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US EPA has approved Hydrocarbon Refrigerants
The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has approved three hydrocarbon refrigerants as acceptable substitutes in household and small commercial refrigerators and freezers. The decision finally opens the US market so far largely monopolised by the fluorinated industry to climate friendly technologies that have a 20-year track record of successful application in other world regions. The decision comes after many years of efforts by some industry players such as A.S. Trust & Holdings that has invented the now approved hydrocarbon refrigerant R441A, but also end users such as Unilever that has piloted hydrocarbon ice-cream freezers in the US.

“Replacing refrigerants such as CFC-12, HCFC-22, or HFCs will reduce greenhouse gas emissions by an estimated 600,000 metric tons by 2020, equal to the emissions from the annual electricity use of nearly 75,000 homes, and will help protect people's health and the environment”, reads the US EPA announcement.

The long-awaited decision is generally seen as a good step in the right direction that would allow a gradual transition to hydrocarbons, while it is hoped that in the future the use of hydrocarbons be approved in additional applications, such as room or motor vehicle air conditioning. Moreover, the move is expected to trigger more companies worldwide to explore hydrocarbon refrigerants and discover that these refrigerants are highly energy efficient.

On the downside, the new rule poses stringent limitations regarding the hydrocarbon refrigerant charges allowed. It includes a 57gr charge limit per refrigerant circuit in domestic refrigerator/freezers applications. In contrast, a comparable international standard sets the limit at 150gr. This charge limits may prove challenging to meet, especially given the large size of refrigerators in the US. Some companies have found ways to meet this requirement but for others it will take more time and investment to find a way around it.

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