What will be the cost of R-22 as supply goes down?
When you are replacing equipment with R410A the condenser and the coil must be matched. You can’t have a coil that uses R-22 and a condenser that uses R410A. If one piece of your cooling equipment fails you have to look at the age of the other component to make a choice. R-22 equipment is still available, but as time goes on the selection and efficiency range that is available will go down. In fact all manufacturers today are choosing to make their high efficiency equipment with only R410A.
Because of this R22 phase out you may have to replace both the condenser and the coil, even if one of those components is still working. Another factor to consider is the cost of R22 Freon as the supply decreases. R12 (which was phased out several years ago) went as high as $72 per pound. When you consider that an average system uses about 12 lbs that could get expensive in a hurry.
By law, owners of large equipment (e.g., supermarket systems, commercial air conditioning units) have to ensure that the equipment is maintained and leaks are repaired by certified technicians.
Homeowners of smaller central A/C units are not legally responsible for refrigerant leaks, but anyone servicing the smaller equipment is still prohibited from knowingly venting R-22. While the choice to recharge leaky equipment may come down to economics (recharge vs. new unit) this choice may be short-sighted. The unit would likely continue to require routine servicing, with increasingly more expensive recharges.
Some of the things related to R-22 that are legal and some are not legal:
• Production for servicing existing equipment installed prior to January 1, 2010
• Production and import by businesses that have prescribed allowances from U.S. EPA through 2020
• Intentional venting.
• Leaks from large systems above specified leak rates that go unreported and unrepaired.
• Imports or production by businesses that are not authorized by EPA.
• Sale to non EPA-certified technicians.
What Happens to Old Refrigerators?
Of the 9.4 million fridges reaching end of life in the U.S., about 25 percent are resold into the aftermarket, resulting in increased energy demand from continued use of the older, less-efficient models. That leaves 7.1 million fridges to be de-manufactured. Of these fridges, the vast majority end up in landfills or metal scrap yards, where their coolant refrigerants and other hazardous materials may not be dealt with properly. EPA’s RAD program encourages voluntary, responsible recycling but less than 10 percent of the discarded fridges in the U.S. are managed under RAD programs.
While Federal law requires recovery of refrigerants and other hazardous waste prior to disposal or recycling properly recovering refrigerants adds time and labor to an already labor-intensive process. “Cutting the line, or venting the refrigerant before the refrigerator arrives at the recycling facility, unfortunately, may be a common practice before the old fridge is crushed for scrap metal.
Refrigerants with zero or very low global warming potential (GWP) are gaining more market acceptance, in lots of applications. This year, EPA added three hydrocarbons as acceptable alternatives in household and small commercial refrigerators and freezers through the Significant New Alternatives Policy (SNAP) program. The newly-listed hydrocarbon refrigerants already widely in use in Europe can be used to replace CFC-12 and HCFC-22 in household refrigerators, freezers, combination refrigerator-freezers, and commercial stand-alone units.
U.S. EPA regulations related to fluorochemical refrigerants have resulted in a safe and smooth transition from CFCs to alternatives that are far better for the environment. However, it is challenging to ensure compliance with regulations that involve tens of thousands of certified technicians servicing millions of air conditioning and refrigeration units and systems across the U.S.
The EPA is expecting that allowance cuts for R-22 production will encourage greater recovery, and that refrigerant reclaimers will, in fact, be offering higher “bounties” for the gas.