It has long been recognised that fluorinated gases (or F-gases) represent a clear and present danger to the environment. Although F-gases don’t damage the atmospheric ozone layer, they are nonetheless powerful greenhouse gases, with a global warming impact up to 23,000 times greater than carbon dioxide (CO2).
Emissions of F-gases in Europe almost doubled between 1990 and 2014. However, thanks to EU legislation on fluorinated gases – namely, the F-gas Regulation – F-gas emissions have been falling steadily since 2015.
Unfortunately, there remains as great deal of confusion over the F-gas Regulation and how it is applied.
The first F-gas Regulation was adopted in 2006 and succeeded in stabilising EU F-gas emissions at 2010 levels. However, on 1 January 2015 it was replaced by Regulation (EU) 517/2014 – the ‘F-gas Regulation’. Among other things, this regulation is designed to cut the EU’s F-gas emissions by two-thirds by 2030 compared with 2014 levels.
However, in July 2020, the European Commission (EC) launched a public consultation of Regulation 517 (which closed at the end of 2020).
This is designed to evaluate how well the Regulation has functioned and analyses policy options to improve the F-gas Regulation. Based on the results of the consultation supplemented by the work of external experts, the EC will assess if and how it can further improve the Regulation. A proposal for a new Regulation is expected by end of 2021.
Brexit is unlikely to change the UK’s position on F-gases, according to REFCOM. It has said: “The regulations we currently work within will remain exactly as they are at the moment: phase down steps, service and product bans either in place or coming into force – all will continue as planned over the coming years.”
Brexit has resulted in F-gas certificates issued by UK certification bodies no longer being recognised in EU member states. Thanks to an initiative set up by the Irish Republic, however, there’s hope for certified operatives who would like to work both in the Ireland and in the EU.
UK F-gas personnel certificates and training attestations will be recognised in Ireland until 30th June 2021 as long as they were issued before 31st December 2021.
But the equivalent Irish scheme for companies holding UK certification ended on 31 December 2020. Companies wishing to work in Ireland and the rest of the EU now need to obtain a recognised certification from one of the 27 EU member states.
The current F-gas Regulation sets out a timetable for various different sectors and uses of different refrigerants where the sale of these systems/applications becomes illegal after certain dates.
The use of virgin fluorinated greenhouse gases (HFCs) with a Global Warming Potential (GWP) of 2500 or more to service or maintain refrigeration equipment with a charge of 40 tonnes CO2 equivalent or more has been prohibited since 1 January 2020.
There are, however, several alternatives to high-GWP HFCs used as refrigerants. One example is CO2 – aka R744 – a natural refrigerant with an Ozone Depleting Potential (ODP) of 0 and a GWP of just 1.
CO2 offers a high refrigeration capacity and lower pressure drops in pipework and heat exchangers. It is generally non-corrosive, non-flammable and exhibits low toxicity. Furthermore, it is inexpensive to produce and widely available. And, finally and crucially, there is no legislation currently planned to phase it out.