Regulation must be adapted to encourage wider rollout of HFC alternatives like natural refrigerants for refrigeration, air conditioning and heat pump applications, according to a draft European Commission report to be published under the EU’s F-Gas Regulation on phasing down HFC use.

“While safety levels should be maintained and risks minimised, standards, codes and legislation should be adapted to technological progress and, in the context of a phase-down of HFCs […], allow the use of more climate-friendly alternatives where it is safe to do so,” the report argues.

The Commission report calls on European standardisation bodies CEN and CENELEC to update standards at EU level and invites companies to contribute by collecting evidence enabling better risk minimisation approaches for all flammable refrigerants.

It encourages EU countries with restrictive national codes, standards or legislation, “to consider a review in light of technical developments that would allow the safe use of alternative refrigerants“.

No significant restrictions on CO2, ammonia…

The report identifies flammability, poor material compatibility, toxicity and higher operating pressures among the limitations of HFC alternatives including natural refrigerants CO2, ammonia and hydrocarbons, but argues that these “can usually be addressed through suitable product design and proper maintenance of equipment”.

The EU executive surveyed 24 member states representing 95% of the EU population. Countries “did not report any significant national restrictions going beyond European requirements for refrigeration, air conditioning and heat pumps related to the use of ammonia or CO2”. However certain stakeholders complained of “restrictive rules on ammonia use in France”.

…but hydrocarbons ‘severely restricted’ in Italy, France and Spain

For hydrocarbons, the picture is different. Local building codes and fire regulations, as well as transport and storage-related codes, can “severely restrict” the use of flammable refrigerants in many EU countries, the report states. 

National decrees in Italy, France and Spain “severely restrict the use of flammable refrigerants for air conditioning equipment in certain types of public access buildings,” the report says. Moreover, “these requirements go well beyond the rules permitting such use by European and international standards,” it adds.

Philip Owen, who heads the unit responsible for Montreal Protocol issues in the European Commission’s directorate-general for climate action, told this website: “The challenge with standards is the multi-layered approach: global, European, national and local level. You get down to local building regulations in certain member states, and find that you’re blocked there. It’s an issue, and we’re working hard at EU level to do something about it.”

The draft Commission report, meanwhile, warns that standards implemented in the European Union influence the HVAC&R market elsewhere too.

“Many developing countries adopt European and international standards and make them mandatory in their own legislation. Hence if such standards pose unjustified barriers to the uptake of climate-friendly technologies, the undesirable impact of these standards reaches markets far beyond the EU,“ the report warns.

“[Natural refrigerants] have to increase to make the phase-down work.

Philip Owen, European Commission

The European Commission must remain technologically neutral and cannot back one option over another as long as they all comply with existing legislation. “We wouldn’t want to pick winners,” Owen said. Nonetheless, he predicts that natural refrigerants will continue to grow. “They have to increase to make the phase-down work,” he said.

As the HFC phase-down picks up speed, why is still so difficult to accelerate the adoption of natural refrigerants? Bas Eickhout, a member of the European Parliament in the Greens/European Free Alliance Group, warns that it will take more than dismantling regulatory barriers.

“It’s because you’re moving the market to other players. The chemical industry plays less of a role in this natural refrigerant world. But the chemical industry is a very well organised, well-established world with big players. Big voices get heard,” Eickhout said.

The draft Commission report will be formally published by 1 January 2017.


European Commission report on standards (draft)