California Governor Gavin Newsom has signed a new law– SB 1206 – that will accelerate the state’s phasedown of HFCs and increase the adoption of “low and ultra-low GWP alternative refrigerants,” which are classified as less than 150 and less than 10, respectively.
Under SB 1206, which was submitted by Sen. Nancy Skinner (Democrat from Berkeley), the sale or distribution of bulk HFCs or HFC blends that exceed a specified GWP limit is prohibited in California. However, there is an exception for refrigerants that have been reclaimed, which will still be available for servicing existing equipment.
It is believed that this new law will help California meet its climate goals to reduce statewide HFC emissions by 40% by 2030, based on 2013 levels.
California’s new HFC phasedown schedule
As of January 1, 2025, the GWP of refrigerants entering the market in California may not exceed 2,200. This would mean that R404A and R507, which are commonly used in commercial refrigeration systems, would no longer be permitted for sale.
From January 1, 2030, the GWP limit will be reduced to 1,500, which would prohibit the distribution of R410A and HFC blends like R407A and R407C.
By January 1, 2033, the maximum GWP of refrigerants entering the Californian market must not exceed 750, banning the sale of refrigerants like R448A, R449A and R134a.
From January 1, 2025, SB 1206 mandates that only reclaimed refrigerants can be used to recharge or service existing state-owned or -operated stationary equipment requiring HFCs with a GWP of greater than 750.
The law requires the California Air Resources Board (CARB) to publish, by January 1, 2025, its plan to transition the state’s economy, by sector, away from HFCs and to ultra-low or no GWP alternatives – such as natural refrigerants like ammonia/NH3 (R717), CO2 (R744) and propane (R290) – no later than 2035. This plan must include details on incentives, workforce development, and a reclamation system to support the state’s transition.
The CARB is also required by the new law to issue sector-based regulations to support the transition to low and ultra-low GWP alternatives to HFCs “unless it is not practicable for entities in the sector to comply with the requirement.”
The law defines GWP as the 100-year GWP value of a refrigerants.
According to international NGO the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA), California has also allocated US$45 million in new funding to the CARB to support the state’s transition away from HFCs.
This funding will be split between two programs. US$25 million will go to the F-Gas Reduction Incentive Program (FRIP), and US$20 million will go to the Equitable Building Decarbonization Program.
Another bill – AB 209 – directs the California State Fire Marshall to complete updates to state building codes for low-GWP alternatives by July 1, 2023, explained the EIA.
The EIA has applauded California and Skinner in particular for finalizing the new legislation that “goes further than any law before toward eliminating super-pollutant HFCs.”
“This groundbreaking new law paves the way for other states to step up their climate ambition,” said Avipsa Mahapatra, Climate Campaign Lead at the EIA. “Piloting ambitious novel approaches at the state level, with funding to match, would be key to raising the bar on accelerating HFC phase-down nationally.”
“Piloting ambitious novel approaches at the state level, with funding to match, would be key to raising the bar on accelerating HFC phase-down nationally.”Avipsa Mahapatra, EIA
“California is now on a clear path toward nearly eliminating HFCs by 2035,” said Christina Starr, Senior Policy Analyst at the EIA. “This unprecedented new law goes further than any other on the books globally to restrict new HFCs from entering the market. The state is backing this up with significant new financial resources to incentivize and accelerate the transition. It’s a bellwether of how quickly these chemicals are becoming obsolete.”
According to the EIA, SB 1206 is expected to accelerate emission reductions in existing cooling equipment using HFCs by encouraging faster retrofit and replacement with low-GWP alternatives and increasing demand for recovered and reclaimed refrigerants.
California’s HFC emissions
According to the state legislature, HFC leaks from HVAC&R equipment are a major source of greenhouse gas emissions in California, as well as globally. The average commercial refrigeration system leaks 25% of its refrigerant charge annually, which is equivalent to 1,780 metric tons of CO2e.
By replacing high GWP HFCs with low-GWP alternatives, California could “significantly minimize the climate impact of [HFCs],” said the state board.
“It is the intent of the Legislature to support small businesses in the transition of the state’s economy to reclaimed refrigerants and alternatives to hydrofluorocarbons that have no or very low global warming impact as soon as possible,” it added.
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