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MORE details have emerged from the Australian federal government’s review of the Ozone Protection and Synthetic Greenhouse Gas Management Act, following the June 27 announcement that it will introduce a statutory phasedown to imports of HFCs (such as R134a) from January 2018.

As SightGlass eNews reported following the phasedown announcement, the government has its sights on the import of cars with R134a air-conditioning systems – and the latest government statement has firmed on this position:

“As a first step in 2018 the Government will consider a ban on R134a in new vehicles to ensure Australians can access new technologies.”

Automotive systems are under the spotlight due to the harsh conditions in which they operate, which naturally makes them more leak-prone, compared with stationary equipment.

This is illustrated by the fact that a disproportionate 36 per cent of all HFC refrigerant imported for service – in other words to replace gas that has leaked – goes to the automotive sector, when automotive accounts for 21 per cent of Australia’s installed refrigerant bank.

Another contributing factor is that automotive already has an accepted alternative in R1234yf that is well established overseas, while not all stationary applications have yet progressed that far down the track.

It must be remembered that this is a phasedown, not a phase-out, so there will be no need to convert R134a systems to R1234yf and R134a will continue to be available for servicing older vehicles long into the future. 

R134a will eventually become scarcer and more expensive as import quotas kick in, but it will not be banned like R12 was.

An official clarification on what technicians should do when faced with a system containing a cocktail of R134a and hydrocarbons will also become available under a proposed policy to “include a list of circumstances where discharge of substances is allowable”.

“This list can help manage perverse outcomes or conflicting regulatory obligations, such as where avoiding emission would lead to safety risks or where emission is required by other standards.”

The ARC will have greater enforcement powers with tougher penalties against a longer list of actions that cause ozone-depleting and high-GWP refrigerant emissions, which the government claims to “give business more confidence they are operating on a level playing field”.

For automotive, an important part of this measure is the “provision for a ban on conversion of equipment where it would operate on a refrigerant with a higher global warming potential than recommended by the Original Equipment Manufacturer”.

The most obvious interpretation of the equipment conversion ban would be to outlaw the retrofitting of R1234yf systems to R134a, removing the temptation to save money by using the less expensive refrigerant.

But another interpretation could be that retrofitting R1234yf systems to hydrocarbon would also be banned, as R1234yf has a GWP of less than 1, while hydrocarbon refrigerant has a GWP of 3. However because hydrocarbons are not a scheduled substance under the Act, this desirable outcome may not come to pass.

The government also intends to name and shame offenders under a “provision for publication of compliance actions”. It will also introduce a “provision for information sharing with other regulatory agencies”.

Prime candidates for information sharing include health and safety authorities and gas examiners.

Other changes intended to make life easier and cheaper for those trying to do the right thing include extending ARCtick license validity to three years and enabling the ticket to be renewed rather than having to reapply every time.

Under the proposal, the number of license types will be reduced and license card formats will be updated to make them appear less like a form of personal identification but clearer as to what the holder is licensed to work on.

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