Fluorinated greenhouse gases – review of EU rules (2015-20)
PROPOSAL FOR A REGULATION OF THE EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT AND OF THE COUNCIL
on fluorinated greenhouse gases, amending Directive (EU) 2019/1937 and repealing Regulation (EU) No517/2014
Feedback period 2022
Position paper by the Refrigerants, Naturally! Association
27 June 2022
Revising the Regulation (EU) 517/2014 represents a considerable opportunity for setting the framework for climate-friendly and ecologically sound alternatives to F-gases. The accelerated phase out of F-gases and the phase-in of natural refrigerants result in significant climate and environmental benefits which need to be realised to meet the targets of the Paris Agreement, enhanced and ambitious mitigation reductions and safeguarding significant ecological co-benefits.
Refrigerants, Naturally! welcomes the increased climate ambition of the proposed regulation compared to the current version, now aligning the phase-down with EU climate targets. However, Refrigerants, Naturally! calls to further strengthen the endeavours of the revised regulation:
· accelerate the F-gas phase-down in line with the 1.5˚C target
· implement a sectoral ban for all F-gases in new equipment for heat pumps, room air-conditioners, chillers, and several other specific refrigeration applications
· integrate the Green Deal Zero Pollution Target: Phase out F-gases to avoid an increase in PFAS in the environment
· clearly promote the uptake of natural refrigerants as alternatives to F-gases without negative environmental impacts
· timely introduction of the latest international and European refrigeration, air conditioning and heat pump safety standards in the EU
· ensure the mandatory competence on natural refrigerants in certification programmes and promote the training skills of all technicians, previously certified and new
Accelerated F-gas phase down and limiting the impact of F-gas emissions
Cooling and heating technologies already available on the market allow for stricter GWP-limits than proposed in the current proposal and for discouraging all F-gases, as the safe use of natural refrigerants without harmful effects on the environment is feasible for nearly all applications. It is foreseeable that in the future all RACHP systems will use refrigerants with negligible GWP without F-gases. There is no technical reason this would not be achieved. Whilst for some sub-sectors such an outcome would require a change in system architecture, for the majority the transition would be relatively simple. Similarly for some sub-sectors there are transition costs to realign system designs to suit the low GWP F-gas free alternatives. Transition costs are minimized overall through a swift transition, which ends the use of (high GWP) F-gases as soon as possible. Through this swift transition the climate and environmental benefits are maximised. We need to act in correspondence to the urgency of the climate and environmental crisis we are facing.
Sectoral ban for all F-gases in new equipment: Heat pumps, room air-conditioners, chillers, and several other specific refrigeration applications are appliances and systems where alternatives with low GWP natural refrigerants are available in the EU and globally. We are requesting a ban of high and moderate GWP refrigerants for these appliances and demand F-gas free alternatives as default for new appliances. A sectoral ban provides a clear signal to the market, it is administratively effective to implement and faces a minimal risk of circumvention. Notably, the market for heat pumps needs to grow massively in the coming years to reach climate goals and energy independence and there is no rational reasoning to suggest that a ban of F-gases would have any deleterious impact on this growth. Indeed, in absence of such a ban, the exponential growth in heat pump use will place many harmful refrigerants on the market in new equipment, with lifetimes of 7 to 20 years and would unnecessarily lock in high and medium GWP refrigerants for decades to come. Without a ban it is not realistic to assume, that industry players will transit to natural refrigerant as environmentally friendly and long-term solution on their own. Without a ban the market forces of the F-gas selling industries, will continue to dominate, use their influence on sales channels and markets, and take the largest share of the market to continue selling HFCs and HFOs. There is no mechanism in place or in-sight where sellers of F-gases and F-gas containing equipment are held responsible for the climate and environmental damage these substances will cause on climate, ecosystems, and human health. Through a ban, the market can develop in a clear and consistent and cleaner direction, directly transiting to natural refrigerants with significant climate and broader environmental benefits.
Additional damage to the environment through the effects of the use of F-gases, including HFCs and HFOs, of these rapidly increasing market segments can be avoided. There are numerous manufacturers and models of all size with natural refrigerants, including both CO2 and hydrocarbons, in the market, demonstrating their market and technical viability. A ban of F-gases in this segment will advance the EU market position of the mostly medium-sized European manufacturers as the global phase-down under the Kigali Agreement begins to come into force. Moreover, instigating a wholesale switch to F-gas free refrigerants today will avoid a more complex and contentious shift in the years to come as the sector multiplies in size, diversity of products, number of stakeholders and dependence upon technicians. The timing of such bans should allow the market to further develop and optimise their equipment with alternative refrigerants and ensure that production and installing resources can meet future market volume needs. For some applications (room air conditioners, air-to-water heat pumps), such alternatives are available today; for others, the industry would require a period to adjust for their market fully readiness over, e.g., up to 3-5 years; the primary reasons being development of suitable compressors and evolution of in-house knowledge and experience.
Any exemptions for reclaimed and recycled F-gases for servicing existing refrigeration equipment beyond 2030 should be removed, as enough F-gas free alternatives will become available at the proper time.
Integration of the Green Deal Zero Pollution Target
In numerous publications and announcements, the EU, through its Green Deal and related policies, has committed itself to international leadership towards climate neutrality and zero pollution, addressing the climate and environmental crisis we are facing. F-gases and their by-products are causing the formation of Per- and Polyfluoroalkyls (PFAS) (including Trifluoroacetic Acid/TFA). As the ECHA has clearly stated, PFAS are bio-accumulative, persistent and toxic. Once released into the environment they cannot be removed at reasonable costs and will remain there forever, potentially causing harm to ecosystems and humans. Refrigerants, Naturally! advocates therefore to phase out F-gases and to use natural refrigerants instead.
Even with an accelerated phase-down of F-gases and a ban on certain high GWP F-gases, very likely, the restricted use of high- or medium-GWP F-gases will result in the uptake of low GWP F-gases. Such an uptake of low GWP F-gases has been observed during the first phase of the EU F-Gas Regulation (EU) No 517/2014 to the current date. The uptake of low GWP HFCs, including HFO, had shown to be more substantial than the use of natural refrigerants. In our view, this causes concern due to the environmental damage triggered by the increasing use of such lower GWP HFC, including HFOs. As the EU F-Gas Regulation (EU) No 517/2015 is driving this uptake of lower GWP HFCs, this effect contradicts the principles and objectives of the EU, expressed through its Zero Pollution Action Plan (https://environment.ec.europa.eu/strategy/zero-pollution-action-plan_en). The proceedings under REACH and ECHA for restricting the use of PFAS, including TFA from F-gases, will take years before they are effective, if at all. Therefore, delegating the control of detrimental environmental effects of F-Gases to the REACH regulation is not an effective strategy.
Just labelling Annex II substances or including Annex II substances in Annex I will not be sufficient for counteracting this negative trend. As an effective countermeasure, we request HFC quota allocations to be auctioned instead of being freely allocated. The income generated from the HFC quota need to be used for the promotion of products and systems with natural refrigerants (e.g. as part of a plus label or funding schemes for products with natural refrigerants and higher energy efficiency labelling classes).
There is evidence that the production of F-gases, including low-GWP HFC and HFO, results in significant emissions of environmentally harmful by-products. On the pathway to 2030, we request further strengthening the regulation of by-product emissions to produce F-gases (i.e., importers of HFC refrigerants, including HFO, should provide verification issued by an independent certifier proving environmentally sound elimination or adequate destruction of environmentally harmful (including high GWP) by-products such as HFC-23 of the imported F-gases).
As requested also by other stakeholders in the industry, we support measures avoiding the circumvention of the F-gas regulation through illegal imports. Such measures should include reporting obligations on importers below the limit of 100 t CO2eq. We request the allocation of sufficient and adequate inspection resources in all Member States. The market surveillance needs to be harmonised and coordinated across the EU to safeguard the same effect across the EU.
Considering new scientific findings and the resulting significantly higher GWP values of most HFCs, we request rebasing the relevant GWP values according to the latest scientific findings. It is evident that an effective climate strategy needs to rest on the latest scientific findings and not on findings which are more than a decade old. Further, the phase-down of refrigerants should be based on the GWP of a 20-year horizon (as included in Annex III of the proposal) instead of the current GWP 100 y horizon to being consistent with the time horizon of the climate goals. This approach would address the increasing urgency of the global climate crisis and the higher 20 y GWP value of many HFCs.
Due to the high 20 y GWP of HFCs and the different nature of refrigerants as greenhouse gases, any future emission trading between HFC refrigerants and CO2 and other greenhouse gases should not be allowed. HFCs will decay over a short time-period of a few decades while CO2 will remain in the atmosphere for hundreds of years. Exchanging a greenhouse gas which will decay over a period of a few decades or faster with a greenhouse gas which will last in the atmosphere over centuries, will clearly not correspond with environmental integrity principles. We request to consider this in the upcoming climate negotiations and UNFCCC rules on emissions trading with the respective influence of the EU commission and its member states for the negotiation of Article 6 of the Paris Agreement.
The European Commission requested in its decision from 14.11.2017 in the European standardisation process, the development of the relevant European safety standards for flammable refrigerants, in particular for class A3, including natural hydrocarbon refrigerants (standardisation request M/555). The development of the safety standards aims at the broader use of low GWP refrigerants, including environmentally friendly natural refrigerants as F-gas alternatives. In the meantime, a revised version of the international safety standards IEC 60334-2-89 and IEC 60335-2-40 was internationally approved, allowing a broader use of natural A3 refrigerants in commercial refrigeration, room air conditioners and heat pumps. However, the implementation of the corresponding European (harmonised) standards is still pending due to administrative issues within the European standardisation bodies. Therefore, to enable manufacturers to implement A3 refrigerants on time, the (harmonised) EN versions of these standards should be made available as quickly as possible, specifically, within months, rather than years.
The latest revision of the horizontal safety standard for refrigeration, air conditioning and heat pump systems, EN 378, is now underway. A primary element of this revision is the broader use of flammable refrigerants (which includes natural class A3 refrigerants, amongst others), particularly for equipment not explicitly covered through product standards (i.e. above mentioned 60335 series). However, the process is slow and not expected for completion before 2024 at the earliest. The revision process of EN 378 considers the work from TC 182 WG 12 under the above-mentioned M/555 with two Technical Specifications and a Technical Report for flammable refrigerants. There should be strong encouragement from the EU commission for the relevant technical committee to accelerate this work.
Approval of these standards at the European (CEN and CENELEC) level is of critical importance. Due to the urgency of the climate crisis and the lengthy international and European standardisation processes, we are requesting that the EU commission mandates the timely introduction of the latest international and European refrigeration, air conditioning and heat pump safety standards in the EU. The current standardisation process is out of pace with the timely requirements of climate action. In addition, we observe a strong dominance of the F-gas stakeholders in the participation of all relevant Technical Committees, Working Groups and Task Forces in CEN, CENELEC, ISO and IEC. This is of particular concern in view of the explicit ban exceptions ‘’except when required to meet safety standards’’ included in ANNEX IV of the proposed regulation (Placing on the market prohibitions referred to in Article 11(1)). Such exemptions provide the basis for EU member countries to opt out of the obligation, e.g., through falsely claiming building code related fire protection to circumvent the ban. We recommend considering the findings from the reports CLIMA.C.2/SER/2014/0019r about working processes and composition of standardisation groups. Civil societies shall be represented in the relevant committees, working groups and task forces outlined above. Whilst it is not feasible to transform the global standards development infrastructure for the purpose of extending the use of low GWP refrigerants, schemes to assist process training and participation of technical experts focussing on natural refrigerants (whilst avoiding financial detriment to, e.g., SME (Small and Medium sized Enterprise) employers) should be developed.
A further consideration should be to request harmonisation of RACHP standards with the ATEX (equipment and workplace) directives. Whilst certain exemptions may apply for certain classes of equipment and use of ATEX-certified components may or may not be relevant depending upon the situation, a general linkage with ATEX would provide greater confidence for stakeholders in terms of legal certainty for their products and installations.
Training and certification.
To accompany and enable market transitions toward natural refrigerants, the designers, installers and technicians shall enhance their skill levels regarding handling all types of refrigerants. Therefore, we welcome that the proposed regulation extends the currently mandated certification for personnel as well as companies handling certain F-gases to other relevant alternatives to fluorinated greenhouse gases (including HFCs, HFOs, ammonia, CO2, hydrocarbons). We recommend the European and international competence standard EN 13313 (EN ISO 22712) as references for developing the training standards. Previously trained and certified technicians lack sufficient skills dealing with natural refrigerants, which is a market barrier for the desired higher market penetration of natural refrigerants due to their superior climate, environment and (often) thermodynamic performance. The EU and their member states need to ensure the mandatory competence on natural refrigerants in certification programmes and promote the training skills of all technicians, previously certified and new. It should be noted that also low-GWP F-gases, including HFO, require additional competence due to their flammability and other aspects.
Cross-Reference to related EU Directives.
The handling of F-gases and environmentally and climate-friendly alternatives have relevance to related EU regulations. Therefore, we propose close coordination and harmonisation with the following rules:
REACH regulation. Several EU member states are currently investigating the prohibition of PFAS chemicals. The decaying products of many HFCs form TFAs that are part of PFAS and share the persistent, bioaccumulative and toxic properties of PFAS, subject to the investigation. Natural refrigerants do not cause such environmental damage.
EU Taxonomy. The EU taxonomy rules in its "do-no-harm" regulations, among others, avoiding environmental damage. As investigated by the ECHA, PFAS (TFA) could cause significant ecological harm. We recommend referencing the possible results of the ECHA investigation on PFAS (TFA) under the EU Taxonomy.
Building regulations. Building regulations differ across EU member countries. Some member countries' building regulations act as severe barriers to the transition to climate-friendly refrigerants. This situation was identified in the report for DG Clima in 2015. Building regulations in France, Spain and Italy pose a significant barrier. We understand that actions have taken place in these countries to ease the building regulations for class A2L (flammable) refrigerants. However, these outcomes are not purposeful as far as climate protection is concerned. Most A2L refrigerants still exhibit unacceptably high GWP. We are requesting that these countries rapidly implement measures to overcome the current prohibitions. All European member states have building regulations that allow the use of all flammable refrigerants but demonstrate an elevated level of safety (negligible risk when using flammable refrigerants). These restrictions unnecessarily prohibit the use of low GWP A3 refrigerants.
EU Green Public Procurement standards. We recommend including the increased use of natural refrigerants and the reduced use of HFCs as part of the EU public procurement standards.
Ozone Regulation. We support the inclusion of trifluoroiodomethane (component of R466A) as an ozone depleting substance listed in Annex II as outlined in the current proposal for a new ozone regulation.
 See Hodnebrog et al, 2020: https://agupubs.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1029/2019RG000691
 National Codes, Standards and Legislation of EU Member States with respect to F-Gas alternatives
Project Deliverables 1 and 2. Report for European Commission, DG Clima. CLIMA.C.2/SER/2014/0019r
 See ECHA publication https://echa.europa.eu/documents/10162/31366392/pfas_webinar_slides_en.pdf/361234ba-5b0c-d5d0-df0d-4145c3e08c73