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Stop using F-gases! Here are the alternatives


Stop using F-gases! Here are the alternatives

When Europe stopped putting lead in fuel because it is toxic, did anybody notice? We could stop using F-gases tomorrow and the world would move on.

Published on 03 Jun 2024

The man who invented leaded petrol famously washed his hands in it to show it was safe. But overwhelming evidence finally proved he was wrong. Leaded petrol is now confined to the dustbin of history.

Most of our refrigerators and heat pumps currently run on fluorinated gases, or F-gases. It is time these went the way of leaded petrol.

Some F-gases were regulated in Europe this year to remove the ones that are burning the planet. That is a good thing. But there is a loophole that allows continued use of a large category of F-gases.

These are HFOs, or hydrofluoroolefins, which industry giants are promoting as an alternative to substances banned because of their greenhouse effects. But HFOs break down quickly into long-lived and highly mobile TFA, or trifluoroacetic acid, over which there are serious concerns. TFA is a member of the PFAS family.

So why take the risk? Commercial alternatives to HFOs are ready and waiting.

“PFAS is one of the hottest topics in the dialogues we have with investors,” says Sidsel Dyekjær, senior policy advisor for ChemSec. “F-gases are a low-hanging fruit when it comes to alternatives, so it is a change that is realistic – it can be done.”

Here are the alternatives

These are the commercially available alternatives to F-gases, and the applications where they are used, compiled by industry group ATMOsphere and Professor Amin Hafner of Norway’s leading research university NTNU:

Source: ATMO; Prof. Armin Hafner

The experience of industry sectors that are already switching away from F-gases is that, when you have scale and volume in production, these alternatives are also cheaper, says Marc Chasserot, CEO of ATMOsphere.

“There is a massive financial risk in buying these F-gas systems, because they can be gone in five years,” he says. “With volume and competition, then prices will fall. It’s not rocket science.”

Ahead of the game

Some major companies can see which way the wind is blowing and are already switching to alternatives. In 2023, for example, Volkswagen announced it will stop using F-gases in the air conditioning of all its electric cars by 2030.

Supermarkets in Europe have seen a dramatic rise in the use of carbon dioxide (CO2 – see box) as a refrigerant over the past 15 years. They have found they could also make significant savings thanks to efficient heat recovery, improvements in system design, geo-energy storage and integrated systems.

“Nine out of ten new supermarkets in Europe today are installing natural refrigerants,” says Fredrik Strengbohm, Technical Manager at Caverion, a sustainable buildings provider. “Everything is possible without F-gases, even ice-skating rinks, and with lower energy consumption.”

Are F-gases banned already?

In March 2024, the EU enacted a new law to combat F-gases with high global warming potential. There is a mistaken view that the new F-gas regulation is effectively a ban, and that it therefore also resolves the F-gas part of the PFAS crisis.

It is true the bulk of PFAS contaminants arise from F-gases. But there are two things to keep in mind about the new regulation:

  • It is not a ban – it is a managed reduction in some areas
  • As we saw above, it does not cover the main class of refrigerant F-gasses – HFOs – which are a major source of PFAS.

The F-gas regulation is positive because it starts to tackle those substances that are the worst contributors to global warming. But it is very far from solving the PFAS crisis, which is why the EU’s proposed PFAS restrictions are so important.

The two therefore operate independently and do not replace each other:

These findings were presented at a webinar hosted by ChemSec. You can sign up for more webinars in our PFAS series by subscribing to our newsletter:

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