Refrigerant regulation to limit climate change

Regulation (EU) No. 517/2014 on fluorinated greenhouse gases has been in place since 01 January 2015 and repeals Regulation (EU) No. 842/2006 on certain fluorinated greenhouse gases. The new F-Gases Regulation contains, among others, prohibitions of use for F-gases and marketing bans on products containing F-gases. With No. 517/2014 , the emissions of fluorinated greenhouse gases is to be reduced to about 35 million tonnes CO2 equivalent by the year 2030.

F-gases include almost all prevailing common and used refrigerants for refrigeration and air conditioning technology. Some of these refrigerants will be prohibited at certain points in time (see table), others will be made significantly more expensive by way of a “phase-down”.

The European Parliament has been trying to reduce the greenhouse effect with, among others, the “F-Gas Regulation”, for years. The reduction in the amount shall be performed step by step until 2032 when only 14 percent of the amount that will be allowed to enter the market than on average from 2009 to 2014 – and that being with a growing refrigeration and air conditioning market.

Year

2015

2016-17

2018-20

2021-23

2024-26

2027-29

2030

Reduction by

100%

7%

37%

55%

69%

76%

79%

To begin with, the F-Gas Regulation has resulted in an abrupt increase in the price for refrigerants since 2017. The price history of the refrigerants normally used for air conditioning units at the same time more than doubled in the period from March to the end of 2017. This trend is continuing.

Infographic: Price Increase R410A

Some refrigerants for cooling systems were no longer available at the end of 2017 due to the quota system of the “phase down”. The question of liability remains open. If today a specialist plans a system with high filling capacities of a refrigerant with a high GWP, he must assume with his expertise that it will no longer be available in the medium term or will at least become extremely expensive. Operators who have not been adequately advised in this matter are in a position to seek damages even years later. At least this is how some legal practitioners currently see the situation.

What can be done?

Instead of the refrigerant flowing from the exterior device to the last interior device in pipes as is the case with direct evaporation systems, with cold water generators and heat pumps, it is used only in the generator itself. This way, the filling capacities are considerably lower and possible leakages are reduced. Changing over to an alternative refrigerant with a lower GWP can be one possibility – however, the devil is in the details in this case, for all climate refrigerants with a GWP lower than 1000 (in future this is to be much lower than 1000) are combustible (or reveal other negative properties).

Infographic: Currently Common Climate Refrigerants

By reducing the amount of refrigerant allowed to be sold, an enormous increase in the price per kilogram of refrigerant is expected. Prohibitions of the use of certain F-gases additionally cater for an increase in refrigerants with low GWPs (Global Warming Potential) to be expected. These are primarily “natural” refrigerants such as CO2 or propane. However, these refrigerants entail unpleasant properties such as very high pressure levels (CO2) or combustibility (propane).

These properties as well as the expected increase in the price per kilogram suggest a trend towards low filling capacities. In the future, it will be rather difficult to execute units with highly complex piping systems in an economical way. Cold water generators where the cooling load is transferred to a carrier system such as water are a conceivable alternative.