The phase-out of HFC’s (Freon or Hydrofluorocarbons) is a measure designed to gradually reduce the impact of refrigerants on the atmosphere’s ozone layer. These substances are widely used in the HVAC sector, but also in domestic and industrial refrigeration (fridges, freezers etc.).
This issue has been known for many years, but even so, the first real action to curb the environmental damage caused by refrigerants was only taken in 2010. Although HFC’s have now replaced the Chlorofluorocarbons (CFC’s) and Hydro-chlorofluorocarbons (HCFC’s) previously used, the GWP (Global Warming Potential) of some of them is still too high.
F-Gas, the European regulations for HFC phase-out
The F-Gas regulations set out one of the European Union’s most important action plans to limit damage to the ozone layer. The regulations (introduced on 9th June 2014 and in force since 1st January 2015) foresee the gradual withdrawal of high GWP refrigerants from the market.
The HFC phase-out process aims to replace the most damaging hydro-fluorocarbons (including R-23, R-508, R-507 and R-404) with low GWP alternatives. As well as outlawing such refrigerants, the action plan aims to adapt air conditioning systems already in use. Furthermore, there is also an incentive to develop new systems that use gases which are less damaging for the ozone layer.
In any case, this transition is difficult to put into practice and will require considerable time. The main reason for this is the difficulty in finding gases that can guarantee a high performance combined with a low GWP. The adaptation of old systems and the building of new ones both involve significant investment, which not all companies are able to afford.
Aims of the F-Gas regulations from 2015 to 2030
Bearing in mind that the F-Gas regulations take these problems into account, the process has been split into several phases. Each point focuses on specific targets to be reached by a certain year. The plan is to significantly reduce the greenhouse effect in 15 years, in other words by 2030.
The HFC phase-out regulations stipulate the withdrawal from the market of systems which use refrigerants with a certain GWP level by certain dates. Details of the plan of action to be implemented from 2015 to 2030 are listed below:
- From 1st January 2015 all electric appliances using HFC’s with a GWP in excess of 150 are banned;
- From 1st January 2020 the sale of all commercial refrigerators and freezers using refrigerants with a GWP over 2500 is banned;
- From 1st January 2022, this legislation will be extended to systems that use refrigerants with a GWP above 150;
- From 1st January 2020, domestic air conditioners with a GWP over 150 are also banned;
- From 1st January 2025, monosplit air conditioning systems (containing less than 3 kg of fluorinated gas) with a GWP of 750 or more will be banned.
The purpose of this quota based plan is to reduce emission levels by 21% compared to 2015 figures by 2030. The availability of F-Gases on the market should fall by 79% by then.
Currently, the HFC phase-out is approximately half-way through the process set out by the EU F-Gas regulations. Despite the fact that pollutant refrigerants have been considerably reduced, it is proving difficult to find satisfactory alternatives.
There is however, no shortage of proposals and natural gases with almost zero emissions (HFO’s) currently seem to present the best option. There is still a lot of work to do in order to achieve the objectives set out in 2015, but the new technologies currently under development are promising.
Translated by Joanne Beckwith