AHRI's Yurek says global momentum building to phase down HFCs

Following this week's announcement between the United States and India of several joint climate and energy agreements, what is the future of phasing down heat-trapping hydrofluorocarbons, and how will industry work to comply with proposed amendments to the Montreal Protocol? During today's OnPoint, Stephen Yurek, president of the Air-Conditioning, Heating and Refrigeration Institute, discusses his organization's new research collaboration with the Department of Energy and talks about the international momentum surrounding a more aggressive timeline for phasing down HFCs.


Monica Trauzzi: Hello and welcome to OnPoint. I'm Monica Trauzzi. With me today is Stephen Yurek, president of the Air-Conditioning, Heating and Refrigeration Institute. Steve, thanks for joining me.

Stephen Yurek: You're welcome. Glad to be here.

Monica Trauzzi: So Steve, your organization recently partnered with the Department of Energy on a $5.2 million program that will fund research of flammable refrigerants that's part of this international effort to phase out high global warming potential refrigerants. Why is this research program essential to the push to phase out HFCs?

Stephen Yurek: There's two reasons why this is very important. First of all, to get lower global warming potential refrigerants means that those compounds are more volatile, which means they're either flammable or toxic.

Today in our country it is not allowed to install equipment that is flammable in a resident or a commercial application. So what we need this research to do is to give the information to the safety and building code officials so they can make changes to those codes to allow the safe use of these new refrigerants that are either slightly flammable or highly flammable.

Monica Trauzzi: What's the timeline for this research?

Stephen Yurek: We hope to have the majority of the research done by the middle of next year. The reason for that is so that we can make sure that all the code changes can be done so that we can meet the obligations that we're looking at in the amendment.

Another reason it's really important is that some of the pushback that we're getting from some of the developing countries is that they're concerned that they're being asked to use these refrigerants that are flammable and there isn't proper safety codes or building codes out there. So we're working with the Department of Energy and with ASHRAE to make sure we have that information, we can make those changes and meet those challenges to use these refrigerants safely and reduce the global impact of our equipment.

Monica Trauzzi: India's Prime Minister Modi and President Obama in a joint statement this week highlighted the importance of phasing out HFCs as a key component to reducing emissions with India supporting the Montreal Protocol. How significant is this in terms of the pace with which the industry may be expected to reduce emissions?

Stephen Yurek: It's very important because we've been working with the U.S. government for over seven years now trying to get an amendment to the Montreal Protocol to phase down these high global warming potential refrigerants.

This year I think the momentum's building. We have a series of meetings in Vienna coming up here in July with the big meeting of the parties in October in Rwanda. We're hoping with India's support and a similar statement from China earlier this year, as well as conversations with Brazil and some of the other countries that we'll have the support to have an amendment this year to phase down these high GWP refrigerants.

Monica Trauzzi: So this all comes after EPA accelerated the deadline to phase out HFCs with high global warming potential. Can the industry meet that timeline?

Stephen Yurek: Some of the timelines, yes. I think the current process that the EPA uses isn't the most efficient process in that it uses its refrigerant approval process to determine which refrigerants can be used. We'd like more of a market approach, which the amendment to the Montreal Protocol would provide.

The industry is moving in support of these initiatives. We've worked with EPA, but also with the environmentalists to come up with proposals on how we can phase down some of the more highly global warming potential refrigerants.

Monica Trauzzi: So looking ahead to the 2016 elections, you could be in a position where you're dealing with an administration with a very different mindset on reducing emissions. Are you concerned at all that you may not be able to achieve the goals that you have on the Montreal Protocol?

Stephen Yurek: If there's a change in administration I think there will probably be a slowdown of some of this, but at the same time, even without that agreement and even without that amendment this industry is moving forward to develop new technology that is not only more efficient and use less energy, but also that uses more global friendly refrigerants to deliver that comfort that everybody enjoys, especially during these hot summer times.

Monica Trauzzi: This week you'll be testifying before the House Energy and Power Subcommittee on appliance energy standards. What's your perspective generally speaking on this administration's handling of efficiency standards for appliances?

Stephen Yurek: This administration has been working very diligently to move forward with the most highest number of efficiency regulations implemented by any administration since the act was enacted 40 years ago.

Some of this was dealing with a backlog that hadn't been done in the past. Some is the acceleration of these efficiency regulations to meet the president's Climate Action Plan.

In some of the instances where they've taken and not rushed the rulemaking, they've come out with very good rules that this industry supports and other industries supports. Other times in the need to get this stuff done, we have disagreed with how they've done it. In those instances either we got them to change through the regulatory process or we have on two occasions filed lawsuits in federal court to challenge those decisions.

Monica Trauzzi: So with seven months left in the Obama administration, what's your view on how they might approach some of the agenda items that are still left on the table?

Stephen Yurek: Currently they have I believe 15 rules that they want to complete between now and the end of this administration. I believe with the guidance and direction of Secretary Moniz and others that they will work very hard to make sure they get those 15 rules completed. It will keep us busy, this industry as well as the other regulated industries, very busy between now and the end of January of next year.

Monica Trauzzi: We will keep watching and thank you for coming on the show.

Stephen Yurek: Thank you.

Monica Trauzzi: Thanks for watching. We'll see you back here tomorrow.

[End of Audio]



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