The current Biden Administration’s renewed focus on climate change has expedited the phasedown of high-GWP refrigerants, kicked off by the passage of the American Innovation and Manufacturing (AIM) Act, part of the December 2020 COVID stimulus bill.
As the AIM Act phase-down schedule progresses, higher-GWP HFC refrigerants, while viable, have the potential to have a limited useful life and ultimately be eliminated. In response to pending changes, Johnson Controls has announced it will use R-454B, a mildly flammable refrigerant, in order to exceed key regulatory requirements.
Key environmental goals
This is a significant step toward Johnson Controls reaching key environmental, social and governance (ESG) goals, including: helping customers achieve a 16 percent reduction in emissions by 2030 and achieving net-zero carbon emissions before 2040, says the company.
The decision was made as the HVAC industry is preparing to phase out high-GWP refrigerants
Johnson Controls has selected R-454B to replace R-410A in all its ducted residential and commercial unitary products, as well as air-cooled scroll chillers, after extensive research, testing and evaluation of capacity, efficiency, safety, availability, longevity, global warming potential (GWP), ozone depletion potential (ODP) and other metrics. The decision was made as the HVAC industry is preparing to phase out high-GWP refrigerants, such as R-410A, which are now being formally addressed by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) through the recently passed AIM Act.
Commercial unitary products
The EPA’s pending regulations could stipulate that manufacturers begin producing equipment utilizing low-GWP refrigerants prior to Jan. 1, 2025, for residential and light commercial unitary products and Jan. 1, 2024, for new chiller products.
The mild-flammability (A2L) aspect of new refrigerants, including R-454B, requires that safety standards and individual state building codes must first be updated prior to the introduction of these refrigerants into the market. The process to update codes and standards is well under way and should be completed for many jurisdictions prior to the Jan. 1, 2025, proposed transition date for stationary HVAC equipment (e.g., unitary). Extensive, multi-year research and testing has been conducted by ASHRAE, AHRTI and others to ensure A2Ls can be safely deployed. Proper training will be critical to ensure the safe use, transportation and storage of A2L refrigerants.
Refrigerant transition dates
Existing R-410A equipment built prior to the EPA’s proposed manufacturing cutoff dates can be sold
Johnson Controls is committed to ensuring the safe transition to R-454B by providing in-depth training for its contractors and technicians prior to the pending refrigerant transition dates, according to the company. The pending mandates from the EPA and the California Air Resources Board (CARB) for refrigerants with less than 750 GWP will likely only apply to the sale of new residential and commercial unitary equipment as well as air-cooled scroll chillers.
Existing R-410A equipment built prior to the EPA’s proposed manufacturing cutoff dates can be sold and installed indefinitely, so there will be little to no impact on contractors and customers from a R-410A equipment standpoint. Once EPA completes the allocation phase of the AIM Act, it will next address reclaim and service practices; therefore, contactors could see future mandates on the use of reclaimed refrigerants as well as enhanced requirements for leak detection and record keeping.
Refrigerant management practices
“R-454B is more compatible with existing R-410A equipment, requires less charge and can reduce HVAC systems’ energy use by up to 5%,” says Chris Forth, Executive Director of Regulatory, Codes and Environmental Affairs, Ducted Systems, Johnson Controls. “These similar operating characteristics will make for a smoother transition for distributors, wholesalers, contractors and owners, resulting from the commonality of critical system components and their very similar operating pressures and temperatures.”
These similar operating characteristics will make for a smoother transition for distributors"
“It’s vital that contractors and equipment owners establish proper refrigerant management practices and invest in available flammable refrigerant training,” Forth adds. More specifically, Johnson Controls recommends that contractors review the AHRI Safe Refrigerant Transition Task Force best practices and complete the ACCA A2L refrigerant training before new equipment enters the market (updated ASHRAE 15.2P training is expected by the end of 2021).
flammable refrigerants implementation
Johnson Controls also recommends that contractors strengthen their current refrigerant management practices: Ensure technicians are EPA section 608-certified for the equipment they will be servicing, train technicians not to mix different recovered refrigerants in the same cylinder, implement robust refrigerant tracking and documentation practices and establish a reliable supply chain for R-410A reclamation before 2025.
Johnson Controls has been engaged in the safety standards and building codes development process from the beginning of the low-GWP, flammable refrigerants implementation. Johnson Controls engagement included safety standards such as ASHRAE 34,15; the pending 15.2P standard; as well as UL 60335-2-40 and UL 60335-2-89.
ASHRAE safety standards
R-454B offers the best outlook for long-term viability as phasedown regulations continue
“Our first priority has been and will continue to be safety, and thus, we help sponsor and engaged in the research and testing efforts conducted through the Air-Conditioning, Heating and Refrigeration Technology Institute (AHRTI) and ASHRAE,” says Forth. Johnson Controls also engaged in the adoption of the UL and ASHRAE safety standards via the national model codes, such as the International Code Council (ICC) and the International Association of Plumbing and Mechanical Officials (IAPMO).
Choosing R-454B is a long-term play for Johnson Controls. If the EPA AIM Act phase-down falls below the current 750 GWP limit proposed for stationary AC/unitary equipment, some A2L refrigerants could be phased out quickly, whereas the choice by Johnson Controls to utilize R-454B could, under the same scenario, be viable until 2034. With the lowest GWP of all EPA SNAP-approved refrigerants (GWP of 466), R-454B offers the best outlook for long-term viability as phasedown regulations continue, says the company.
Aggressive efficiency standards
The HVAC industry is in constant flux. For an OEM that means continually introducing innovative, new features into systems, developing new products that meet aggressive efficiency standards and, in this case, environmental regulations to phase out high-GWP refrigerants. “Transitions of this scale are not new to Johnson Controls, but it does require flexibility and equipment redesigns to utilize R-454B,” says Forth.
“However, because the properties (pressures, temperatures, etc.) of R-454B are very similar to the existing R-410A, the actual performance testing did not present the same degree of challenge as past transitions. Johnson Controls has been at the forefront of environmental protection,” says Forth. “Today, our commitment to sustainability is stronger than ever, and it is reflected in the choices we make every day.”