In Europe, F-Gas Issues Mount. U.S. Next?
The European Union adopted two legislative acts to reduce emissions from fluorinated greenhouse gases (called F-gases in Europe), including HFCs. They are the ’MAC Directive’ on air conditioning systems used in small motor vehicles, and the ‘F-gas Regulation’ which covers all other key applications in which F-gases are used.
The MAC Directive prohibits the use of F-gases with a global warming potential of more than 150 times greater than carbon dioxide in new cars and vans introduced from 2011, and in all new cars and vans produced from 2017 on.
The F-gas Regulation guidance documents call for the improvement of leak prevention, proper recovery, training and certification and other measures. More importantly, the regulation also limits the volume of HFC allowed in the EU market.
It’s this part of the F-gas Regulation that is creating increasing difficulty in Europe. Several meetings in Germany over the past few months have been held to discuss shortages, price hikes and industry frustration with the regulations.
Recently, four European contractor and manufacturers’ groups began a campaign to stop contractors from installing the high GWP refrigerants R404A and R507A, according to online magazine Cooling Post.
In the last year, these refrigerants have experienced up to 700% price increases and severe shortages. The campaign states bluntly: “If you want to stay in business, you have to stop installing R404A/R507A – now!” The group argues that all HFC and blends containing HFCs will face shortages, as have R410A and R134a.
At the same time, the German air conditioning and refrigeration industry warned that refrigerant shortages and high prices risk putting European equipment manufacturers at a severe disadvantage in global markets.
Seven associations joined the European Partnership for Energy and the Environment and the European Heat Pump Association to voice their concerns over the state of the refrigerant market in the face of the European HFC phase down.
Three of the industry associations reported that their members had experienced “massive” refrigerant supply problems last year. R404A, R507—both high GWP refrigerants—and R134a were among the refrigerants that had shortages.
The groups emphasized that they supported global greenhouse gas emission reduction efforts, but asked for an allocation credit back for pre-charged equipment exported out of the EU. The associations stated that the F-gas Regulation interferes with the market, harming the consumers of refrigerants and their customers.
Pre-charged equipment is included in the phase down and must be included within the quota system. The associations claim that pre-filled equipment exported outside of Europe hurts the industry because it could account for 5% or more of the available quota.
Separately, the Swedish Heat Pump Association asked for an exemption from the F-gas regulation, claiming the industry is vulnerable due to the phasing out of the high GWP refrigerants, and asking for more time to convert to alternative low GWP refrigerants.
Past experience has shown that trends in Europe affect the refrigerants industry here. With 410A, 404A, 507 and 134a experiencing price hikes and shortages, U.S. contractors and supply houses would do well to follow the F-gas story in Europe and plan ahead.