Low global warming potential (GWR) refrigerants were the hot topic at this morning’s ‘Cool Talks’ breakfast briefing, jointly hosted by A-Gas and the Institute of Refrigeration (IOR), with a full attendance and packed agenda.
The conference, held at A-Gas’s UK headquarters in Bristol, outlined the latest movements towards implementing low GWP refrigerants across the sector, with the freshly-revised fluorinated gas (F-gas) regulation putting the refrigerant business under increasing pressure to switch to more environmentally-friendly alternatives.
As detailed by the British Refrigeration Association (BRA), the modified F-Gas regulation, which came into force in January 2015 across Europe, has signalled the beginning of a ‘cap and phase down’ stage and is restricting the distribution and use of these gases in two ways.
Firstly, the amount of F-gases allowed onto the European market has and will continue to be significantly reduced – decreasing 79% in total by the year 2030. The volume is measured in carbon dioxide (CO2) equivalent tonnes, so the hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) with the highest GWP will be tackled and phased out first before moving onto to lower-risk refrigerants.
Secondly, the BRA will implement a complete usage ban on new centralised refrigeration systems from 2022. This affects systems with a capacity of 40kW or more being installed using refrigerants with a GWP of 150 or more. Additionally, from 2020 a ban will be placed on servicing existing commercial refrigeration systems containing refrigerants with a GWP of 2500 or higher.
So what impact will this legislation have on businesses and end-users in the refrigeration industry?
A-Gas Managing Director, John Ormerod, signified, “The F-gas Regulations are changing how we work in the industry and the introduction of low GWP refrigerants are at the heart of this. The challenges ahead are significant and it’s going to have a big impact in the next few years.” The industry has to move a long way down the GWP curve to stay ahead of the F-gas phase out.
In hard numbers, Ormerod outlined that the amount of F-gases allowed in the European market next year will decrease by 20%. Following that in 2018, Ormerod declares a “big shock” will take place, whereby a 27% cutback will affect imports. The percentage phase outs will continue until 2030, where the industry will see a total of 79% of F-Gases eliminated from the market.
As Ormerod explained, “Something significant is going to happen every year from now on. But with 40-50% of the supply already being taken out of the market by 2018 and the effect of quota phase down on prices, it’s hard to see that this is not going to result in shortages of refrigerants.”
As it stands, there are currently no commercially available refrigerants below 150 GWP on the market today to act as suitable replacements. There are some CO2, hydrocarbon and ammonia (NH3) alternatives, but these come with their own consequences. R404A, which is the most commonly used refrigerant across the industry, has the highest GWP – around 4,000 times the amount that CO2 contains.
“We need to get away from these types of refrigerants as quickly as possible,” Ormerod detailed. “There are some options to halve GWP impacts relatively easily, but the jump to below 150 GWP (the legal requirement to be enforced by 2022) is the most difficult one and brings challenges.”
Ormerod highlighted three main obstacles to arise from the revised regulations, with flammability and safety being an important factor. “Historically, this has been a black and white area,” he explained. “It’s either flammable or it’s not. But this new drive of low GWP refrigerants has become a grey area – for example, the R32 that’s available at the moment, is a grey area. It’s partially flammable. The further you go down the curve, GWPs between 500-600 are almost impossible to keep non-flammable.” With 40-50% of the supply already being taken out of the market by 2018 and the effect of quota phase down on prices, it’s hard to see that this is not going to result in shortages of refrigerants.
“The R32 needs to be treated in the same way as propane, which I don’t think is a particularly big leap – most companies are already transporting flammable gases and it won’t put you out of your comfort zone.” New informative legislation on this is set to be released from the BRA towards the end of this year.
Continuing, he said, “Leak prevention is more important now than it has been in the past. Leak checking and leak prevention will become more important to stay ahead of legislation.” In addition to these preventative measures, the way companies label F-gases is set to change, with the GWP and its CO2 equivalency to prevail on the packaging. Ormerod puts this down to “larger customers demanding more information on CO2 footprints.”
The impacts across the sector will be numerous and complex. The drop in availability of environmentally-friendlier alternative F-gases will undoubtedly send waves across the sector, as more companies struggle to adhere to looming legislation. Of course, drastic price hikes for these low GWP alternatives were also mentioned as a potential worrying trend for many corporations.
But these regulations are already beginning to take effect and the 14 years’ transition phase between now and a total clampdown on F-gas uses by 2030 is in full swing. Both the IOR and A-Gas seek to help companies within the industry understand and implement the new policies to make the transition that bit smoother.