Despite a 1% annual uptick in f-gas supply in 2020 that followed a five-year decline, as well as a 7% growth in HFC consumption, the EU’s supply of HFCs was still 4% below its F-Gas Regulation quota limits and 52% below the maximum consumption level set by the Montreal Protocol’s Kigali Amendment.

Those were among the key findings in the 2021 edition of the fluorinated greenhouse gases report, published by the European Environment Agency (EEA) on December 2. The publication includes an executive briefing and an annex of datasets and figures analyzing the f-gas sector from 2007 to 2020.

Notably, while the demand for refrigerants remains high, “there has been a shift to alternatives with lower global warming potential (GWP),” the report says.

The report’s data show approximately 1% of growth in f-gas quantities in metric tons of gas supplied to the EU market – from 78,307 to 78,825. In addition, total EU consumption of HFCs covered under the Montreal Protocol rose ca. 7% from 74.4 million metric tons of CO2e to 79.4 million.

The report specifies that HFCs emissions account for more than 90% of f-gas emissions in the EU, and refrigeration and air-conditioning continue to be key applications for these gases.

Notwithstanding these increases in supply and consumption, the finding that HFC supply was 4% below the 2020 overall quota limit means that “the EU remains on track under the HFC phase-down of the EU F-gas Regulation,” the report says. Moreover, it added, “companies that did not fully use their quota were counterbalanced by the few cases of importers’ quota exceedance of bulk HFCs and equipment.”

In addition, “[a]s available HFC quotas have not been fully needed to cover the demand, the reserve of quota authorizations eligible to cover imports of refrigeration, air conditioning and heat pump equipment under the HFC phase-down continues to grow,” the report says. “The current size of the reserve accounts for about seven times the amount of such equipment imported in 2020 or 111% of the 2021 EU maximum quantity of HFCs.”

Notably, the supply of unsaturated HFCs (HFOs) and HCFCs with very low GWPs has decreased by 5% and stabilized close to 2018 levels at about 30% of the HFC supply, the report says.

HFC gas prices in the EU remain significantly higher than on the world market, helping to moderate demand. However, the report does not take into account the smuggling of cheaper HFCs into the EU, which have been a major impediment to full accounting of f-gas supply. According to the report, it is presently impossible to quantify customs evasion, and thus the analysis does not include data concerning illegal HFCs imports.

Low levels of reclaimed and destroyed HFCs

The quantities reported as reclaimed f-gases increased by about 6% in volume in 2020 compared with 2019, while reclaimed HFCs increased by 7.5%. Reclaimed HFCs now account for 11% of EU production of virgin HFCs, or 3% of total EU HFC supply.

The amount of destroyed f-gas decreased by ca. 24% in 2020 after more than doubling the year before.

Overall, data between 2015 and 2020 on reported reclamation show that a relatively small amount of f-gases have been reclaimed: from 0.7 million metric tons in 2015 to 1.6 in 2020. This represents only 1.6% on average in relation to the amount of f-gases supplied to the market over that period.

Similarly, the amount of HFCs reported as destroyed is low: since 2015 there has not been a year when the amount of destroyed f-gases exceeded 1.8 million metric tons. For comparison, the EU market’s supply is roughly 77 million metric tons per year.

EU regulation requires operators to recycle, reclaim or destroy f-gases at end of life; low compliance levels suggest widespread venting instead. This appears to worry the U.K.’s Department for Environment Food & Rural Affairs (DEFRA) team in charge of drafting the current U.K.-version of the EU F-Gas Regulation. British consultant Ray Gluckman, technical advisor to this team, described the reported data as “really low compared to what models related to appliances reaching end of life show.”

Overall goals

The EU F-Gas Regulation implemented in 2014 aims to cut EU emissions of HFCs by two-thirds by 2030 compared with 2014 levels. The F-Gas Regulation is scheduled to be revised by the European Commission next year.

Meanwhile, under the Kigali Amendment, the EU is committed to cut HFC emissions by 70% by 2030, relative to a baseline that averages HFC production and consumption between 2011 and 2013 and adds 15% of HCFC baseline quantities.

The report notes that EU compliance with the Kigali Amendment is not assured beyond 2030 in all cases “as the metrics used to regulate f-gas placing on the market under the EU F-gas Regulation and those used to describe the limits on the consumption of HFCs under the Montreal Protocol are different.”

The EU’s overall objective by law is to achieve climate neutrality by 2050 with a net reduction target of 55% by 2030 compared with 1990 (the “Fit for 55” package). F-gases are included in the objective.

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