Experts react to European proposals to tighten the F-gas regulation

With new proposals for the F-Gas Regulation (see box later in this article), the European Commission wants to go one step further to reduce the use of HFCs in particular. What does this mean for refrigeration and climate technology? Three experts give their opinion.

Text: Martijn Louws

Henk-Jan Steenman, refrigerant specialist at Westfalen Gassen Holland
“Westfalen Gassen offers both synthetic and natural refrigerants. In that respect, we are ready, but is that also the case for the installers? If you switch to refrigerants with lower GWP, you quickly fall into, for example, A2L refrigerants, and this requires a different approach. Often ‘the lower the GWP value, the higher the flammability and thus the stricter requirements’. The bigger guys have long known where it was going and have already foreseen it, but the medium-sized and smaller companies are so busy with the day-to-day operations that they are not yet sufficiently involved in this ”.

‘We must act now’
“I understand the latter, but the steps must be taken with this new proposal now. Think of development as a flywheel: it starts slowly, but gets faster and faster. So join in, you have to act now. For example, a certain filling limit applies to A2L Refrigerants. Often additional safety measures must also be taken such as natural ventilation, alarm systems and safety valves that close automatically in the event of a leak. Installers must be trained in this. I spoke recently with a customer who was happy that his company switched to CO₂ years ago. They now have the right in-house knowledge that they can move forward with. “

R410A may be banned for single splits from 2025.

Rising pressure on the refrigerant market
“There is a pure task ahead of the market. You now also see many air conditioners and heat pump systems with R134A (GWP: 1,430) and R410A (2,088) on their way into the market. They are recommended with a good offer, but we do not want that. In the event of a leak, the end customer is then confronted with high refilling costs. It is also possible that the refrigerant is no longer available. Installers need to protect their customers from this. They must recommend installations that contain an environmentally friendly refrigerant that is easily accessible and therefore future-proof. After all, the new proposal is creating increasing pressure on the refrigerant market. It can therefore just happen that prices go up enormously, as we also saw in 2017 and 2018. Especially now that there are also proposals for stricter supervision of the market, which must ensure a reduction in illegal trade. ”

Average GWP around 300
“Over time, e.g. around 2030, the market will have to move to refrigerants with an average GWP value of around 300 if we are to be able to market the same amount of HFCs and HFCs / HFOs. From 1 January 2025, single splitters with a refrigerant volume of less than three kilograms may only be filled with F gases with a GWP value of less than 750. This means that R32 is still possible, but R410A is not. I also see that the demand for refrigerants like R448 and R449 with a GWP value of +/- 1,400 is falling and shifting to R455A and R454C. Both have a GWP value of less than 150, but are A2L refrigerants. “

Natural refrigerants and HFOs
“I also see many opportunities for natural refrigerants such as propane and for HFOs for split systems. For example, R32 will be excluded if the ban enters into force in 2027 for split air conditioners and heat pumps with a capacity of less than 12 kW, filled with F gases with a GWP value higher than 150. R744 (carbon dioxide) and R717 (ammonia) are frontrunners , when it comes to natural refrigerants, and there is growing interest in propane, such as split air conditioners. HFOs R1234ze and R1234yf are also on the rise. But there is still a PFAS discussion on these refrigerants in Europe. “

European Commission proposal

Earlier this year, the European Commission announced two new regulations. One is about tightening the F-gas regulation, the other tightening regulation of ozone-depleting substances. Read in this article more on the content of these proposals.

René van Gerwen, board member of KNVvK and owner of the engineering company Entropycs
‘In fact, I am angry, disappointed and upset and ashamed of the sector. About thirty years ago, I was already doing studies on the effects and safety of natural refrigerants such as propane. At that time, this already proved to be a very efficient and safe refrigerant to use, taking into account very limited and practical safety measures. But nothing was ever done about it, we clung to synthetic refrigerants. And now that the European Commission is proposing a stricter version of the regulation, everyone is back on their feet, as with previous versions. It’s not true, we have just leaned back too much in recent years. “

Not a strong argument
“I also don’t think the argument is strong. Yes, the cooling technology is already working at its peak. That is certainly true, and the subject is also quite complicated. Installing a refrigeration installation, for example, is many times more difficult than installing a central heating boiler, but it does not have to be an obstacle to innovation. One cannot leave everything as it is as people seem to believe. Moreover, installations with natural refrigerants are actually no more complicated than installations with synthetic refrigerants. And we can handle that flammability and explosion risk just fine. Think of the patio heater, grill, LPG or a camping stove; security is perfectly manageable. “

In commercial refrigeration systems, natural refrigerants have been on the rise for some time

‘The market is money driven’
“I think money plays an overly crucial role. There is not much money to be made on natural refrigerants, unlike synthetic refrigerants. A kilo of synthetic refrigerant quickly costs 100 euros, but for a few euros you buy a kilo of natural refrigerant. It makes a difference. The market is money driven and that is why people are so angry right now. That, of course, is not to say, it is mainly wrapped up in the theme of security. But in my opinion, it is not justified, the companies that have already chosen propane are very successful and can not cope with the amount of work. “

End of R410A
‘The proposal makes it clear that it will soon stop for certain refrigerants. Take R410A, it is clear that the European Commission does not see this refrigerant as the solution, but as part of the problem. And I agree, we should have released the R410A much earlier. So I can go a little further. Those HFOs, it’s actually not possible anymore. But because the proposal only takes into account the greenhouse effect, there is unfortunately still a future for these refrigerants. While I think one should also look at other things, such as PFAS. ”

PFAS on the list of banned substances?
PFAS is a very broad group of substances that also include HFCs and HFOs. Some of this group of substances are very difficult to degrade by nature and are harmful to health. Therefore, there are five countries within the EU, including the Netherlands, that want to place the entire PFAS group on the European list of banned chemicals by 2025. A good thing, in addition to this stricter regulation, would further accelerate the movement towards natural refrigerants. “

Ruud van Dissel, CEO of Bitzer Benelux
“The market is developing rapidly. A lot is being invested in change. The F-Gas Regulation has certainly contributed to this. This has led to innovation, to a movement towards low-GWP refrigerants. But by adding a little extra to it, the pressure increases a lot. Is it possible? And affordable? Take high-temperature heat pumps as an alternative to gas-fired boilers. They are necessary for the energy conversion. At present, the use of chemical refrigerants is possible, and applications with natural refrigerants require longer development times. I just want to say that intermediate steps are sometimes necessary within the whole energy transition. ”

Crew and knowledge required
“Where the heat demand used to be plus 60 degrees Celsius, it is now sometimes plus 160 degrees Celsius. It requires a lot and the investment capacity is limited. Between 80 and 100 people work for us in R&D and they have to solve a lot of problems. Worldwide. And what do you think it costs to develop new compressors for new refrigerants and applications? It is expensive. While the market demands affordable installations. And it does not even talk about the hands of the installers. So you can choose even stricter rules, but is there enough manpower and sufficient knowledge to get these installations up and running? ”

Low-hanging fruit
“Perhaps we as a sector should have started thinking about it sooner. But hey, that was talked about afterwards. We are now in the middle of it and need to find the answers. And it happens. The low-hanging fruit is taken when it comes to eg R32 and R410A, the alternatives are also available. Propane works well in a single-split system. Take for example the supermarkets, they often switch to CO₂. And with the larger systems in buildings, you can alternatively pump water instead of refrigerants. You can combine this with a propane cooler on the roof. It may be an indirect system, but it does not mean much in terms of return. “

‘See everything in perspective’
“The thermodynamic properties of propane (R290) are very favorable, and the systems are undoubtedly competitive with or more favorable than the current installations. But the transition to such a system is difficult. it is not easy. I also think we need to put it in perspective. In the EU, F-gases today account for 2.5 percent of total greenhouse gas emissions. Seen in that light, one can not just assume that the market is changing for a while. It costs time and money. After all, every natural refrigerant has its own use and scope. Everything must be geared for this, including the components of such an installation. That is why it is something of a challenge. ”

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