Fluorinated Gases, or F-gases, are man-made gases. They are used in various industries for functions like refrigeration and insulation, as well as in the electronic and pharmaceutical industries. Although F-gases don’t damage the earth’s fragile ozone layer, they potentially contribute a lot to global warming due to the fact that they remain in the atmosphere for a significant length of time.
There are different types of F-gases but the one that has the most effect on global warming is hydrofluorocarbons, more commonly known as HFCs. These gases are frequently used in commercial and industrial refrigeration and air-conditioning systems, and their effect on global warming is immensely greater than that of carbon dioxide. The other F-gases are perfluorocarbons (PFCs) and sulphur hexafluoride(SF₆). Although these are less powerful greenhouse gases than the HFCs, they can hang around in the atmosphere for millions of years.
The EU introduced the first F-gas regulation in 2006, with the intention of lessening the environmental impact of these fluorinated gases by reducing the emissions of f-gases, predominantly by preventing leaks in systems. It also focused on encouraging responsible destruction of fluorinated gases when they reached the end of their life.
On the first of January 2015, an updated regulation came into force, replacing the original regulation from 2006. This was intended to improve containment, and restrict the use of F-gases, as well as to improve the labelling and reporting thereof. Training and certification was also included in the regulation, to ensure that going forward only those persons with the necessary training would be permitted to handle the recovery, recycling and destruction of fluorinated gases. The key changes in the revised EU regulation are as follows:
Product and Equipment Bans
Certain products and equipment are prohibited from being placed on the market. Certain restrictions were in place already for items like the non-refillable containers for fluorinated gases, windows, footwear and tyres that contained F-gases, and certain aerosol generators among other things. This list of items has been expanded and now also includes the following:
- Fire protection equipment that contain HFC-23, except when required for critical use
- Fridges and freezers for domestic use that contain HFCs with a Global Warming Potential (GWP)of 150 or more
- Refrigerators and freezers for commercial use that contact HFCs with a GWP of 150 or more
- Stationary refrigeration equipment containing f-gases with GWP of 2500 or more. This exempts equipment required to cool products to -50⁰C
- Multipack centralised refrigeration systems for commercial use with a rated capacity of at least 40kW that contain or require f-gases with a GWP of 150 or more. F-gases with a GWP of less than 1500 can still be used in the primary circuit of cascade systems.
- Mobile room air conditioning equipment containing HFCs with a GWP of 150 or more
- Single split air conditioning systems, containing less than 3kg of f-gases with a GWP of 750 or more
- Foams containing HFCs with a GWP of 150 or more, unless required to meet national safety standards
- Technical aerosols containing HFCs with a GWP of 150 or more, unless required to meet national safety standards or for medical use.
Not all restrictions were implemented immediately. A certain amount of time is required in some cases to replace f-gases with alternative gases, or to redesign equipment. Some restrictions have not yet kicked in and will only do in a few years’ time.
Service and Maintenance Bans
From the first of January 2020, it was no longer permitted to use f-gases with a GWP of 2500 or more to service or maintain refrigeration equipment. This refers specifically to equipment with a charge size of 40 tonnes of CO₂ equivalent, or more. The following is exempt from this restriction:
- Military equipment
- Equipment used to cool products to below -50⁰C
- Reclaimed or recycled f-gases, but only until 1 January 2030, and providing they have been labelled according to regulation
The service and maintenance bans are only in respect of refrigeration equipment.
Reducing the Quantity of HFCs on the Market
The 2006 regulation had a positive effect on stabilising the level of f-gas emissions. With the recent amendments the EU hopes to reduce emissions by two-thirds of the 2014 level by 2030. The revised regulation initially affected the supply of bulk HFCs, but from 2017 it also had an effect on the supply of equipment containing HFCs.
From 2015, each producer and importer in the EU who puts HFCs on the market was allocated an annual quota. This quota is based on the annual average of HFCs that they have placed on the market for the period 2009 – 2012. This quota is recalculated every three years, and relevant parties are advised of the new quota value.
Training and Certification
Member states of the EU must either establish certification programmes, or adapt existing programmes, including any evaluation processes. Training must be made available for all personnel responsible for carrying out the following duties:
- Installation, servicing, maintenance, repair or decommissioning of equipment
- Leak checks of equipment
- Recovery of fluorinated gases
It is imperative that companies purchasing fluorinated gases have the correct knowledge, training and certification. Should they not have certification, they may not be permitted to purchase f-gases.
The training programmes must cover the following:
- Applicable regulations and technical standards
- Prevention of emission
- Recovery of f-gases
- Safe handling of equipment
- Information on relevant technologies that can be used to replace f-gases, reduce the use of them, and for their safe handling
Leak Checks and Detection of Leaks
In the previous regulation, the requirement for leak checks and leak detection systems was based on a kilogram threshold for the amount of f-gases. The new regulation moves to a threshold based on the amount of CO₂e, the carbon dioxide equivalent. This move means that some operators will have to conduct checks more frequently than before, while others may be able to conduct checks less often. The frequency will depend on the GWP of the relevant gas that they use in the equipment.
Leak checks must be done for all equipment containing five tonnes or more of CO₂e. This does not apply to CO₂e contained in foam. Leak checks can take place less frequently if there are leak detection systems in place.
The quantity in weight of the fluorinated gases contained in products or equipment, as well as the quantity of the carbon dioxide equivalent of the f-gases must be indicated. In addition, the global warming potential of the gases must be advised. These changes were implemented from the beginning of January 2017.
As of the February 2020, the United Kingdom is no longer part of the European Union, but is in a transition period until the end of December 2020. During this period, the EU regulations on F-Gases will still apply.
While it may seem that the EU’s intention with the revised regulation is a bit ambitious, there is a range of alternative options available for products and equipment that require f-gases. These alternatives are more environmentally-friendly and will have much less effect on climate change. If all EU states comply with the regulations, the desired result is achievable. The revised regulations may also encourage further developments in green technologies that will ultimately allow our planet to continue to thrive.
- F-Gas Training: What You Need to Know to Comply
- F-Gas Register Regulations
- Air Conditioning and Refrigeration Training
- F-Gas Training Requirements
- F-Gas Course FAQs