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F-gas restrictions push development of refrigerants

Refrigerants in the form of fluorinated gases (F-gases) potentially spell trouble for global warming, but there is a lot of development in the area.

The European Commission is in the process of further strengthening the existing regulations on F-gases. There are a few categories of F-gases, and one of them is hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) which are often used as refrigerants in heating and cooling appliances like air conditioning units and heat pumps.

Currently used F-gases are ozone layer friendly, but they are also greenhouse gases, often far more potent than CO2. This is measured in an index called GWP (Global Warming Potential), comparing the warming potential of the F-gas to an equivalent weight of CO2.

Looking at cooling and heating production for comfort or industrial applications, screw based technologies now have a wide range of alternatives to refrigerants with high GWP (1500 or more), including solutions with lower GWP (500–700) or very low GWP (10 or less). On scroll based technologies the transition is still under way.

An example of a mid-level refrigerant is R32, with a GWP of 600. Swegon has just introduced the widest and most complete rooftop range based on R32 in the industry. And there are even newer developments, like using R290 with a GWP of no more than 3, which Swegon makes use of in the latest launched heat pumps.

Swegon is all in favor of making units more environmentally friendly, and our products always use products with the lowest GWP available. At the same time, the market push to switch to lower GWP refrigerants is quite weak in this line of business. Thus, we welcome the EU plan for further restrictions on GWP amount for F-gases. Our own efforts also go in this direction, and we invest heavily in R&D in this area.

A wider approach to F-Gas restrictions
We are also in favor of the European Commission taking the opportunity to investigate a wider approach to F-Gas restrictions. In fact, in some cases where refrigerants are commonly used, for example as a heat distribution medium in heating or cooling systems, they may even be eliminated altogether. In many buildings water can instead be used for this purpose, reducing the use and leakage risk of refrigerants substantially.

Also, not to forget – as important as looking at GWP is, it is at least as essential to look at the bigger picture: the overall CO2 equivalency impact over the whole life cycle of product, from the design and production phase to the end-of-life process. A better way of measuring the total impact of a unit is calculating the TEWI (Total Equivalent Warming Impact) value. In some cases this may lead to the choice of a refrigerant with a higher GWP, since a substitute with a lower GWP may be less efficient and result in a higher TEWI. Refrigerants have to strike a balance between low GWP, high efficiency, low flammability and other factors.

That said, we follow the development on new refrigerant gases closely, and we use the best available as soon as they are marketed. We are ready for the future.