Sneaking HFC Refrigerants into the Montreal Protocol?
The Montreal Protocol
The Montreal Protocol was a treaty signed way back in 1989 by numerous countries in an attempt to slow down and eventually stop the hole that was forming in the O-Zone layer. It’s main objective was to eliminate the amount of Chlorine and Bromine being released into the atmosphere. This was done by coordinating world wide phase out of chemicals and gases that contained these two compounds. When speaking on Refrigerant or refrigerants the first of it’s kind affected was the automotive market when the ‘original’ Refrigerant R-12 was banned in 1994 and replaced with an HFC R-134a. Next up was the residential/commercial buildings with R-22 Refrigerant which was banned in 2010 and had it’s production and imports cut in half in 2015. (In case you weren’t aware R-22 prices are going up this year!) R-22 was replaced with R-410A or Puron. All new machines from 2010 or later will be taking the 410A Refrigerant. There were other refrigerants banned over the years but those two were the major players. The only other one that comes to mind is R-502 refrigerant for your heavier duty applications such as refrigerated transport. 502 was replaced with the HFC R-404A.
The Montreal Protocol treaty has been revised many times over the years to accommodate new technologies and advancements but it’s main objective has always been to reduce harmful chemicals affect on the O-Zone layer. HFC refrigerants do not cause harm to the O-Zone layer in the slightest. What they do have is a VERY high global warming potential by releasing greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. HFCs are the most potent GreenHouse gas in the world today and they are having an effect on the climate… just not an O-Zone affect.
President Obama’s Push to Add HFC Refrigerants
Over the years of President Obama’s presidency one of his main goals was to work on Climate Change or Global Warming. I apologize in advance if partisanship sneaks into this article but I will do my best to remove any biased and just report what is actually happening. With that in mind Obama’s focal point on climate change is tackling HFCs that are currently in use here in the United States and throughout the rest of the world. There are a couple ways that he is going about this. Firstly, United States, Canada, and Mexico have all proposed an amendment to get HFCs added to the Montreal Protocol. Second, Obama has enacted executive actions to combat usage of HFCs. Thirdly, Obama has put pressure on the supply chain of HFCs and companies have made concessions to reduce HFC output/production.
Here is an announcement from the White Houses’ official website detailing the steps that Obama is taking through executive action and through voluntary measures by for profit companies in the United States:
There are a few things to take away from this:
- Obama is taking executive actions on Climate Change without congress. I don’t claim to be a legal expert so the only comment I will make is that I prefer congress to be involved rather it be a Democratic or Republican president in office. I’ve never been comfortable with executive actions. The below listing are some of his Executive Actions:
- All Federal agencies, buildings, and institutions have been instructed to look for alternatives to HFCs when looking at their refrigeration needs. If you are bidding any government contracts you should definitely push for the HFC alternatives.
- Federally owned buildings will be piloting new refrigeration technologies. This will allow companies test their innovative ideas.
- The EPA will expand its listing of environmentally friendly HFC alternatives and publish them in their Significant New Alternatives Policy. (SNAP)
- The Federal Government will be funding research and development on new HVAC technology and innovations from various companies and scientists.
- The government has put pressure on the entire HFC supply chain from the manufacturers here in the United States to the distributors and even to the HVAC contractors.
- The industry coalition of companies have agreed to reduce HFC usage and consumption by eighty percent by the year 2050.
- There are billions being spent today and over the next ten to twenty years on research and development on a low global warming potential alternative to HFCs. The hope is to have a newer, better, refrigerant for future use. (But, these new refrigerants will probably be phased out in thirty years anyways!)
- Coca-Cola has committed that all of it’s new purchases for refrigerant machines and equipment will be HFC free. Coca-Cola is a huge consumer of refrigerant and in 2014 alone they bought 200,000 HFC free units.
- Carrier announced that it’s goal is to have all vehicles made in 2020 to be HFC free. (Goodbye R-404A!)
- DuPont announced that it would reduce GreenHouse gas content of it’s refrigerants by ninety million tons in the United States and two-hundred and forty-five tons worldwide by the year 2025.
- HoneyWell has committed to reduce it’s high global warming potential HFCs by fifty percent by the year 2020. It is doing this buy spending nearly a billion dollars in research and development into lower global warming potential HFCs.
- ThermoKing, the transport refrigerant company, announced that it is switching all of it’s new vehicles over to R-404A alternative known as R-452A. R-452A has half the global warming potential as the 404A. ThermoKing is also offering retrofitting for existing vehicles. It is important to to note that at this time it is only available in Europe, Asia, and the Middle East. Once the new refrigerant has EPA approval it will be in the United States.
As you can see there is quite a bit of action already being taken on the phasing out HFC refrigerants in the United States. But, we are not the only country on board. The European Union has banned the use of the most popular HFC, R-134a, in all automotive production. They have switched over to an alternative refrigerant known as 1234YF. (All except for Germany.) You can read about that switch by clicking here. On top of that the three North American countries submitted an amendment to the Montreal Protocol in May of 2014. The amendment pushed for the official phaseout of all HFCs globally. It was reviewed in November but there was some resistance between major countries that caused the amendment to be put on hold.
India, China, and the Gulf States
Even though North America and Europe are on board with phasing out HFCs the rest of the world was not. By the rest of the world I mean India, China, and the Middle East. Hell, if you add the populations of India and China that’s probably half the world right there! Now there are a few reasons for their opposition to the HFC amendment to the Montreal Protocol:
- First things first… The Montreal Protocol was made to prevent damage to the O-Zone layer. HFCs do not cause damage to the O-Zone layer. SO, we’re adding an amendment to the O-Zone treaty that has nothing to do with the O-Zone. India and the Middle East states are calling us on our BS and asking for this amendment to be added to the United Nation’s climate change plan rather than the Montreal Protocol.
- Another thing to keep in mind is that for India, China, and the Gulf States in the middle east is that they are all developing countries. Many of their leaders are concerned about the economic impact and the cost of switching all of their citizens over from HFCs to an alternative refrigerant. It was a headache switching everyone from R-22 over to R-410A here in the States. I can’t imagine what it would be like trying to do that in a developing nation like India.
- And lastly, another big opposing point is that the United States holds almost all of the patents on these new alternative refrigerants. Works out great for us… but I can understand the other countries hesitation. Price gouging anyone?
With all of that being said it looks like we may have had a breakthrough in the end of 2014. Obama made some deep concessions with China and we were finally able to get them so sign a climate change agreement that included the eventual phase out of HFCs. Here is hoping they push for the amendment as well in the next Climate Summit. It also looks like India is slowly starting to drop it’s opposition. In the last global climate meeting India was surprisingly quiet and did not voice opposition to the amendment. At this point the only countries that are really left opposing are the middle east states and there are only a few left and there days are numbered.
So, in conclusion the world governments, including the United States, are pushing for an amendment to the Montreal Protocol to phaseout and eventually ban high global warming potential HFC refrigerants. Even though the Montreal Protocol was specifically designed to combat the damage to the O-Zone and the HFC’s do not harm the O-Zone layer… they’re just going to sneak that in there anyways. There has been resistance, but it is waning and it is just a matter of time before all the HFCs that we know today are completely phased out just like the CFCs of the past.
Thanks for reading,