Fluorinated refrigerants in the EU: additional CO₂ savings potential of 100 million tonnes

Ammonia, water and hydrocarbons are available as climate-friendly alternatives

Old refrigerators at a recycling facilityClick to enlarge
A success for the climate: HFCs are gradually banned from use in cooling and refrigerant systems
Source: ermess / Fotolia.com

A new publication by the German Environment Agency (UBA) proposes an even stronger regulation of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) to protect the climate. HFCs are used as refrigerants in cooling and refrigerant systems which may escape to the environment during filling, operation and disposal. HFCs have high global warming potential (GWP) – up to 14,800 more than carbon dioxide (CO2) in the case of the refrigerant R 23. UBA estimates that a rapid replacement of HFCs with natural refrigerants such as ammonia, water or hydrocarbons could save more than 100 million tonnes CO2 equivalent in the EU by 2030. President Messner says that the upcoming revision of the EU's F-Gas Regulation offers an opportunity to regulate this, commenting "If our proposal is implemented, it will also support the efforts of the international community at the global level to further reduce HFC emissions. Ambitious regulation in the EU will also open up numerous export opportunities to us in this area."

HFCs and other F-gases are regulated already today by the F-gas Regulation (Regulation (EU) No 517/2014). It bans certain F-gas applications and envisages a pathway to phase down HFCs. By 2030, the current regulation provides for a reduction of the annual amount of HFCs placed on the European market to 21% of the baseline, with the latter equaling the average supply in 2009 to 2012. Therefore, the EU had established an ambitious phase-down schedule already back in 2014 and pioneered global measures in this sector. Regarding the growing urgeny for climate action, UBA now proposes to enhance ambitions by further reducing the phase-down target to ten percent of the baseline by 2030, in addition to further bans. This would save an additional amount of a solid 100 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent compared to the existing phase-down plan. From 2030, this measure would reduce HFC use by a further 20 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent per year.

Natural refrigerants such as ammonia, water, CO2 and hydrocarbons with low or no Global Warming Potential can be used to replace HFCs. Equipment and systems using these refrigerants have proven to be effective in practice and are notable for their comparable or even better energy efficiency than those which use HFCs.

The Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer has ensured since 2019 that HFCs are subject to a phase-down in industrialised countries worldwide. Developing countries will follow as two groups in freezing their HFC use, in 2024 and 2028 respectively. Since the transition from substances that deplete the ozone layer to HFCs has not yet or only partially been completed in many countries, the switch to natural refrigerants could be made directly - a strategy known as leapfrogging. Some good examples of this already exist, such as that of an air conditioner manufacturer in India. It uses the natural refrigerant propane instead of an HFC for the previously used ozone-depleting substance R-22 in its single-split AC units. The units are among the most energy-efficient on the Indian market.

Full compliance with the Kigali Agreement will result in a global reduction of HFC emissions of more than 60 billion tonnes of CO2 equivalent by 2050. By the end of the century, the agreement will prevent a global temperature increase of 0.4 degrees Celsius.

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