Conventional HFC-based refrigerants are more environmentally unfriendly than COdue to their high global warming potentials (GWPs). Consequently, the US Congress enacted the AIM Act to curb the adverse effects of HFCs and ultimately avoid up to 0.5°C global warming by 2100. This article explores the AIM Act and its implications for the chiller industry.

Refrigerant HFCs in Chillers

Refrigerants are working fluids essential for the refrigeration cycle in heat, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems and heat pumps. Key players in the chiller, refrigeration, aerosols, air conditioning, foam blowing, and fire suppression sectors utilize these fluids for several relevant applications.

Modern-day chiller refrigerants comprise hydrofluorocarbons (HFC) gases, which benefit several HVAC-related and fire suppression applications. Although researchers consciously developed HFCs to replace existing refrigeration and air conditioning-dependent ozone-depleting substances (ODS), they are greenhouse gases (GHGs) more harmful than carbon dioxide (CO2).

The unit for measuring GHG impact on the climate (or global warming potential – GWP) for HFCs significantly outweighs that of COby a factor of up to 1000. Thus, while HFCs phased out ODS, there is a growing need for regulations for its production and utilization in the industry to address its adverse environmental implications.

The AIM Act: An Overview

One decisive regulation for curbing the excesses of HFC utilization in several applications includes the American Innovation and Manufacturing (AIM) Act, which the United States Congress enacted in December 2020. With the aid of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), this act aims to phase down the production and consumption of HFCs, maximize their reclamation for reuse, and minimize their releases from equipment.

The AIM Act stipulates an up to 85% phase down of HCF production and utilization in the US within the next 15 years, which can mitigate global warming by an estimated 0.5°C by 2100. In addition, the act comprises a final rule that sets HFC production and consumption baseline levels for appropriate reductions and establishes innovative systems for effective compliance and enforcement. Ultimately, the AIM Act serves as an instrument for the safe and efficient transition to lower-GWP refrigerants.

How will this Phaseout Affect Chiller Manufacturers?

The phaseout of high-GWP refrigerants will significantly affect original equipment manufacturers (OEMs), particularly chiller manufacturers, in several ways. Since the initial design and development of chillers rely on the nature of specific refrigerants, transitioning to low-GWP refrigerants requires manufacturers to redesign new chiller units. Moreover, manufacturers must account for factors such as the size, weight, cost, and efficiency of the redesigned units to ensure a seamless transition. Additionally, the chiller OEMs must be responsible for updating their communication channels, including websites and product and marketing materials, which will educate end users about the impending industry and regulatory changes.

EPA-Approved Refrigerant Alternatives

The EPA-approved alternatives for existing refrigerants are generally low-GWP and align with the current regulatory realities. Unlike high-GWP refrigerants, such as R-410A and R-134a, these alternatives stay within the GWP threshold of 750.

Although the most suitable refrigerants in terms of toxicity and flammability are classified A1 by the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) Standard 34, the most viable are A2L classified. While A1 refrigerants exhibit the lowest toxicity and flammability, A2L refrigerants are mildly flammable, requiring appropriate training and precautions for safe handling.

Some examples of A2L classified refrigerants that are viable substitutes for existing high-GWP refrigerants include:

  • R-32
  • R-454B
  • R-452B
  • R-454A
  • R-454C
  • R-457A

In addition to meeting refrigeration cycle requirements in several HVAC-related applications, these refrigerants are less harmful to the environment and align with the objectives of the AIM Act.

Refrigerant Changes in the Coming Years: What to Expect

California’s Global Warming Solutions Act, which authorized the California Air Resources Board (CARB) to ensure an up to 40% HFC emission reduction by 2030, preceded the AIM Act. This state-level act comprised two primary pieces of regulations, including the Significant New Alternative Policy (SNAP) rules 20 and 21. The AIM Act took a cue from this existing California act to publish the SNAP rule 23 in May 2021, comprising acceptable A2L refrigerants for incorporation into several residential and commercial applications. In light of these acts, industry stakeholders expect corresponding changes. Some of these changes include:

  • Complete phaseout of high-GWP refrigerants (i.e., GWP above 750)
  • Phase-down of HCF production and consumption over 15 years
  • Implementation of EPA-established GWP limits and standards
  • Prioritization of HFC reclamation and value creation for the reclaimed refrigerants

Trust Cold Shot for All Your Industrial Chilling Needs

Cold Shot Chillers is an industrial chiller manufacturer offering industry-leading chiller units for several residential and industrial applications. Our long-standing expertise in cooling solutions can meet several consumer chilling needs in light of prevalent industry regulations.

Contact us today for more information about the products and services we offer.