European Council adopts new rules to phase down F-gases

The European Council has announced two new regulations that aim to reduce the harmful effects that fluorinated gases (F-gases) and other substances have on the ozone layer.

Announced on Monday, 29th January 2023, the new rules will see the consumption of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) completely phased out by 2050. 

In addition, the production of HFC – in terms of production rights allocated by the Commission to produce HFCs – will be phased down to a minimum (15%) as of 2036.

According to the Council, both production and consumption will be phased down on the basis of a tight schedule with a degressive quota allocation (Annexes V and VII).

As part of the measures, there will be a full ban on placing products and equipment containing HFCs on the market where it is possible to switch to F-gas alternatives, including certain domestic refrigerators, chillers, foams and aerosols.

A timeline was also outlined for the complete phase-out of the use of F-gases in air conditioning, heat pumps and switchgears.

  • 2030 for medium-voltage switchgears (up to and including 52kV (kilovolts) relying on F-gases.
  • 2032 for small monoblock heat pumps and air conditioning less than 12kW (kilowatts) and high-voltage switchgears more than 52kV.
  • 2035 for split air conditioning and heat pumps, with earlier deadlines for certain types of split systems with higher global warming potential.

“Many products we use in everyday life, such as refrigerators and air conditioning, rely on extremely detrimental substances that undermine our environment,” said Alain Maron, Minister of the Government of the Brussels-Capital Region, responsible for climate change, environment, energy and participatory democracy.

Why are F-gases so harmful?

Typically used in a wide range of every products including fridges, air conditioning and medicines, F-gases such as HFCs, perfluorocarbons (PFCs) and sulphur hexafluoride (SF6) have been found to have effects on global warming up to several hundred thousand times stronger than that of CO2.

Today F-gas emissions represent 2.5% of the EU’s total GHG emissions, but in contrast to other GHG emissions they have doubled between 1990 and 2014.

“The new rules we have put in place impose clear bans and restrictions on such damaging substances, while encouraging the development of sustainable alternatives to protect people’s health.” 

To assess the impacts and effects of the regulation, the European Commission will conduct a review – including an assessment of F-gas alternatives – no later than the 1st January 2030. 

By 2040 the Commission will also review the feasibility of the 2050 phase-out date for the use of HFCs and the need for HFCs in sectors where they are still used.

In addition to regulating F-gases, the new rules ban ozone depleting substances (ODSs) for almost all uses with an exemption for their use as feedstock to produce other substances.

ODSs are human-made chemicals that create a hole in the protective ozone layer, which absorbs cancer-causing ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun and reduces the overall amount of UV rays reaching the Earth’s surface.

It also extends the requirement to recover ODSs for destruction, recycling or reclamation to cover sectors such as building materials (insulation foams), refrigeration, air condition and heat pump equipment, equipment containing solvents or fire protection systems and fire extinguishers and other equipment.

“Today’s endorsement marks an important step towards reaching the EU’s 2030 climate goals and climate neutrality by 2050; it will eliminate an additional 500 million tonnes of CO2-equivalent emissions by 2050, which is comparable to the combined annual emissions of France and Belgium” stated the European Commission.

Driving green investments

The new measures could steer the manufacturers of products that traditionally use F-gases towards climate-friendly alternatives, stimulating innovation and the development of clean technologies, according to the Commission.

This may lead to lower prices as the market for climate-friendly equipment expands, with the new equipment typically producing more energy savings from higher energy efficiency over the products’ lifetime.

Following signing of the regulations by the Council and the European Parliament, the two regulations will be published in the EU’s Official Journal and enter into force 20 days later.

Reacting to the news, leading refrigerant reclamation company A-Gas told gasworld that the phase-down – combined with stringent product bans – result in a ‘very challenging’ legislation which should in principle strengthen the market for reclaimed refrigerants.

“One of our concerns is that a lot of emphasis is placed on virgin products while one key question has been overlooked, which is what to do with the installed bank which contain refrigerants?,” said Hans Craen, Head of Government Affairs Europe.

“It will therefore be important to evaluate how the Member States will implement on a national level. An effective implementation of the new F-gas regulation, with proper enforcement by authorities, will push for circularity through reclamation.”

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