The new European Union (EU) regulation on the use of partially fluorinated hydrocarbons (HFCs) in refrigeration systems (F-Gas Regulation) has significant implications for manufacturers, operators of refrigeration and air conditioning systems and heat pumps, as well as for service providers who, for example, offer maintenance and service for these systems.

These can include necessary new installations, conversions and the use of alternative refrigerants. Other countries also stressed at the UN Climate Action Summit in September 2019 in New York that they wanted to join the regulations. GEA, one of the world's technology and innovation leaders in the development of environmentally friendly, economical solutions in the field of refrigeration, heat pump and air conditioning technology, points customers should be planning to replace refrigerants that have Global Warming Potential (GWP) of above 2500 as they will be banned under the European F-Gas legislation in certain static refrigeration applications. Reclaimed and re-processed refrigerant can continue to be used for servicing of existing equipment until 2030 but is likely to become costly and in short supply (as seen already and previously experienced with the phase out of r22).

Definitions of terms: What are F-Gases and what is meant by Global Warming Potential (GWP)?

The term "F-gases" stands for fluorinated greenhouse gases and is a collective term for partially fluorinated hydrocarbons (HFC), perfluorinated hydrocarbons (PFC), sulphur hexafluoride (SF6) and nitrogen trifluoride (NF3). They contribute to the depletion of the stratospheric ozone layer, which in turn leads to global warming. GWP stands for “global warming or global warming potential” of a substance. The GWP value of a refrigerant defines its relative global warming potential in relation to CO₂ (also known as the CO₂ equivalent). The value describes the global warming effect over a certain period of time, usually more than 100 years for refrigerants. The higher the GWP value, the more harmful the substance is to the climate. To illustrate this, here is an example calculation. The CO₂ equivalent of the common refrigerant R134a over a period of 100 years is 1,430. This means that one kilogram of R134a contributes 1,430 times as much to the greenhouse effect as one kilogram of CO₂ within the first 100 years after its release. The release of 1 kg R134a therefore corresponds to the release of 1,430 kg CO₂.

What does the EU want to achieve with this new regulation?

The EU's new F-Gas Regulation is a contribution to reducing industrial sector emissions by 79 percent by 2030, using 1990 as a baseline. The new regulations aim to reduce emissions of fluorinated greenhouse gases (F-gases) in the EU by 70 million tons of CO₂ equivalent to 35 million tons of CO₂ equivalent by 2030. The reduction of emissions of fluorinated greenhouse gases is to be achieved through three main regulatory approaches:

  1. the introduction of a phased reduction (phase-down) of the quantities of partially fluorinated hydrocarbons (HFCs) available on the market to one-fifth of today's sales volumes (100 % starting value in 2015 based on average CO₂ equivalent between 2009 to 2012) by 2030,
  2. to ban use and placing on the market where technically feasible, more climate-friendly alternatives are available.
  3. maintaining and supplementing the rules on leak testing, certification, disposal and labelling. In particular, the new F-Gas-V is intended to create an incentive to use alternatives instead of F-gases.

Overview of the regulations

In concrete terms, this means that HFCs may continue to be used, but will become less and less available over the coming years and their use in commercial and industrial refrigeration will be subject to the following restrictions:

  • From January 1, 2020, the use of “virgin” HFCs with a GWP value of ≥ 2500 in new stationary refrigeration systems will be banned. With a GWP value of 3920, R404A falls under this ban, as does R-507, unless the operating temperature is below -50 °C. As a further consequence, the use of HFCs with a GWP value ≥ 2500 for the maintenance and servicing of refrigeration systems with a filling quantity equivalent to 40 t CO2 or more (that would be around 10 kg R404A) is prohibited from January 1, 2020.
  • From January 1, 2020, the use of HFCs with a GWP value ≥ 2500 in new hermetically sealed cooling units for commercial use is prohibited. In 2022, the GWP value may then amount to a maximum of 150.
  • As of January 1, 2022, HFCs with a GWP value ≥ 150 are prohibited in new hermetically sealed cooling units with a capacity of 40 kW or more, with the exception of the main circuit of cascade systems whose refrigerant must have a GWP value below 1500.
  • From January 1, 2022, it is no longer permitted to place cooling units for commercial use with the refrigerant R134a on the market. By 2025, further products, such as stationary refrigeration systems or mono-split air conditioners, with particularly climate-damaging F-gases will gradually be withdrawn from the market. 
  • By the year 2030, the GWP-weighted HFC quantity that may be placed on the market annually will be reduced to exactly 21% of its current value. Possible consequences of this "phase-down" could be price increases or a shortage of refrigerants.
  • Until January 1, 2030, however, under certain conditions, reprocessed and recycled fluorinated greenhouse gases may still be used for the maintenance or servicing of existing refrigeration systems. This would limit the service life of the R404A system to around 15 years if the refrigerant were not to be replaced.  

Recommendation of the GEA expert

David Blankley, GEA Product Manager Cooling, Director Cooling Application, explains: "The deadline for switching to environmentally friendly refrigerants is approaching. Most cooling systems that use greenhouse gases need to be replaced by those that can handle natural refrigerants, such as ammonia, CO₂ or hydrocarbons. Ammonia, for example, is a natural refrigerant that has no effect on global warming or ozone depletion," says Blankley. It also complies with global legislation. For the GEA expert, one thing is certain: "Food companies should take action sooner rather than later as time is running out to install the new natural refrigerant based systems, needed to reduce their environmental impact, and it is not possible in the vast majority of cases to retrofit an F-gas system with a natural gas, especially ammonia. We have been helping customers with natural refrigerants-based refrigeration compressors already since 1918, and we are continuing to help our customers to tackle their challenges together.”

Example of a GEA cooling solution in food industry

There is a good example how GEA helps its customers with its expertise in the cooling business. In the UK, GEA has already installed a large ammonia-based system for a major food manufacturer and retailer with mechanical and absorption cooling, contributing to the supply of one of the most energy efficient frozen food distribution centers in Europe. A customer coming from the food industry, wanted to build a new cold store. The question was what refrigerant to use. The refrigerant should be economically and ecologically sensible. The strength and expertise of GEA is the total design of a plant. And so GEA created a solution with ammonia. 

Robert Unsworth, Head of Sales (Refrigeration) for GEA UK explains the design of this state-of-the art plant design: The ammonia absorber in the system returns its heat to a common condensation system, which allows recovery for both underfloor heating and defrosting. This significantly reduces other associated waste streams such as cooling tower water, chemicals, waste water, fans and pump capacity. Heat is also recovered for underfloor heating by subcooling ammonia, which not only provides free heat but also improves compressor efficiency.

 ”Typically, in a food storage environment, up to 90% of energy consumption is used for refrigeration; while this operation has a refrigeration capacity equivalent to 12,000 household freezers, the system consumes less than a third of the energy consumed by the two cold stores it replaces in size comparison. In addition, water and chemical consumption has been reduced by 86%, equivalent to the annual water savings of eleven Olympic swimming pools”. Unsworth believes food manufacturers should not delay switching to cooling systems that can reduce their emissions and power bills, citing an ammonia plant (especially a centralised one) as significantly more efficient than cold stores using greenhouse gases. Or, as he put it, the difference between driving an old car belching out pollutants because it gets you from A to B, when you have been offered a shiny new Hybrid model with twice the miles per gallon (km/l). 

Unsworth highly encourages manufacturers to act now, explaining, “If cold stores, factories or freezers are using any of the gases that will be banned from the end of 2019 or latest 2030 – depending on the type of system – a leak could prove devastating as companies may not be able to mitigate the issue in time to avoid extended down time in production. GEA offers customers a total solution, which when coupled with a heat pump, means fewer boilers are required for generating heat and that this heat, or energy, can be reused instead of being wasted.” A heat pump is a much more environmentally friendly and economical solution than conventional heating alternatives. Industry, municipalities and homeowners have been using it for heating applications for many years. The food industry is now increasingly recognizing the significant financial and environmental benefits of using heat pumps in production processes, especially those that require heat for preparation and subsequent cooling. "GEA, one of the world's leading suppliers of high-tech refrigeration equipment and solutions, is here to help companies comply with the new legislation to reduce CO₂ emissions and to leverage the energy savings that heat pump technology affords. If you are forced to invest as a result of changes in legislation, then adding a heat pump gives you a return on investment and the opportunity to recover these costs to your business more quickly" Unsworth explains.

Find out more:

Go for Natural Refrigerants

Industrial Refrigeration & Heating

Sustainable food refrigeration

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