With the new EU F-Gas Regulation reducing HFC consumption in Europe by 79% by 2030, now is the time to invest in natural refrigerants as energy-efficient, environmentally friendly and future-proof alternatives, heard participants in the eighth annual ATMOsphere Europe conference, which kicked off in Berlin today.

“We’re focusing on natural refrigerants as the future-proof solution. The synthetic alternatives aren’t particularly good – especially in light industrial applications. There are good natural choices there,” said Jörgen Rogstam, managing director of Swedish firm Energi & Kylanalys, which specialises in refrigeration engineering.

Rogstam believes the EU F-Gas Regulation is already having a market impact above and beyond what the Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol, agreed in the Rwandan capital last year, has put in place at global level.

Staying ahead of the regulatory curve

“We don’t need to mention Kigali. It’s more obvious than that. In Europe we have the F-Gas Regulation. Things are happening much more quickly than expected. I think it’s enough to talk about the F-Gas Regulation and say ‘these are natural [refrigerants], they’re going to stay’,” he said.

Likewise, Vincent Grass, refrigeration team lead in the Corporate Operations – Engineering Services department at Nestlé, argued that the Swiss multinational is also one step ahead of the global regulatory curve.

“We moved directly to natural refrigerants before Kigali. We moved to natural refrigerants to improve our energy efficiency and to limit our climate change impact,” Grass said.

“We still have HCFC and HFC systems to phase out, but 90% of our refrigerant charge is in industrial – and 90% of our industrial refrigeration is already natural refrigerants,” he said.

Commercial refrigeration is one area in which the EU F-Gas Regulation is already beginning to bite. In 2022, bans on using certain HFCs with GWPs above 150 in new centralised and plug-in commercial refrigeration equipment will come into effect.

For Austria’s AHT Cooling Systems, these regulatory developments merely serve as confirmation that the company is on the right track. “Kigali didn’t change anything for us, because we’ve already been using propane since the 1990s. People come to AHT because they want to have hydrocarbons in their equipment,” said Reinhold Resch, vice-president for R&D at AHT.

For European retailers with operations on other continents, though, the Montreal Protocol remains an important driver for natural refrigerant adoption. “Kigali has helped us to make the case for natural refrigerants internally,” said Olaf Schulze, director of energy management for retail giant METRO AG.

METRO’s F-Gas Exit Program will phase out f-gases and replace them with natural refrigerants worldwide where technically and economically feasible. “CO2 transcritical technology is our clear favourite but we support natural refrigerants, so that’s CO2, ammonia or hydrocarbons,” Schulze said.

“Natural refrigerants are abundant in the biosphere, they are stable, and the technology to harness them is already out there.

Vincent Grass, Nestlé

Little market threat from HFOs

Asked whether HFOs – the new generation of synthetic refrigerants – pose a market threat to natural refrigerants, Rogstam said: “HFOs are a risky, short-term solution. We don’t yet understand all the risks. Don’t let history repeat itself.”

METRO AG is equally convinced of the business case for natural refrigerants. “We have one pilot HFO store in the Czech Republic – it will remain just that, a pilot, forever!” said Schulze.

Nestlé’s Grass agreed with these sentiments. “There are a lot of uncertainties about HFOs and their impact on the atmosphere. The Nestlé policy is to use efficient, natural refrigerant alternatives, and we’re sticking to it,” he said.

Grass predicts a bright future for natural refrigerants not just in Europe, but worldwide. “We don’t have a crystal ball, but natural refrigerants are abundant in the biosphere, they are stable, and the technology to harness them is already out there,” Grass said.

“It’s also about cost avoidance – we don’t know what the future holds. In many places, we moved directly from HCFCs to naturals, and we know that we saved money by doing that,” he said.

What’s next for natural refrigerants? “We need smarter, more integrated systems that take advantage of heat recovery to serve the client’s needs,” Grass said.

ATMOsphere Europe 2017, taking place from 25-27 September at the Hotel Mercure MOA in Berlin, Germany, brings together manufacturers and users of natural refrigerant-based HVAC&R technologies to discuss the latest technology, market and policy trends affecting uptake of natural refrigerants in Europe.

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