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An Update on the EPA's Final Ruling on R-22

Feb. 1, 2010
The vital importance of refrigerant reclaimation to HVAC-industry supply

It is no secret that R-22 refrigerant is going away. What members of the refrigeration and air-conditioning industry may not be aware of is that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA's) hydrochlorofluorocarbon- (HCFC-) allocation final rule, signed Dec. 7, 2009, further reduced R-22 supply by 150 million lb. In addition to this 58-percent reduction in supply, which began in January, a major difference between the proposed rule and the final rule was the EPA's decision to ramp down R-22 supply by approximately 10 to 13 percent a year from 2010 through 2014. Based on the most recent EPA service-demand report, the anticipated result is a 27.5-million-lb-per-year shortfall for the same time period. This creates an immediate need for contractors and equipment owners to develop a refrigerant-management plan to cope with the R-22 shortfall.

Recycled or reclaimed R-22 will be a necessary part of supply starting in 2010. According to the EPA, recycled or reclaimed R-22 must total 20 percent of the service market in 2010 and increase to 29 percent in 2014 to meet estimated R-22 demand. A significant increase in industry recovery and reclaim practices is needed to make up the estimated R-22 shortfall.

Smart equipment owners understand that the R-22 in their equipment is an asset that provides several options. Equipment owners can recover and recycle R-22 to service other equipment they own, ensuring a low-cost supply, or recover and reclaim the R-22 to be put back into the marketplace. A refrigerant-management plan is of utmost importance for service technicians and equipment owners because good planning will allow the continued operation of existing equipment for the remainder of its useful life, ensure business continuity, and eliminate the need to invest in costly replacement equipment. However, when equipment is at the end of its useful life, contractors should specify new equipment with non-ozone-depleting refrigerants, such as R-410A.

For members of the industry who do not have a refrigerant-management plan in place, establishing one is simple. A refrigerant-management plan should cover improved service practices, including reducing leaks; recovering and reclaiming used refrigerants; and retrofitting to hydrofluorocarbon (HFC) refrigerants to transition from R-22. There are many HFC alternatives available, but when considering options for a specific application, look for a refrigerant with similar pressure-enthalpy characteristics to R-22 and mineral-oil compatibility to ease the transition and lower the cost of the retrofit.

As mentioned previously, recovered R-22 can be recycled and reused in the same owner's equipment. If the recovered refrigerant is going to be used to service equipment for a different owner or sold to a new owner, the refrigerant must be reclaimed to Air-Conditioning, Heating and Refrigeration Institute original product specifications by an EPA-certified refrigerant reclaimer.

It is important for contractors and technicians to follow proper recovery and safety procedures when evacuating refrigerant from a system, such as ensuring gauges and hoses are purged to avoid contamination and recovering refrigerant into the appropriate pressure-rated cylinder as pressure levels vary by refrigerant (for example, a 400-psig-rated cylinder, is required for R-410A). Many wholesalers offer their customers refrigerant reclaim programs to take back R-22 and other recovered refrigerants.

There is no doubt that 2010 will be a year of transition. The industry must be proactive to respond adequately to the challenges inherent with the significant drop in R-22 supply. Dependence on R-22 needs to decrease industrywide, while recovery and reclaim activities must increase dramatically. Retrofitting R-22 systems to HFC alternatives quickly is becoming the preferred way to cope with the supply shortfall and ensure business continuity.

North American marketing manager of refrigerants for DuPont Fluorochemicals, Joyce Wallace joined DuPont Photoproducts in 1981. She previously held positions in accounting, business analysis, and finance. A recipient of the DuPont Marketing Excellence Award for her sales leadership and strong customer focus, Wallace has a bachelor's degree in accounting from Widener University.

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