Refrigerants in Europe: Time is running out.
Choosing the right refrigerant is one of the key factors in determining whether refrigeration, air conditioning and heat pump systems are efficient and environmentally friendly. Moreover, this choice is crucial in determining whether a leak will render the system useless in a few years.
Interview with Pablo Santos, CEO of Frigopack and creator of Maxwell Thermomachines.
In the interview, Mr Santos, creator of the industrial refrigeration brand Maxwell Thermomachines, explains how important it is to choose the right refrigerant, especially now, and talks about how to use natural refrigerants.
What are the most important refrigerant regulations today?
Santos: In the EU, it is certainly the revised F-Gas Regulation 517/2014. And proposed restrictions are being drafted for polyfluoroalkyls (PFAS) through the EU chemical regulation REACH.
How urgent are these regulations?
Santos: The revised F-Gas Regulation will soon enter the trilogue phase, which refers to negotiations between the European Parliament, the European Council and the European Commission. The European Parliament's Environment Committee recently issued a communiqué on the Commission's draft, and we expect a communiqué from the European Council in the near future. Negotiations on the review should be completed in the second quarter of 2023. The initial far-reaching measures of the review will enter into force in January 2024, which is earlier than expected based on the current regulation.
How does the revised Regulation F-Gas affect users?
Saints: Published in April 2022, the Commission's draft aims to further reduce the volume of allowable emissions. Manufacturers and operators can expect new or recycled refrigerants to be available for the maintenance and repair of existing refrigeration systems in the coming years. For new systems, only refrigerants with a greenhouse gas performance (GWP) close to zero can be used, ensuring that existing systems can continue to be serviced with increasingly limited and expensive fluorinated substances, such as R454C, R455A and R1234yf, and less frequently with R513A, R450A, R448A and R449A.
I would like to refer back to the above-mentioned communication issued by the Environment Committee of the European Parliament, which states that refrigeration may no longer require any newly produced fluorinated substances from 2024 or, depending on the application, from 2027. These requirements are much stricter.
In the second part of our interview with Pablo, creator of the industrial refrigeration brand Maxwell Thermomachines, he talks about how important it is to handle natural refrigerants and how MAXWELL THERMOMACHINES supports its customers and partners with a wide range of sustainable and ultra-efficient products.
Why do you think many companies hesitate to switch to natural refrigerants?
Santos: My impression is that many refrigeration system operators, especially small supermarkets, restaurants, bakeries and butchers, are unaware of how quickly and extensively these changes will affect them. They have limited exposure to the flow of information about the F-Gas Regulation and other refrigerant regulations. For them, the refrigeration system is a tool that needs to operate as efficiently and economically as possible, which ultimately reduces the demand for long-term solutions in the market. It is quite possible that people are not aware of how urgent the regulation deadline is. If people only considered today what refrigerants will be available for system maintenance and operation in 15 to 20 years, the demand for CO2, propane and ammonia solutions would certainly increase.
"Many refrigeration system operators are unaware of how quickly and extensively these changes will affect them."
In short, what do people need to know about naturally occurring substances such as carbon dioxide, propane and ammonia when they are used as refrigerants?
Saints: Propane or R290 is a refrigerant suitable for commercial refrigeration. It has a boiling point of -42°C and can evaporate at temperatures of -40°C and above. Like R404A, propane can accommodate fluctuating temperatures without problems when compressed. As a hydrocarbon, propane is extremely flammable and therefore requires an extended risk assessment for the working environment as well as the implementation of corresponding risk minimisation measures. Especially when it comes to maintenance and repair, safety regulations must be carefully and strictly observed. At MAXWELL THERMOMACHINES, we have been using propane, for example, with reciprocating compressors for many years and can accommodate the entire capacity range, from 2-cylinder compressors to 8-cylinder compressors. Even compact screw compressors for air conditioning and process cooling, as well as semi-flanged screw compressors for compound systems, run on propane and the similar refrigerant propylene.
Carbon dioxide, or R744, is already a very common refrigerant. It is non-flammable, but requires a much higher pressure level, with possible back pressures of 90 to 130 bar, which means that the whole system design, control and maintenance are different.
The European Parliament's Environment Committee issued a statement indicating that from 2024, or depending on the application, from 2027, refrigeration will no longer require the production of newly manufactured fluorinated substances. These requirements are much stricter. As for the ongoing negotiations, it is difficult to predict the outcome. Recent surveys have revealed that many EU states support stricter regulation. The proposed PFAS regulations may once again reduce the range of potential solutions available, as they apply to many HFCs, including new unsaturated compounds with low global warming potential, such as R1234yf and R1234ze. The idea is that these substances in particular will reduce the overall greenhouse effect.
Most refrigeration and air conditioning systems are not designed to adapt to a switch to refrigerants that will be available in the long term.
How many systems will be affected?
Santos: We predict that at least several million refrigeration and air conditioning systems and heat pumps will be affected in the EU, with capacities ranging from single kilowatts to megawatts. Most of these are not designed to accommodate a switch to refrigerants that will be available in the long term.
The F-Gas regulation is only applicable in the EU. How does it look in the rest of the world?
Santos: Surrounding countries, states and regions are watching with interest what is happening in the EU and, hopefully, will learn from it. Globally, the Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol will also help reduce the volume of fluorinated greenhouse gases emitted. However, the phased plans lag somewhat behind the EU regulation. Many states have already developed corresponding action plans.