Europe Takes a Bold Step Towards a Greener Future: Freon Gas Phase-Out Looms

Author: Daniel G. Teleoaca – Marine Chief Engineer

In a resolute move towards a more sustainable future, Europe is set to embark on a journey to phase out the use of Freon gas, a potent greenhouse gas responsible for depleting the ozone layer. The impending interdiction has far-reaching implications, both environmentally and economically, and its impact on industries such as the maritime sector is a significant focal point. This landmark decision seeks to address climate change concerns, reduce environmental damage, and promote the adoption of eco-friendly alternatives.

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The European Union (EU) has adopted a regulation that aims to phase out the use and emissions of fluorinated gases (F-gases), a type of refrigerant that has a high global warming potential (GWP) and contributes to climate change. The regulation will affect the refrigeration and air-conditioning industry, as well as the maritime industry, which relies heavily on F-gases for cooling and temperature control.

F-gases are widely used in various cooling and air-conditioning applications, such as refrigerators, freezers, chillers, heat pumps, air conditioners, or provisional cooling systems. However, F-gases have a high GWP, which means that they trap more heat in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide (CO2) when released. According to the European Commission, F-gases account for about 2% of the EU’s greenhouse gas emissions, and their use is expected to increase by 50% by 2030 without further action.

To address this issue, the EU has adopted the F-gas Regulation (517/2014), which aims to reduce the use and emissions of F-gases by 79% by 2030, compared to the average level in 2009-2012. The regulation imposes a gradual phase-down of F-gas production and import quotas, as well as a service ban on certain F-gases with a GWP of 2,500 or more from 1 January 2020. The regulation applies to all EU countries and EU-flagged vessels.

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The F-gas regulation has important implications for the refrigeration and air-conditioning industry, as well as for consumers and end-users of F-gas products. The phase-down of F-gas quotas means that the supply and availability of high-GWP F-gases will decrease over time, and their prices will increase accordingly. This creates an incentive for manufacturers and users to switch to alternative refrigerants with lower GWP and higher energy efficiency.

The service ban on high-GWP F-gases means that from 1 January 2020, new or virgin F-gases with a GWP of 2,500 or more cannot be used to service or maintain refrigeration equipment with a charge size of 40 tonnes of CO2 equivalent or more. This applies to both new and existing systems, except for those with a charge size below the threshold. This means that users of such systems will have to either replace them with new ones that use alternative refrigerants, or use reclaimed or recycled F-gases that meet certain quality standards.

The F-gas regulation also imposes other mandatory requirements, such as checking and repairing of leakage, proper labeling of products and equipment, training and certification of personnel, reporting of data, and recovery and destruction of F-gases at the end of their life cycle. These requirements aim to prevent and reduce the emissions of F-gases throughout their life cycle.

The maritime industry is particularly affected by the F-gas regulation, as almost all vessels have refrigeration systems on board that use F-gases for chilling, freezing, air conditioning, provisional cooling, or temperature control inside cargo holds. According to a report by IMO in 2014, more than 90% of all merchant fleet use HCFC/HFC as their primary refrigerant. Therefore, ship owners and operators need to be aware of their obligations under the F-gas regulation and take appropriate actions to comply with it.

The transition from F-gases to alternative refrigerants may pose some challenges and risks for the maritime industry. For example:

  • The alternative refrigerants that are available or emerging in the market have different properties and characteristics than F-gases, such as flammability, toxicity, pressure, or compatibility with existing equipment. This means that they may require different design, installation, operation, maintenance, and safety measures than F-gases. Therefore, ship owners and operators need to carefully assess the suitability, performance, cost-effectiveness, and environmental impact of each alternative refrigerant for their specific application before making a switch.
  • The transition from F-gases to alternative refrigerants may also entail significant technical, financial, regulatory, and logistical challenges for ship owners and operators. For example, they may need to invest in new equipment or retrofit existing ones; comply with different standards or regulations in different countries or regions; ensure adequate supply chain management and availability of alternative refrigerants; train or certify their personnel; or deal with potential legal liabilities or insurance issues.

The European Commission provides guidance and support for the implementation of the F-gas regulation through various channels. For example:

  • The Commission publishes regular reports on the progress and impact of the F-gas regulation.
  • The Commission maintains a website that provides information and resources on the F-gas regulation, such as FAQs, guidance documents, best practices, case studies, or webinars.
  • The Commission organizes workshops and events to raise awareness and facilitate dialogue among stakeholders on the F-gas regulation.
  • The Commission funds research and innovation projects that aim to develop and demonstrate alternative refrigerants and technologies for the refrigeration and air-conditioning industry.

The F-gas regulation is a key instrument for reducing greenhouse gas emissions and mitigating climate change in the EU. It also provides an opportunity for the refrigeration and air-conditioning industry to innovate and adopt more sustainable and efficient solutions. However, the regulation also entails some challenges and risks for the stakeholders involved, especially for the maritime industry. Therefore, it is important for them to be well-informed and prepared for the transition from F-gases to alternative refrigerants. The maritime industry, a vital component of the European economy, will need to adapt to these changes, ensuring compliance with regulations and embracing eco-friendly refrigeration systems to contribute to a healthier planet for future generations.


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