I recently received this communiqué from the office of ASHRAE (the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers) — the people who set the standards for the future of our industry. And note that ASHRAE’s news release says the following:

“ASHRAE commends the governments involved in the adoption of the HFC amendment to the Montreal Protocol, which will result in a global phasedown of production and consumption of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs)...The move comes as ASHRAE and leading U.S. government agencies ...launch a multimillion-dollar research program that will establish a more robust fact base about the properties and the use of flammable refrigerants.”

In other words: Here it comes again, a future of refrigerant shortages and incompatible replacements, and this time they may be flammable. Why? According to the release, “Flammable refrigerants hold great promise for reducing the use of HFCs in refrigerants and thereby lowering the environmental impact of air-conditioning and refrigeration systems.”

My question? What “environmental impact” is our industry creating? The fact is our current “solution to ozone depletion” gases are contained in closed systems and they are almost fully capable of recovery for reuse. So why are they creating a future disaster for our industry and for consumers so the latest HVAC and refrigeration systems must again meet with planned obsolescence? Political correctness? There’s money to be made?

Yes, it’s true past refrigerant recovery programs were a bust and tons of CFCs and HCFCs were dumped into the atmosphere rather than recovered and reprocessed (yes, according to contractors in the D.C. area, even in federal buildings). Why? Although the Environmental Protection Agency created laws against refrigerant dumping, there was no enforcement agency. Also, at the start, there were no financial incentives for contractors to recover the refrigerant.

In fact, it actually cost contractors to return the gases, so few bothered to try.

Understand chemical companies churn out hundreds of tons of hazardous chemicals each day but there are no phase-out programs. Our government stores vast amounts of poisonous gases in leaking cans, but, hey, let’s instead focus on the HVACR industry.

How do you create the financial incentives to ensure refrigerant recovery? As I wrote almost 10 years ago, you charge a deposit price on each pound that is then refunded when used refrigerants are returned for reprocessing.

Yes, I believe released CFCs such as R11, R12, R500, etc., can damage the earth’s protective ozone layer (I wrote an award-winning series of articles about this in 1989). Though I knew at the time our industry, with its closed systems, was a very small part of the problem (foam blowers and aerosol manufacturers were really the most culpable), I called for a phase-out of these gases, which happened.

So our industry then switched to the more environmentally friendly HCFCs, some of which (according to the EPA) created absolutely no problem for the ozone layer.

But then in a super burst of political correctness, these were then replaced with HFCs at great cost to consumers and required a lot of industry retooling.

However, these new refrigerants are said to have a much greater “global warming potential” than the old ones, so here we go again!