Background article

F-Gas phase-out: Europe as role model for the USA

In Europe, the F-Gas Regulation sets out a controlled phase down of F-Gas refrigerants up to 2030. This is a substantial undertaking that is being monitored closely in the USA. Monika Witt, eurammon Chairwoman, and Dave Rule, President of the International Institute of Ammonia Refrigeration (IIAR), report on the situation in their regions and reveal new trends in sustainable refrigeration.

1. Europe and the USA: who has the better approach for the F-Gas phase-out?

Dave Rule (IIAR): Although the programmes differ in the USA and Europe, the goals are the same. President Obama has indicated that the USA will basically be following the path taken by the EU. One difference is that in addition to statutory legislation, the economic factor plays a great role in the USA and has an extreme effect in triggering the development of new, economically attractive technologies. The USA have signed the Montreal Protocol and are thus obligated to proceed with the phase out of HCFC refrigerants with R-22 being the main one of interest. This is the one that is requiring lots of transition in the US now, and where the decreased supply will drive up costs forcing an industry change. The U.S. is also moving to include F-Gases (HFCs) in the Montreal Protocol and is working with other countries towards this goal to follow Europe’s lead. These actions are sending signals to U.S. industry that restrictions on HFCs are likely in the future.

Monika Witt (eurammon): In Europe, the phase-out is in full swing, with natural refrigerants already providing economically appropriate alternatives for all applications. It therefore makes logical sense for other countries and companies to follow suit. Once natural refrigerants become established in the USA for a range of different applications and this changeover has proven its economic adequacy, it is conceivable that the USA may even catch up or overtake Europe, given the huge impact of the economic component over there.

2. Research activities over the last ten years have focused on energy efficiency and sustainability. Where does the journey go from here? What about smart grids? What contribution can the refrigeration industry make here?

Monika Witt (eurammon): Regarding energy efficiency Europe has already done a lot in recent years. Considerable work has gone into optimising equipment and components. Controlling the systems as efficient as possible, particularly at part load, will become more important in the future. The key question at the moment is how to make power grid coordination and control as intelligent as possible, and how to bring about efficient storage of alternative energy fed into the system in the interests of constant availability. One example is that when feeding solar and wind energy into the power grid, there are times when there is more power available than the customers need. In stormy or very sunny weather companies with cold storage facilities can use this excess capacity to operate compressors and reduce temperatures where possible. A win-win situation for the electric utility and the company: On the one hand the power grid is relieved and on the other hand cold storage companies get electricity at special rates. Another important point is that smart grids increasingly bring together companies generating refrigeration and those needing heat. In practice, this refers to district heating companies or vegetable producers who settle in the neighbourhood of a refrigeration producing company, where they can put the unused waste heat to good use for their own purposes.

Dave Rule (IIAR): Smart grids are also starting to play a significant role in the USA. However, over and beyond this there is still an enormous need to catch up when it comes to energy efficiency. Applications with natural refrigerants for refrigeration and air-conditioning systems have a special role to play here. Ammonia for example is the most efficient refrigerant of all. Combined with new building designs, this results in vast potential for saving energy. The trend for cold storage warehouses in the USA is moving away from the former flat, often rambling buildings to much higher structures that are tightly packed with greatly improved insulation. Many have computerised access and delivery systems that often operate without human intervention. This saves space and prevents the building from heating up unnecessarily.

3. The situation and market in the USA differ from the framework conditions in Europe. What do you hope to gain from international exchange between the associations?

Dave Rule (IIAR): Primarily we're looking at sharing know-how between the individual regions, with direct information about trends and developments emerging in the industry throughout the various economic areas. Another aspect is possibly even more important in our joint global commitment to natural refrigerants, and that is to support the implementation of safety standards in other regions where training and qualification is given less priority than in Europe. The IIAR is highly committed in this respect and provides extensive training materials and a full range of ANSI approved Standards developed to improve building codes and ensure ammonia systems are designed, installed and operated safely.

Monika Witt (eurammon): Our joint central task is to ensure the safe operation in the long term of all systems that run on natural refrigerants. The most important message that we as a global network can convey with particular efficiency is that ammonia refrigeration systems are safe when built and operated according to the prevailing standards.