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"Refrigerant supply shortfall will hit within three years’

Annually decreasing quotas will create a shortfall far sooner than 2020

Those involved at the sharp end of refrigerants and testing have underlined warnings that F-Gas quotas and the forthcoming bans are on course to create serious supply issues for end users and equipment manufacturers alike – if they don’t plan ahead.

According to John Ormerod, managing director of refrigerant distributor A-Gas, the company’s demand modelling has confirmed that the annually decreasing quotas will inevitably create a shortfall far sooner than 2020, when the first F-Gas servicing ban applies.

He said: “The market is going to get tighter sooner than people realise.

There is no doubt that there will be a supply crunch and it is not going to be 2020, it will be in the next three years.

Our modelling shows that the shortfall in refrigerant produced because of the quota reductions could be more than the entire UK requirement for R404A, so it is significant.”

At the same time, the refrigerant supply issues are going to create serious challenges for the manufacturing and servicing sectors, warned Chris Playford, market development director for Foster Refrigerator.

He said: “The EC is legislating out refrigerants for which the replacement doesn’t yet exist – we can’t use hydrocarbons within the 150 g limit for all our products, such as blast chillers, for instance.”

“Blast chillers would currently require 3 kg of hydrocarbon. We could over time get that down to 500g, but it would still not meet current flammability regulations.
If we used HFOs, would they face a similar charge limit, given they are slightly flammable?

“The other alternative would be to design equipment with split circuits. That isn’t complicated to design, but it would obviously be much more difficult to service out in the field, given the difficult access of a kitchen.”

Whether to use ‘transitional’ refrigerants – medium-GWP blends such as R407A and R407F – or move straight to HFO blends will be a key consideration, especially since the recently released HFOs can be as much as four to five times the prices of R404A.

Mr Playford said he believed that the servicing sector would bear the brunt of the uncertainty as replacements were sought.

“I think we will see everyone clambering for the transitional refrigerants for the next two years, flooding the service market. Then you will find engineers facing issues like being caught with the wrong spares.”

At RAC’s F-Gas Question Time, taking place after this magazine went to press, the debate was expected to centre on how to manage the declining supply.

The event, to be reported in July RAC, features presentations from sponsors DuPont and Honeywell on their HFO refrigerant alternatives, as well as

guidance from ACRIB.

Speaking before the event, Mr Ormerod was forthright in reiterating the advice to move away from high-GWP refrigerants as soon as possible.

“Get the heck out of R404A has to be the first advice – but unfortunately I don’t get the sense that people are rushing. The supermarket sector particularly have other priorities at the moment.”

He also warned that R404A prices would inevitably spike in the next couple of years as the production reduced.

The F-Gas legislation allows refrigerant manufacturers to choose what to produce to meet a quota weighted on GWP and it thus follows that the volume of R404A produced could reduce quickly. 

Mr Ormerod said: “Once refrigerant manufacturers have exhausted their quotas what happens next?

How will they manage what each market has? He who holds the quota holds most of the cards. But the message for end-users must be to plan ahead.”

Equipment manufacturers such as Foster face additional challenges over the next two to three years, since as well as HFC phase-down they have to comply with the terms of the new Ecodesign directive.

This legislation coming in at varying times over the next 18 months, depending on product type, requires the manufacturer to perform energy tests on all its ranges, in order to produce an A-E energy label. (See more on the Ecodesign directive for heat pump and display cabinet manufacturers on p22-25.)

****See our full report on F-Gas Question Time next month

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