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US HFC plans spring DIY leak

42537844_sUSA: President Obama’s plans to control HFCs have sprung a leak with news that the EPA is proposing to allow refrigerant sales to the general public.

Despite laws to restrict refrigerant sales to properly trained, certified individuals, the USA, like the UK, is looking to allow sales of car air conditioning refrigerant to DIYers.

In its plans to update refrigerant management requirements under the US Clean Air Act, the law prohibiting the knowing release of ozone-depleting refrigerants during service, maintenance, repair or disposing of equipment is being extended to include HFCs.

The EPA estimates that around 14 million cans of air conditioning refrigerant are sold to DIYers through the car aftermarket every year. Virtually all of it is R134a, sold in cans of up to 2lb in size, and selling at around $20/lb ($40/kg).

As the world continues to debate a phase-down of HFCs, critics point out that as much as 12,000 tonnes of R134a is sold in this way in the USA each year, or approximately 18 million tonnes CO2e/year. Many see the EPA’s proposals as a way of protecting the car aftermarket and the refrigerant can manufacturers in a market that could be worth up to $500m.

However, the EPA describes the exemption proposal as “a less burdensome option”. It argues that if it was to extend the sales restriction to small cans, individuals who normally service their own MVAC would be required to either seek certification under section 609 or take their car to a technician to be serviced. The EPA estimates that the cost associated with those two actions could be as much as $1.5bn per year. 

The Auto Care Association and the Automotive Refrigeration Products Institute, two associations that represent the majority of manufacturers of small cans in the United States, are said to have referred the EPA to California’s programme and in particular suggested that the EPA consider insisting that manufacturers install self-sealing valves on small cans. These valves, the EPA argues, reduce the release of refrigerant during servicing and may also reduce releases from the can after the servicing is complete.

However, the EPA does not go as far as to propose a refundable deposit on the cans as is the case both in California and the UK.

EPA estimates that a nationwide requirement to use self-sealing valves on all small cans will reduce emissions by more than 657,000 tonnes CO2eq/year. 

The EPA’s proposals have been published in the Federal Register and out for comment until January 8.

In October, the UK government issued a further interpretation of the European F-gas regulations, announcing that, contrary to previous claims, it remained legal to sell F-gases for use in mobile air-conditioning systems to uncertified individuals.

Related stories:

EPA to strengthen HFC laws October 20, 2015
USA: New proposals by the US EPA will see a tightening of HFC refrigerant emission, venting and sales laws. Read more…

Uncertified persons can buy F-gas – October 18, 2015
UK: The UK government has confirmed that F-gas refrigerants can be sold to unqualified persons servicing mobile air conditioning (MAC) systems. Read more…

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