Bente Tranholm-Schwartz, Deputy Head of Unit at DG Climate Action at the European Commission (EC), pointed to natural refrigerants as the way forward in Europe in view of the likely stricter EU F-gas Regulation and upcoming REACH (Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals) regulation of PFAS chemicals that is targeting f-gases.
She made those comments at the ATMOsphere (ATMO) Europe Summit 2022, held in Brussels November 15–16 and organized by ATMOsphere, publisher of R744.com.
PFAS are so-called forever chemicals that have been found to persist in the environment and have been linked to adverse health effects. The European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) will be considering proposals to regulate PFAS as a class under REACH, including certain f-gases and trifluoroacetic acid (TFA), one of their atmospheric degradation products.
“If you are standing in front of a decision to invest in a new plant, and you know that there is the REACH investigation going on, and if you can actually produce what you are producing without getting into the area that REACH is dealing with, probably that thinking would lead you to a result where you would go natural,” said Tranholm-Schwartz during the panel Impact of F-gases: EU F-gas Policy Panel. “That is for the investors to decide, [but] if you can go natural, probably you would.”
Questioned about the relevance of the EU F-gas Regulation to HFOs, Tranholm-Schwartz said the EC is taking “technology-neutral” approach in its proposal based on GWP threshold. She pointed to the work being done by ECHA targeting low-GWP f-gases due to their chemical structure and degradation products.
“There is a thorough procedure going on under REACH,” explained Tranholm-Schwartz. “Under the EU F-gas Regulation we have reinforced the containment provisions and extended them to HFOs as well to target leakage and emission prevention.”
Alignment of F-gas Regulation and REPowerEU
The EC has submitted a proposal to increase the ambition of the current EU F-gas Regulation, part of the process in the EU that will lead to a revision of the regulation. Meanwhile, the EU has developed the REPowerEU program to accelerate the bloc’s transition away from fossil fuels toward an electrified future that includes heat pumps.
However, a debate has emerged over whether accelerating the phase down of f-gases under the revised F-gas Regulation aligns with the rapid uptake of heat pumps, which rely on refrigerants. “We think that there is no trade-off between our proposal and REPowerEU,” stated Tranholm-Schwartz, adding that “the Commission proposal alone will save by 2050 the same amount of one-year emissions of Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg and France; this is significant.”
As for the availability of natural refrigerants for heat pumps, “the technology is there, and it is not a question of if, rather of when,” she said. “It is just a matter of how much time will the industry need to deliver every single heat pump that is needed without HFCs.”
“[With the EC’s proposal] we are sending a signal, we do not want anyone to wait, and we want everyone to act as quickly as they can,” she added.
In any case, she explained that the new regulation will continue to be evaluated. “It will not stay like this until 2050; we will see what is on the market and what is feasible,” she said.
ATMOsphere has produced a report on the market availability of natural refrigerant-based domestic heat pumps and found there is a thriving industry ready to scale up production and meet demand.
“That is for the investors to decide, [but] if you can go natural, probably you would.”Bente Tranholm-Schwartz, Deputy Head of Unit at DG Climate Action, European Commission
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