Partnerships are a Vital Part of Global Cooperation
I know it must seem to appliance DESIGN readers that all I ever talk about in this column is refrigerants. And for the past couple of years, it is pretty much the truth. But the fact is, refrigerants are the most prominent, vital global issue faced by our industry and there is always plenty to say about it.
It might seem strange for the industry that both produces refrigerants and uses the vast majority of them to call for a global phase down of the dominant class of those refrigerants for the purpose of protecting the environment. And yet that is exactly what the Air-Conditioning, Heating, and Refrigeration Institute (AHRI) did in 2009 when it called for including a hydrofluorocarbon (HFC) phase down as part of the Montreal Protocol (MP).
Between then and late 2015, when delegates to the Meeting of the Parties (MOP) of the MP agreed to try and establish a framework amendment to include HFCs, AHRI has worked on several different fronts to advance the concept of a phase down, while establishing and conducting a comprehensive global research program to identify promising alternative refrigerants.
While HFCs are widely used in air conditioning and some refrigeration applications in developing nations, they are not in widespread use in developing nations. Most of those countries are still using hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs), which have already been phased out in developed nations under the Montreal Protocol.
A major aspect of U.S. government’s continued partnership with its North American neighbors Canada and Mexico to advance a phase down proposal, and later to convince the MOP delegates to agree to that proposal, was AHRI’s partnership with the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and also with sister associations around the world, many of whom are members of the International Council of Air-Conditioning, Refrigeration, and Heating Manufacturers Associations (ICARHMA). At many different meetings and roundtable events around the world, senior AHRI officials have discussed with their global counterparts the many challenges associated with phasing down such a dominant class of refrigerants, including how to replace them with alternatives that share many of the positive HFC characteristics, such as energy efficiency, availability, and reasonable price, all while being more environmentally friendly. It was a tall order, but the industry, including the refrigerant producers and the manufacturers were confident it could be achieved.
So, in 2011, even as negotiations were ongoing on an MP amendment, AHRI gathered stakeholders and embarked on an ambitious research project known as the Low-GWP Alternative Refrigerants Evaluation Program. In the two phases since it began, the project identified many alternative refrigerants, the most promising of which, however, were classified as either flammable or mildly flammable, and thus being severely restricted in the United States and elsewhere because of safety codes and standards.
That realization prompted an additional phase of the research program, this time into the practical effects of using these refrigerants where they would normally be used—in residences and buildings. And it involves another partnership—this time among AHRI, ASHRAE, the U.S. Department of Energy, and the State of California—which are collaborating on the $5.2 million research program. The major U.S. code development organizations—the International Code Council and ASHRAE—have agreed to accelerate the next code development cycle to accommodate the findings of the research.
All of this research puts our industry in a good position because at the most recent MOP, in Kigali, Rwanda, delegates agreed to an amendment that will phase down HFCs on a global basis between 2019 and 2036 for developed nations. While it remains to be seen whether the agreement will be submitted to the United States Senate for ratification by President Obama or whether he will leave that to his successor, AHRI and its member companies will work diligently to ensure ratification as a confirmation of the U.S. commitment to this treaty.
AHRI is proud to have played such a vital role in this phase down endeavor, and with thanks to our global partners, including UNEP, we look forward to continued collaboration in the future.