Why mechanical engineers and indoor air quality professionals and facility owners need to pay attention

The American Innovation and Manufacturing (AIM) Act of 2020 is widely considered a game-changer for the refrigerant or heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) industry. Some argue that it’s the most significant move to date in the global effort to combat climate change since the 1987 Montreal Protocol. Passed in December last year, this new legislation will allow the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to regulate refrigerants and transition away from hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) to more sustainable alternatives. Overall, the AIM Act empowers EPA to address HFCs in three main areas: i) phase down the production and consumption of EPA’s listed HFCs; ii) manage HFCs and their substitutes, and iii) facilitate the transition to next generation of refrigerant technologies. As the world’s largest economy and one of its most influential countries, U.S. policymaking often sets global trends for evolving environmental standards in different industries. Phasing out HFCs needs to be handled in innovative ways to avoid Europe’s problematic phasedown process.

What Are HFCs?

HFCs are one of the most potent greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. They have 1000-3000 times the global warming potential of CO2, and their use has increased significantly over the past two decades. HFCs are intentionally used in refrigeration and air conditioning (A.C.) due to their stability and inertness, making them excellent working fluids. However, these benefits are counteracted by their high global warming potentials. HFCs slowly replaced ozone-depleting substances (ODS), which were even less environmentally friendly.

HFCs are now being phased)  out in developed countries due to their environmental impacts, and they are being replaced with ammonia (R-717) or carbon dioxide ((CO2 or R-744), and isobutane (R-600a). While these alternative refrigerants have been around for decades, their use has not been common in most markets since HFCs cost less than those climate-friendly alternatives. HFCs are also widely used as aerosol propellants in food packaging, household cleaner, and personal care products.

The AIM Act and HFOs

Thanks to the AIM Act, HFCs are now being phased out and replaced with more climate-friendly alternatives known as hydrofluoroolefins (HFOs), which have less global warming potential (GWP) than HFCs. In May 2021, EPA issued its first regulation to phase down HFCs under the AIM Act to reduce emissions of HFCs by 85% in the next 15 years.

“By phasing down HFCs, which can be hundreds to thousands of times more powerful than carbon dioxide at warming the planet, EPA is taking a major action to help keep global temperature rise in check,” said EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan in a statement.

“The phasedown of HFCs is also widely supported by the business community, as it will help promote American leadership in innovation and manufacturing of new climate-safe products. Put simply- action is good for our planet and our economy,” he added.

The U.S. commitment is part of a broader US-led international effort to combat climate change. In October 2016, 197 countries adopted an amendment to the 1987 Montreal Protocol to phase down HFCs. The countries agreed to reduce the production and consumption of HFCs by 80% in the next three decades, which will avoid emitting 80 billion tons of carbon dioxide equivalent by 2050. Eliminating HFCs is expected to result in a 0.5° Celsius drop in global temperatures by the end of the century. The 2016 agreement included financing to developing countries to help them transition to alternative technologies.

If you need your HVAC systems replaced or modified for your facility to comply with the AIM Act, contact us at the Green Project Solutions Group. Our team of experts know how to design and install the most efficient HVAC and improved indoor air quality equipment on the market and will take care of all the HVAC installation and replacement work for your public agency facilities, commercial or residential property.