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California introduces first-in-nation rules to reduce climate “super pollutants” from commercial refrigeration, air conditioning equipment

The California Air Resources Board recently approved first-in-the-nation rules to curb the impact of hydrofluorocarbon (HFC) refrigerants. HFCs are synthetic gases that are used in a variety of applications, but mainly to replace ozone-depleting substances in aerosols, foams, refrigeration and air-conditioning.

HFCs are considered to be super pollutants because they trap heat in the atmosphere thousands of times more effectively than carbon dioxide, the most prevalent greenhouse gas.

California is required to reduce HFC emissions 40% below 2013 levels by 2030 under Senate Bill 1383. The regulations approved by CARB are the most comprehensive of their kind in the world.

The new rules affect commercial and industrial, stationary refrigeration units, such as those used by large grocery stores, as well as commercial and residential air conditioning units. This equipment often leaks refrigerants over time. In other cases, emissions are released when the equipment is dismantled and destroyed at the end of its useful life.

CARB estimates the regulations will achieve annual reductions by approximately 3.2 million metric tons of GHGs in 2030 and, with a cumulative reduction of more than 62 million metric tons by 2040, the equivalent of taking more than 12 million cars off the road.

Prior to 2018, California was the only state that regulated HFCs. Sixteen other states have now passed legislation, based on California’s rules, or are in the process of doing so.

The new rules signal the beginning of the first refrigerant recycling program to put responsibility for compliance with manufacturers. CARB will now move forward immediately with a new rulemaking limiting purchase or use of new high-global warming potential (GWP) refrigerant, and a partnership with other states and the federal government to design a national program. California will then work towards 100% refrigerant recovery and recycling.

Technology exists that makes it possible for new facilities to use refrigerants with very low-GWP today, such as carbon dioxide or ammonia. Additionally, the next generation of synthetic refrigerants with lower GWPs are under rapid development. Starting in 2022, new facilities will be required to use refrigerants that can reduce their emissions by up to 90%. The intent of the new rules is to eliminate the use of very high-GWP refrigerants in every sector that uses non-residential refrigeration systems. Compliance begins for most home air conditioning equipment in 2025.


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