The new F-gas Regulation no. 517/2014 has been in place across Europe since the beginning of 2015. But what exactly does this mean for refrigeration, air conditioning and heat pump technology?
Two experts from BITZER, the world’s largest independent manufacturer of refrigeration compressors and a driver of innovation for more than 80 years, answer the most important questions:
Dr Heinz Jürgensen (Director of Application Engineering and Product Performance) and Hermann Renz (Technical Programs Manager).
The issue of F-gases is very topical at the moment due to the new EU regulation. But what are F-gases?
Hermann Renz: F-gases are synthetically manufactured fluorinated hydrocarbons. The chemical industry has developed a wide range of F-gases as refrigerants for compression refrigeration systems, focusing on high thermodynamic efficiency and simple application. The F-gases generally used are neither toxic nor combustible, which reduces safety requirements and makes them much easier to handle.
Dr Heinz Jürgensen: A further benefit of using F-gases is that they have high thermal and chemical stability. Refrigeration systems are consequently more durable and easier to maintain. This is important as refrigerants are used under very different conditions. Furthermore, F-gases are used in other applications, for example as propellants for spray cans, as insulation gas in high voltage switchgear, as foam propellants or as extinguishing agents.
And what exactly is changing as a result of the new F-gas Regulation?
Hermann Renz: The regulation greatly reduces the amount of refrigerants available with high global warming potential (GWP), and in some cases even prohibits them. The charged amount no longer forms the sole basis of calculations, but now also the CO² equivalent – as a product of the charged amount and GWP in question. Refrigerants with low GWP can therefore be used in higher volumes than those with high GWP. However, many F-gases have high GWP. This is related to their chemical stability, meaning that they remain in the atmosphere for a long time.
What is the plan in terms of EU regulation?
Dr Heinz Jürgensen: The EU has set a very ambitious time frame. By 2018, the industry has to reduce the total volume of F-gas used by 37 per cent. By 2030, the volume used should be only 21 per cent of that used in 2015. This time frame is known as the ‘phase-down’. In addition, the commonly used refrigerant R404A will be prohibited in many stationary systems from 2020. With high GWP of 3,922, R404A is well above the permissible maximum value of 2,500. The regulation will keep us busy until it is fully implemented in 2030. Tightness checks will be intensified and we are also facing stricter certification of employees, documentation and administration.
Why is the EU introducing tighter regulations with regard to F-gases?
Hermann Renz: The first F-gas Regulation in effect since 2007 aimed to reduce the emissions caused by refrigerants by providing for improved containment and optimised recovery. However, the potential reductions brought about by this measure are not sufficient to achieve the ambitious climate objectives in the EU. The use of refrigerants with lower GWP can make a significant contribution to reducing emissions. Furthermore, F-gases are often used inappropriately because theyare non-hazardous. Accordingly, the EU decided to prescribe more stringent requirements for periodic tightness checks in the new F-gas Regulation.
So what are the refrigerants of the future?
Dr Heinz Jürgensen: We are firmly expecting hydrofluoroolefins (HFO), HFO/HFC mixes and natural refrigerants to take on greater importance and be used more frequently, as these all have low GWP. For example, CO2 (R744) is very important. BITZER has been providing CO2 compressors for more than 15 years both for trans-critical and sub-critical applications which are now very well established on the market. The product range for CO2 has also been significantly expanded. This represents a good alternative in supermarket refrigeration, in particular. And we have also products for ammonia and propane applications, of course.
Why isn’t CO2 simply used all the time?
Dr Heinz Jürgensen: No refrigerant has 100% optimal qualities, even natural refrigerants. CO2 is without doubt one of the most important refrigerants of the future, as it is virtually climate-neutral with GWP of 1. In terms of its energy efficiency, however, CO2 is at a disadvantage compared to other refrigerants in cases of high ambient temperatures. This is due to the specific thermodynamic properties. Refrigerants are therefore not suitable for all operating conditions. For example, in high-performance systems such as industrial refrigeration systems, ammonia is a good option, being tried and tested and technically sophisticated. In the case of smaller cooling capacities and lower charge levels, propane is an interesting alternative that can be used safely and efficiently with relatively little effort.
Does this mean that you have to design your compressors solely for a particular refrigerant?
Hermann Renz: In addition to necessitating a specific compressor design, the use of natural refrigerants also requires the system’s technology to be adapted, which is shaped by factors such as safety requirements. Ammonia (NH3) is known to be toxic, hydrocarbons are flammable and CO2 has particularly high pressure levels. In the case of CO2 and NH3 applications, for example, it is not just about designing the compressors for particular operating conditions. Instead, the entire system concept differs greatly from typical F-gas systems. Accordingly, the increased application of natural refrigerants also requires staff to be qualified and receive further training.
What does this mean for BITZER?
Hermann Renz: The need for well-trained staff, contractors and planners will definitely increase. This is why BITZER is taking specific action to resolve the emerging problem of the shortage of skilled workers. In recent years, we have launched three training centres for CO2 systems. We are giving customers theoretical and practical training in CO2 high-pressure systems in São Paolo, Rottenburg and Sydney. And this is proving very popular: in Rottenburg alone, we have already completed over 100 training courses.
Dr Heinz Jürgensen: BITZER has a major advantage in terms of experience over other manufacturers in the industry. Ultimately, it is our customers who benefit from this. With our knowledge and globally respected technical support, we help to make systems more efficient. One thing is clear: system efficiency must not be allowed to suffer.
Apart from CO2 and NH3 compressors, does BITZER already have products which can be used with other alternative refrigerants?
Hermann Renz: We are continuously developing our compressors and getting them ready for the use of new refrigerants. For example, the entire range of semi-hermetic reciprocating compressors is also available in propylene (R1270) and propane (R290) versions. Similarly, several series of compact screw compressors for R290 are already available. We also offer several series of reciprocating and
screw compressors suitable for the new hydrofluoroolefins (HFO) and HFO/HFC mixes. Incidentally, pure HFO refrigerants are not affected by the F-gas Regulation due to their low GWP.
Dr Heinz Jürgensen: We are well prepared due to our contacts with policymakers and refrigerant manufacturers. Accordingly, we have designed many of our compressors for alternative refrigerants. Our ECOLINE reciprocating compressors have a special design for use with the hydrocarbons propane and propylene, while the standard design is compatible with the new successors to F-gases coming to the market, as well as with HFO refrigerants and with HFO/HFC mixes.
The new F-gas Regulation is only applicable in Europe. Do you see a disadvantage here compared to producers based outside of the EU?
Hermann Renz: At first glance, it may seem that way. However, when you take a closer look, it is actually an advantage. Environmental protection has always been a top priority at BITZER. This gives us an advantage in terms of experience in the application of CO2 and HFO refrigerants, for example. In addition, we firmly expect that there will be similar global regulations in the near future, although they may have different goals and schedules. There is a clear trend towards lower refrigerant emissions with improved energy efficiency. Here we can build on our knowledge-based edge and achieve success around the world with our innovative developments.