Years of advocacy culminated in a bipartisan House measure being signed into law known as the American Innovation and Manufacturing (AIM) Act of 2020. This legislation will serve as an innovator to how the HVAC industry will address climate change through a responsible and gradual phasedown of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs). HFCs have important applications as refrigerants in air conditioning and refrigeration equipment, but these chemicals also have a high global warming potential (GWP) that can impact the environment if emitted into the atmosphere.
In 2024, we will see the initial phasedown steps of the AIM Act take effect that will significantly reduce HFC production and import amounts in the United States over the coming years. This timely blog post aims to provide you with an overview of what the AIM Act is, how it will impact both manufacturers and technicians in our industry, and what you need to know to prepare your business for the upcoming changes.
The History Behind the AIM Act
In December 2020, the United States Congress passed the AIM (American Innovation and Manufacturing) Act, designed to phase out the use of climate-damaging hydrofluorocarbon (HFC) gases in refrigeration and cooling systems.
The Montreal Protocol
The act emerged from international agreements made under the Montreal Protocol, a 1987 global agreement designed to address the depletion of the ozone layer. The United States was a signatory to the Montreal Protocol, but not to later agreements designed to address greenhouse gases.
The Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol
The Kigali Amendment is a crucial agreement that aims to protect the environment and reduce the usage of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) across the world. This amendment was adopted in the year 2016 in Kigali, Rwanda, and serves as an addition to the Montreal Protocol.
The goal of the Kigali Amendment is to phase down the production and use of HFCs by shifting to more eco-friendly alternatives. The Amendment sets specific targets for reducing the consumption of HFCs, ultimately leading to up to an 80-85% reduction in their production by 2047.
The importance of the Kigali Amendment lies in its potential to drastically reduce global warming and secure a sustainable future for our planet. It is a significant step towards promoting a greener world and reducing our carbon footprint, and it is vital that countries around the world honor their commitments to this agreement.
The AIM Act
The AIM Act saw bipartisan support in Congress, reflecting a growing consensus that urgent action was needed to address climate change. Passing this act was “the biggest action [the United States] Congress has taken to meet the climate crisis,” according to the National Resources Defense Council, an environmental advocacy group that worked for the legislation’s passage.
By 2050, the AIM Act is expected to reduce greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to 4.6 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide, a significant step towards mitigating the effects of climate change and protecting the planet for future generations.
What is GWP?
The AIM Act will drastically impact the industrial sector as it regulates the use of hydrofluorocarbon (HFC) refrigerants. As a result, a wide range of equipment, including refrigeration and air conditioning systems, will be affected by this act. It’s essential to understand the implications of Global Warming Potentials (GWP) — which estimates the amount of heat trapped in the atmosphere over a set period of time caused by the emissions of certain chemicals — and the impact these changes will have on both the environment and the industry itself.
Understanding the HFC Phasedown Amidst the AIM Act
Before analyzing what 2024 holds in regards to the HFC phasedown, we must be aware of the events that preceded.
The phasedown of HFCs like R-410A and R-404A began on January 1, 2022, as such refrigerants are known to be harmful to the ozone layer and have high GWP. Per ACHR News, 2022 saw a 10% reduction of said refrigerants, while 2024 will see them cut down by 60% by the EPA. Under the AIM Act, Congress afforded the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) full authority to begin phasing down high-GWP HFCs — with the legislation peaking with an 85% cut by 2037.
By 1/1/24, the EPA will potentially begin restricting the use of R-410A and R-134a in comfort-cooling chillers if approved. Shall this move forward, contractors must begin using refrigerants with a GWP of less than 750. By 1/1/25, R-410A will potentially be limited in new rooftop and split settings; while VRF systems will be targeted with a 1/1/26 deadline.
Future HFC Alternatives to Consider
To stay ahead and prepare for future changes, companies must stay up-to-date with new technologies and regulations, and seek out sustainable alternatives to meet their refrigeration and air conditioning needs.
As popular HFCs are phased out, new ones with lower GWP are being introduced. In the coming years, be on the lookout for A2L refrigerants. These refrigerants are all approved by the EPA’s Significant New Alternatives Policy (SNAP) program. Under this program, the EPA evaluates factors like flammability, toxicity, safety, and more before approving the refrigerant for public use.
As we continue to navigate and adapt to new regulatory measures, it’s crucial to have a thorough understanding of the AIM act and the equipment affected.
The Risks of A2L Refrigerants Amidst the AIM Act and What Contractors Should Know
If you’re wondering if your older equipment will work with A2L refrigerants, the answer isn’t so bright. Equipment utilizing high-GWP refrigerants like R-410A will not work with A2L refrigerants, as safety will be prioritized going forward. However, with safety comes caveats.
In light of the AIM Act, the one major risk that HVAC contractors should be mindful of is the flammability of A2L refrigerants. A2L refrigerants are known to be mildly flammable, therefore HVAC contractors must be trained appropriately to handle such.
Luckily, A2L equipment comes prepared with failsafe mechanisms, including special labeling and a refrigerant detection system (RDS). The RDS will flag if there are any refrigerant leaks — enacting safety measures like enabling fans and blowers to dilute the leak and ultimately prevent fires from breaking out.
Partaking in the HFC Phasedown with Donnelly Mechanical
At Donnelly Mechanical, we understand that the HFC phasedown amidst the AIM Act may be stressful for some. Luckily, we’ve got your back. With over 30 years of experience, Donnelly has become the #1 commercial HVAC service provider for New York City. Our trained technicians are ready, willing, and able to assist with all your refrigerant needs as the AIM Act continues to progress.