James Henley* from Daikin Applied discusses the latest proposed timetable for eliminating the use of fluorinated gases (f-gases) and the impacts and risks this may have on the industry in the UK and the rest of the world. He argues that changes should be a case of balance and practicality – not ideology.
Rushing HFC transition could be disastrous
The temperature of the debate around proposed revisions to the European F-Gas Regulations has been noticeably heated – not least in the UK which continues to mirror these rules despite our departure from the European Union (EU).
Europe is keen to show global leadership in the transition to low global warming potential (GWP) refrigerants, which is to be admired. However, when aiming for major change it is important to bring people along with you or face unintended consequences – and the rest of the world needs to be convinced that the change is both practical and safe.
And the truth is that what Europe decides has a huge knock-on impact on the rest of the world. Although this is an EU law, the European market is so significant that most international manufacturers will adapt their global production plans to reflect the new F-Gas rules. It is significant that the African industry has already spoken out on this topic because they are concerned about the implications for them.
So, what’s causing all the fuss?
The European Parliament has voted to speed up the timetable for eliminating the use of fluorinated gases (f-gases) in stationary refrigeration, air conditioning and heat pump systems from the start of 2026. Accelerating restrictions on the use of HFCs will also, therefore, lead to a more rapid transition to alternative gases – some of which are flammable.
These alternatives are perfectly workable and ready for adoption, but the industry is not completely ready and a lot more training is needed to make sure the people who will be working with them can do safely.
It is also vital that the European Parliament keeps hold of the bigger picture. Switching too quickly could undermine national decarbonisation plans by making it more difficult to roll out certain types of heat pump and leading to the premature replacement of perfectly good, energy efficient systems that still have many years of serviceable life.
The changes are quite dramatic and include a ban on single split systems using less than 3kg of HFCs with a GWP of 750 or more from 1 January 2025. Any stationary self-contained refrigeration equipment that contains F-gases with a GWP of 150 or more will also be banned from that date.
- From the start of 2027: The Parliament wants to remove from the market plug-in room and other self-contained air-conditioning and heat pumps (including monobloc systems) with capacities up to 50kW containing F-gases along with air-to-water split systems with a rated capacity of up to and including 12 kW – if they are using HFCs with a GWP of 150 and above.
- A ban on air-to-air split systems with a capacity of up to and including 12kW and operating on HFCs with GWP of 150 or more would come into force from 1 January 2029 along with the removal of split systems with capacities of more than 12kW, operating on HFCs with GWP over 750.
- Then from 1 January 2030, the legislators propose to prohibit all plug-in AC and heat pump equipment operating on F-gas with a GWP greater than 150.
- From the start of 2033, there would be a ban on split systems over 12kW operating on HFCs with a GWP over 150 under current plans.
There are some exceptions for installations with specific safety considerations, but the overall impact would be a major upsurge in the use of flammable alternatives if these plans are approved.
The African industry is concerned that it is already being used as a ‘guinea pig’ in this process, and the U-3ARC, which represents companies in all 54 African states, has called for a halt to their introduction until technicians are properly trained.
“This preliminary training must be accompanied by a vast awareness campaign among end users of these technologies which can cause disasters for humans, in terms of fires, even if they are beneficial for the environment,” the organisation said in an open letter.
It said the risks were “enormous” and that “the protection of the environment only makes sense if the human being, who is at its centre benefits from it”. It is also, reasonably, concerned about the safety implications for its engineers.
Any responsible manufacturer, such as Daikin Applied, will sympathise with this position while simultaneously respecting the European appetite to drive environmental change. However, it should be a case of balance and practicality – not ideology.
Improving standards worldwide
In July, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) is unveiling a Refrigerant Drivers’ Licence (RDL) scheme, which is intended to help developing nations gain access to the same level of training on safe refrigerant handling that more advanced markets already enjoy. This is an important initiative and will, given time, immeasurably improve professional standards worldwide, but it will take time.
Also, this is not just about developing markets whose safety problems are already well-documented. Our own industry needs more time to train up its engineers on the emerging alternatives so the last thing it needs is for the process to be rushed.
MPs on the advisory cross-party Committee on Climate Change have urged the UK “to match or exceed” the European Parliament’s ambition, but they may not have the full picture. Do they understand the possible implications for safety and for the wider environmental/energy efficiency agenda?
Again, their desire to lead on climate change from the front is to be admired, but the industry needs to be given a reasonable amount of time to manage this transition safely and practically.
We are all heading in the same direction and hoping to get to the right destination in the end, we just need to agree how quickly we can get there.