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The final countdown

The phase-down of R22 is well under way in the US, with the latest timings newly announced. So how will it have an effect on the industry? Peter Powell reports

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently announced its final phase-down schedule regarding production and importation of R-22.

The order calls for an immediate drop from 23m kgs allowed in 2014 to 10m kgs beginning on 1 January 2015.

Subsequently, 8.1m kgs of new and imported R-22 will be allowed in 2016, 5.8m kgs in 2017, 4m kgs in 2018, and 1.8m kgs in 2019.

No new or imported R-22 will be allowed in the US on or after 1 January 2020.

Charlie McCrudden, senior vice-president of government affairs, ACCA, says: “EPA is trying to address the concerns about oversupply in existing inventories, while encouraging transition, reclamation, and proper refrigerant management, all while sending a signal to the industry that allocations will be dropping.

“The agency considered market information, comments, regulatory and statutory requirements, and its long-standing policy objectives as it weighed the merits of the proposed approaches.

The final allocation meets the 2020 phase-out deadline and should help achieve a smooth transition to more environmentally friendly alternatives while providing regulatory certainty to consumers and industry.”

Heating, Air-conditioning, and Refrigeration Distributors International director of government affairs Jon Melchi says: “This rule provides contractors with the knowledge that this transition is indeed happening.

While there will certainly be some tightening of the market, there will be sufficient supply to meet servicing demands in the near future, and we urge all contractors to work with their distribution partners.

“The smart play is to begin investing in training [on alternative refrigerants] and to not wait until the last minute to prepare your for a time when R-22 is not readily available.”

The impact on virgin R-22 supplies will be almost immediate.

ICOR Intl vice-president Gordon McKinney says: “The agency settled on a much more aggressive schedule – a 57 per cent reduction from the 2014 allocation.

We encourage all of our associates to prepare for a dramatic increase in R-22 pricing and a major spike in alternative refrigerant sales and reclaim activity.”

Shortages ahead

ComStar Intl CEO Steve Mella, predicts immediate and future shortages and price increases: “These are normal results and will be expected by the industry at large. [But] as this moves forward, the market will dictate what fills the vacuum and the direction the industry takes.

Once the word gets out to all levels of our industry, we should hear a sigh of relief. The five-year allocation plan will give the industry the ability to make financial decisions that will help the overall industry and economy.”

National Refrigerants vice-president of operations Maureen Beatty says some suppliers may limit the quantity of R-22 they are offering, but that does not mean R-22 is unavailable.

“Contractors should make sure they are buying from a reputable supplier who will assure the legitimacy and quality of the R-22 they sell,” she said.

Honeywell Intl addressed immediate implications in an announcement: “One model suggests this ruling will result in existing channel inventory to be drawn down at an accelerated rate as end-users attempt to build stock in anticipation of limited supply, while others hold inventory.

The combined effect could be limited supply near-term. Contractors should prepare accordingly.”

The use of reclamation services has long been available and brings used refrigerants back to ARI-700 purity standards.

Such a service will allow any R-22 currently in use or yet to be produced to be recycled and reused well beyond the 2020 end of virgin and imported versions of the refrigerant.

Diversified CPC Intl president and CEO Bill Auriemma says: “As an EPA-certified reclaimer, we welcome the ruling and appreciate the fact that the EPA collected and considered industry feedback.

The ruling brings much-needed clarity to the market and enables manufacturers, reclaimers, and HVACR contractors to move forward with decisive plans.”

Contractors need to keep customers informed of these developments and the impact they may have on a contractor’s ability to service R-22 equipment.

“The most important thing is for contractors to make sure they keep their customers well informed,” says Butch Welsch, owner of Welsch Heating and Cooling in St Louis. “This spring, we will be advising customers of the situation.

We’ll urge them that a replacement, rather than a repair, is probably the best thing to do.”

The EPA’s Final Rule document that detailed the phase-out schedule of R-22 stated the EPA will continue to review dry-shipped condensing units and the use of high-global warming potential (GWP) HFC refrigerants.

The dry-ship issue goes back to 2010 when the EPA said no new equipment could contain the refrigerant.

However, the industry determined condensing units designed for R-22 could continue to be shipped dry, without refrigerant, as part of aftermarket servicing.

This article was originally published in The ACHR News

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