A/C Industry News – The Phase out of R-22 Refrigerant

THE STORY BEHIND THE PHASE-OUT OF R-22 REFRIGERANT

It all began in 1987 with the Montreal Protocol.  The Montreal Protocol was an international environmental agreement that began the world-wide phaseout of ozone-depleting CFCs (chlorofluorocarbons).  These requirements were later modified and lead to the phaseout in 1996 of CFC production in all of the developed nations.

In 1992 the Montreal Protocol  was amended to establish a schedule for the phaseout of HCFCs (hydrochlorofluorocarbons).  HCFCs are less damaging to the ozone layer than CFCs, but still contained ozone-destroying chlorine.  As amended, The Montreal Protocol is carried out in the U.S. through Title VI of The Clean Air Act, was implemented by the EPA.

HCFC-22 (also known as R-22) has been the refrigerant choice for residential air conditioning and heat pump systems for more than 40 years.  But, unfortunately for the environment, R-22 leaks contribute to ozone depletion.  Also, R-22 is a greenhouse gas and it’s manufacturing results in a by-product (HFC-23) that contributes significantly to global warming.  As the manufacture of R-22 is phased out over the next coming years as part of the agreement to end production of HCFCs, manufacturers of residential air conditioning systems are offering equipment that uses ozone-friendly refrigerants.

The schedule was as follows:

January 2004 – Montreal Protocol requires the U.S. to reduce consumption of HCFC by 35%

January 2010 – Montreal Protocol requires the U.S. to reduce consumption of HCFC by 75%

January 2015 – Montreal Protocol requires the U.S. to reduce consumption of HCFC by 90%

January 2020 – Montreal Protocol requires the U.S. to reduce consumption of HCFC by 99.5%

Refrigerant that has been recovered or recycled/reclaimed will be allowed beyond 2020 to service existing systems.  Chemical manufacturers will no longer be allowed to produce R-22 to service existing air conditioners and heat pumps.

Availability of R-22

The Clean Air Act does not allow any refrigerant to be vented into the atmosphere during service, installation or removal of equipment.  R-22 must be recovered and recycled, reclaimed or destroyed.  After 2020, the servicing of R-22 based systems will rely solely on recycled or reclaimed refrigerant.  It is expected that reclamation and recycling will ensure that existing supplies of R-22 will last longer and be available to service a greater number of systems.  As noted above, chemical manufacturers will not be able to produce, and companies will not be able to import, R-22 for use in new A/C equipment after 2010, but they can continue production and import of R-22 until 2020 for use in servicing existing equipment.

Servicing existing units

Existing units that use R-22 can continue to be serviced with R-22.  There is no EPA requirement to change or convert R-22 units for use with a non-ozone-depleting substitute refrigerant.  These changes, called “retrofits,” are allowed if the alternative has been found acceptable for that type of use.  R-410A is not allowed in retrofits due to it’s higher working pressures.  In addition, the new substitute refrigerants would not work well without making some changes to system components.  As a result, service technicians who repair leaks to the system will most often continue to charge R-22 into the system as part of that repair.

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