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EPA Clamps Down On Hydrofluorocarbons

Climate Change: Regulation will bar some uses of the potent greenhouse gases

by Cheryl Hogue
July 9, 2015 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 93, Issue 28

Credit: Mandritoiu/Shutterstock
New refrigeration systems for supermarkets will be free of HFCs as of 2017, under EPA’s rule.
Refrigerator case in a grocery store in New Jersey.
Credit: Mandritoiu/Shutterstock
New refrigeration systems for supermarkets will be free of HFCs as of 2017, under EPA’s rule.

The Environmental Protection Agency is ratcheting back the allowed uses of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), commercial chemicals that are potent greenhouse gases. A new EPA regulation will limit the use of HFCs and blends containing HFCs in aerosols and blowing agents that expand plastic into foam and in refrigerants for vehicle air conditioners, coolers in retail stores, and vending machines.

HFCs were developed to replace chemicals that deplete stratospheric ozone, such as chlorofluorocarbons. Although they don’t harm the ozone layer, many HFCs have high potential to contribute to global warming.

EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy says the regulation will give a boost to chemical manufacturers that are selling more climate-friendly products. “This rule will not only reduce harmful greenhouse gas emissions but also encourage greater use and development of the next generation of safer HFC alternatives,” she says.

Makers of alternative chemicals to HFCs are praising the regulation, anticipating higher demand for substances with lower global warming potential. “EPA’s action will accelerate the adoption of solutions with far less impact on the atmosphere while also spurring private-sector innovation and creating jobs,” says Ken Gayer, vice president and general manager of Honeywell’s fluorine products business. Honeywell is marketing hydrofluoroolefins as alternatives to HFCs.

EPA says its rule, issued under the Clean Air Act, is focused on HFCs that have the highest global warming potential compared with alternative substances for the same end use. The regulation will cut U.S. emissions of greenhouse gases equivalent to 54 million to 64 million metric tons of carbon dioxide by 2025, the agency claims.

Unveiled in early July, EPA’s rule will halt the use of HFC-134a as an air conditioner refrigerant in most cars and trucks starting with model-year 2021. The regulation also prohibits the use of certain HFCs as aerosol propellants, including HFC-227ea and blends containing it, HFC-125, and HFC-134a.

EPA’s rule is a response to President Barack Obama’s 2013 Climate Action Plan, which in part called for the curbing of HFC emissions.



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