F-gas set to change the face of cooling in Europe, the world
Thursday, April 17, 2014
The Council of the European Union formally adopted the text of the revised F-Gas Regulation this week. This marks the last remaining legal hurdle for the new regulations, and once the translation work is done for all European Union member states, it will pass into EU law, taking effect Jan. 1, 2015.
While the Council's adoption procedure in Brussels was a pretty low-key affair, it marks a significant moment for the cooling industry, in that it sets out a program for moving away from HFCs almost completely.
We should not underestimate what a big deal this is for European refrigeration, air conditioning and heat pumps, since HFCs form the overwhelming majority of the industry's current refrigerant armory. While natural refrigerants — in the shape of carbon dioxide and hydrocarbons — are gaining in traction among supermarkets, they are still dwarfed by the volume of HFCs in the market.
Unlike the United States, R22 is no longer an option for Europe, as the ozone-depleting substances regulations will prevent their sale — even in recycled form — after Dec 31.
If anybody reading outside Europe thinks this will remain a regional decision only, think again. The political forces behind the regulation have made it no secret that they believe this should set an example for the rest of the world to follow.
"This legislation will substantially reduce emissions from these extremely powerful greenhouse gases, while spurring technological development and innovation in the European industry," EU Climate Commissioner Connie Hedegaard said recently. "I also hope that this agreement will give renewed political momentum to come to a global agreement on phasing down fluorinated gases under the Montreal protocol."
Indeed this global exit from HFCs is now on the agenda of the G20 group of nations, and President Barack Obama has addressed it in his climate action plan. Hillary Clinton is also tackling the subject via her United Nations Environment Programme-backed body, the snappily named "Climate and Clean Air Coalition to Reduce Short-Lived Climate Pollutants."
The proposed exit from HFCs by the EU will see a cut of 79 percent in HFC production by 2030, a longer-term plan that is widely thought by the industry to give sufficient time to prepare alternatives — whether that be natural refrigerants or the new generation of HFO.
However, it is the shorter-term plan that provides the more radical prospects, since the regulations will effectively usher in a new generation of lower-GWP refrigerant, while sounding the death-knell for a clutch of popular current ones, such as R404A and R507A.
When we consider that in Europe, R404A accounts for up to half of HFC consumption on a GWP-weighted basis, it is clear that the change required will be a significant one. The way in which this change is being made to place is also significant — via the introduction of a range of bans that set out to reduce the use of high-global-warming refrigerants.
Both environmental and political commentators alike have applauded the way that the European regulators have set out to direct the cooling industry in this way, rather than a more hands-off approach from the regulators.
Following the much-heated debate by politicians, the final plan will see the industry given a reasonable run-in for implementation of their low-GWP strategies. The early focus will be on dissuading use of the above-2500 GWP refrigerants, and thus we will certainly see a range of "lower-GWP" measures, in the shape of HFCs that are not as high in GWP as the ones they replace.
But, nevertheless, plans will need to be made by industry and end-users alike for procurement and operation strategies based on lowering the GWP of the refrigerants they use.
The majority of the bans on higher-GWP refrigerant will relate to new equipment, rather than existing estates, but there is also a "service ban" that calls for prohibition of refrigerants above 2500 GWP in any service and maintenance setting.
The fact that this ban kicks in as soon as 2020 for the sort of large systems used by supermarkets and the like (referred to in the regs as "above 40 tons CO2 equivalent") means that end users with R404A in their estates will need to make some pretty swift plans on replacing it with a lower-GWP solution.
In the U.K., for instance, a number of the national supermarket chains have now set in place major retrofit programs that are seeing R404A systematically replaced throughout the estate.
Perhaps not surprisingly, the refrigerant manufacturers are busy trying to promote the merits of their particular solution, whether it be R407A, R407F or R442A. In practice, these replacements also offer improved efficiency in the system as well as a lower GWP.
A number of industry associations have expressed concern that there are still details to be worked out around the legislation, particularly around training and certification, and there is still clearly work to do on implementation at a national level. But for its part, the European Commission has signalled its intention to see these refrigerant regulations put into practice.
Just this week, the EC issued infringement proceedings against the Polish government for not implementing a national plan on F-gas registration, or a scheme of penalties for companies not complying, presumably in a bid to get the Polish house in order for the revised regulations.
The plans for Europe — and potentially for a global phasedown — are given a new urgency by this month's report from the United Nations climate scientists, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The IPCC calls for "collective and significant global action" to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in order to keep global warming below 2 degrees C.
The report concludes that "the longer we wait, the more expensive and technologically challenging meeting this goal will be." It seems clear in this context that the heat will be on countries around the world to phase down their HFCs as quickly as practical.
And this "practical" element seems likely to be the source of much discussion.
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