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Industry warned refrigerants costs rising 'ten to twenty times' as F-Gas quotas bite

Experts attending RAC’s F-Gas Question Time warn industry should act ‘sooner rather than later’ on lower-GWP refrigerants

UK cooling companies faces the prospect of soaring refrigerant costs if fail to move quickly enough towards lower-GWP refrigerants. That was the view of experts at RAC’s F-Gas Question Time last week.

The expert panel underlined last month’s warnings of supply shortfalls in the next three years as a result of the reduction in HFC quota from the F-Gas Regulation.

As the quota is based on CO2 equivalent, the higher-GWP gases like R404A and R410A will become scarcer in the coming years, with prices rising accordingly, they cautioned.

Graham Wright, president of manufacturers’ body HEVAC was one of the most forthright in his warning that the industry should plan ahead.

He said: “In my nearly 30-year career, I have seen the move from R22 to R407 to R410 to R32 and it is clear that the goalposts in Europe are going to keep moving. What always surprises me though is why the industry always waits to the last minute to do anything about it.

As a representative of the manufacturers let me say, if we all wait to the deadline, we are going to be in trouble. From where I am looking I can easily see the price of R410A going up to ten maybe twenty times what it is now.

I am not trying to scaremonger - it stands to reason that the quicker people move to lower-GWP gases, the less it will cost them.”

Consultant Ray Gluckman put the case across in equally bold terms: “The big challenge is around the phasedown. We start at 100 per cent this year and step down from there.

“Let’s start by remembering that this is all measured in tonnes of CO2 equivalent, so we are not talking about a specific tonnage, it depends what refrigerant people buy. If we talk about tonnes of R404A for instance, with a GWP of nearly 4000 then there is an awful lot less that we can buy within the quota than R32, which has a GWP of 675”. N

“Next year and the year after there will be a 7 per cent cut in quota, which is not massive. But in 2018 we see a massive 37 per cent cut – this is only the headline number, because there is roughly  a further 10 per cent cut in sales resulting from pre-charge controls.

This refers to the fact that anyone importing pre-charged equipment will have to take the refrigerant for the pre-charge out of the quota. It is also two years before the service ban is mandated by the regulation in 2020.

We need to get the message across that this is doable but only if people need to get off their backsides and actually ‘do’ something about it.”

With this in mind, Mr Gluckman recommended four ‘core actions’ to reduce HFC consumption:

1)   Start using lower-GWP refrigerants for new equipment.

2)   Use the lower GWP refrigerants in existing larger systems where feasible.

3)   Aim to reduce leakage. Over 50 per cent of the current consumption of gas [in Europe] goes towards topping up leaked systems.

4)   Have good end of life recovery in place and begin to use reclaimed refrigerant.

It was also felt that a fifth core action could equally be: ‘invest in component technology which is energy efficient (reducing indirect emissions) and uses less refrigerant’.

Panellist Mike Nankivell of ACRIB’s F-Gas Implementation Group agreed. He said: We have to consider product energy efficiency particularly because it plays a bigger role than leakage in reducing emissions and I think it is a great opportunity to develop products that are more energy efficient and use less refrigerant.”

More from F-Gas Question Time, including the opportunities for alternatives in RAC July issue.

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