AHAM seeks HFC ban
OTTAWA – The Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers (AHAM) has announced it is seeking the support of government and safety authorities in both Canada and the United States to voluntarily phase out the use of hydrofluorocarbon (HFC) refrigerants used in household refrigerators and freezers after 2024.
In a statement, the Washington, D.C.-headquartered industry group said this effort builds on its history of environmental stewardship that includes significant gains in energy and water efficiency and the phasing out of ozone-depleting substances without losing these efficiency gains.
In the past, home appliance manufacturers made environmentally beneficial transitions away from CFCs and HCFCs, refrigerants that are also ozone-depleting substances, to non-ozone-depleting HFCs. These moves were made in cooperation with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and other regulators. HFCs have become a concern, however, since they have a relatively high global warming potential. Recognizing this concern, the industry is already well on the way to transitioning away from the use of HFCs in foam insulation by 2020.
The emergence of alternatives with essentially no potential to contribute to global warming will enable the industry to phase out the use of HFCs, given sufficient time to address related safety and engineering impacts on products and factories. Because some of the next generation refrigerants are flammable, a transition will require a cooperative effort of manufacturers, refrigerant suppliers and the safety standards bodies in the U.S. and Canada, as well as the relevant federal safety, environmental and energy agencies in both countries.
“Regardless of the next-generation refrigerant chosen by appliance manufacturers, products must still adhere to stringent energy efficiency requirements, be compatible with product components, be safe for consumers and manufacturing workers and be functional and cost-effective,” AHAM president and chief executive officer Joe McGuire said in a statement.
“That is why the industry has projected that with everyone’s full co-operation, 2024 is the earliest possible transition date. The timetable is longer for room air conditioning products given the added work needed to address viable alternatives and building codes for multi-housing units,” he continued.
Challenges of a transition
A transition away from HFCs will present design and engineering challenges for manufacturers and will require significant engineering updates to refrigerators and freezers.
However, AHAM believes the industry is willing and able to take on this task so refrigerators can continue to be a non-factor in the global emissions of greenhouse gasses. While the primary alternative to HFCs in refrigerators and freezers, isobutane, is used widely around the world and has a very low global warming potential, its use in the U.S. and Canada will require manufacturers to make technically challenging adjustments to products and factories to ensure that refrigerators continue to meet more stringent safety standards than those in other parts of the world.
“Unlike in other countries, current safety standards in the U.S. and Canada place stricter limits on the amount of flammable refrigerants that can be used in a refrigerator,” the association pointed out, adding the technical changes required to keep these products functioning properly under the constraints of those standards could add significant costs to the bulk of refrigerators on the market.
An ongoing commitment
The home appliance industry takes environmental responsibility seriously, is moving forward with the voluntary HFC phase-down and asks others to join in this effort to expedite this transition. AHAM is asking the EPA and Consumer Product Safety Commission as well as their counterpart agencies in Canada to support its voluntary efforts through further evaluation of alternatives to HFCs and protective, justified updates to safety standards to facilitate the use of HFC alternatives.
AHAM Canada, who succeeded the now defunct Canadian Appliance Manufacturers Association in 2012, maintains an office here. Its web site can be found at www.ahamcanada.ca.