01 january 2022

AKOGAS: A Tool to Survive the F-GAS Regulation and Not Die Trying

So, what is the F-GAS regulation?

In this newly dawning 2022, virtually everyone in the refrigeration sector in Europe knows the words ‘F-Gas regulation’. In fact, the F-Gas regulation is progressively changing the way refrigeration systems are designed, executed, installed and maintained. But what exactly is the F-Gas regulation, what are its goals and how long has it been in force?

The F-Gas regulation is European directive 517/2014, in force since 2015 when it repealed its earlier 2006 (842/2006) version. Both versions of the regulation seek to reduce the impact of HFC gases in the atmosphere through different initiatives. In practice, they drive a progressive decrease in the use of HFC refrigerants in cooling refrigeration systems, as they have global warming potential and thus, when released into the atmosphere, contribute to the greenhouse effect. This has led to each refrigerant specifying, since a few years ago, its corresponding GWP (Global Warming Potential) value.

In fact, upon reflection, anyone could conclude that, if HFC refrigerants are harmful only when released into the atmosphere, to eradicate the issue it would be enough to reduce or eliminate their leaks. That way, gases would remain inside the systems and not in the atmosphere, where they contribute to the dreaded greenhouse effect. This solution is as radically true although it has been historically neglected by stakeholders. However, its validity remains perfectly pertinent and represents the core of AKOGAS proposal to ensure compliance with the F-GAS regulation, as discussed below.

Technically, how is the F-Gas regulation deployed?

How does the F-Gas regulation intend to (or achieve) a progressive decrease in the use of HFC refrigerants? Basically, it does so in three ways:

  • By progressively reducing the capacity to produce and import HFC refrigerants, based on global warming potentials. This is the well-known phase down. See Figure 1.
  • By promoting bans on the use of refrigerants in certain applications, with a schedule that progressively accumulates bans over the years and in parallel to the corresponding development of technological alternatives.
  • By timidly fostering the use of leakage detection systems in order to reduce refrigerant gas leaks.
Figure 1: HFC Phase-down by directive 517/2014 (F-Gas).

And about leak reduction, why we use the term timidly?

While it is true that the directive, in articles 3, 4, 5 and 6,  promotes both the use of leakage detection systems and inspections for their reduction, these guidelines have had very little impact on the effective reduction of leakages. This is mainly because it promotes generic detection systems, which do not effectively detect small and medium leaks which, in their turn and generally, represent the vast majority of total refrigerant leaks, as detailed below.

Legally, how is the F-Gas regulation deployed?

The F-Gas regulation, as any European regulation, is not always directly applicable in member states. In fact, the legislative imposition generally falls on the transpositions (or amendments) of such regulation that EU member states implement as mandatory laws for each state, for example RD 115/2017 and 552/2019 in Spain, several Ârreté laws in France (Arrêté du 17 juillet 2019, Arrêté du 29 février 2016), etc.

What is the F-Gas regulation schedule?

When does the F-Gas regulation end its deployment? The F-Gas regulation has extended its regulatory schedule since 1 January 2015 and extends HFC bans and quota reductions until 2030.

Thus, the F-Gas regulation is driving a technological shift based on reducing the availability of HFC refrigerants on the market. This way, the phase down is imposing a reduction through which by 2030 the HFC refrigerants (legally) available in the EU will be only one-fifth (21%) of the amount used in the reference period of 2009-2012. It is precisely this reduction of (legally) available refrigerant on the market combined with the continued leakage of HFC refrigerants in existing systems that is driving a strong illegal trafficking of HFC refrigerants, a complex and difficult to quantify issue that goes far beyond what this article aims to address.

The present (January 2022) and future of the F-Gas regulation…

Back to the present, on 1 January 2022, the FGas added two additional bans. Both of them refer to new installations: 1) NEW hermetically sealed refrigerators and freezers for commercial use (with built-in compressors and condensers) must use refrigerants with GWP below 150, thus definitively banning any HFC refrigerant; and 2) NEW multipack centralised refrigeration systems for commercial use with a rated capacity of 40 KW or more must necessarily use refrigerants with GWP below 150, except in cascade systems where R134a may be used.  In short, these two additional 2022 bans mean that some systems and equipment for commercial use can no longer be marketed using HFC refrigerants.

These two bans, therefore, do not affect already installed systems using HFCs, which continue to face the same issues since 2021: the shortage of new (fresh non recycled) HFC refrigerant and their price when dealing with leaks. In fact, the shift that took place on 1st January 2021 (which involved reducing the marketing of fluorinatedgas from 63% to 45% of the reference value for the years 2009-2012) had (and still has) a much greater impact on the market than the recent bans. Why is this so? Because most manufacturers of large refrigeration systems and / or stand-alone refrigerated cabinets (who have been aware since 2015 that HFC would be banned in 2022) have been working for months, and even years, with non-HFC refrigerants, such as CO2, NH3 and R290, for example.

So, if in 2022 regulatory modifications have had a moderate impact, only limiting the marketing of some new equipment and systems, what does the F-Gas regulation hold for the near future? The next big shift will be a further phase down scheduled for 1 January 2024 when HFC marketing will be further limited from 45% to 31% of the reference value for the years 2009-2012. This shift will result in further inflation, making HFC refrigerants even more expensive, which will surely impact both economically and operationally already installed HFC systems which do not control or minimise refrigerant leaks.

After 2024, the F-Gas regulation will only apply two additional bans related to HFC production and import: on 1 January 2027 and 1 January 2030, when the amount of marketable HFC (to be produced or imported) will be stabilised at 24% and 21% of the amount for the reference period respectively.

Figure 2: Gas sensor installation.
Issues related to already installed systems until 2030

After more than seven years since the deployment of the F-Gas regulation, it can be stated that generally in Europe, hardly no new projects or refrigeration systems are designed with HFC refrigerants, as it makes no sense to develop new systems that use refrigerants that will gradually disappear from the market. Consequently, the impact of the phase down, which relentlessly moves towards reducing (legally) available HFCs, mainly affects the installed base systems which are largely HFC based. These systems therefore depend on the availability of HFCs (with higher or lower GWP) in case of refrigerant leaks.

Thus, clearly, issues related to already installed systems (mostly HFC installed base) in Europe are limited solely to refrigerant leaks. With controlled leaks (when detected in time, the amount of leaked gas can be limited to just a few hundred grams or, at most, a few kilograms), such systems are perfectly efficient and operational. Conversely, without early leak detection, such systems are at operational risk due to the uncertainty surrounding HFC refrigerants’ price and availability in the medium and long term (until and after 2030).

While it is true that an alternative to solving this issue (HFC availability/price) is to completely replace already installed systems (with systems using alternative refrigerants), after carrying out an analysis of the refrigeration industry and its systems, especially in the commercial and light refrigeration industry sector, the complete transition to non-HFC systems does not seem possible before 2030.

Thus, the F-Gas regulation and its legal and technical implications are shaping a scenario in which HFC leaks are progressively becoming critical. What solution does the sector have left? Obviously, there is only one solution: reducing and minimising refrigerant gas leaks. In fact, now it is more important than ever for those systems using HFC refrigerants (regardless of their GWP) or HFC / HFO blends (e.g. R448A) to keep leaks under control by minimising the amount leaked. Otherwise, the future and economic viability of such systems (which are not necessarily old or obsolete) is at risk because of the continued withdrawal of such refrigerants from the market and the associated inflation.

AKOGAS, a tool for dealing with the F-Gas regulation

AKO Group has spent more than five years developing and perfecting a solution designed for contractors/installers, to help their clients minimise increasingly dangerous refrigerant gas leaks. The AKOGAS system, IoT connected, achieves highly-accurate information on leaks, thanks to three absolutely necessary technological pillars:

  • Early detection, at very low ppm, by means of accurate and selective NDIR (Non-dispersive infrared) detection technology, capable of detecting micro-leakage of up to 1 gram per hour (1 g/h) at a concentration of less than 10 ppm. Such micro-leakage (which is difficult to detect) represents most of the refrigerant which is leaked annually and that goes undetected by conventional detection systems. See Figure 3a.
  • Connectivity, either
    • Through communication buses and gateways to the cloud (see Figure 3b) or,
    • Through cellular modems in the sensors, making the system easy-to-install and accelerating its implementation up to threefold.
  • The cloud: which performs the necessary calculations to instantly notify when there are leaks in the system, specifying their location and how serious they might be. See Figures 4 and 5.
Figure 3: (a) Detector/transmitter HFC AKO-575400 with embedded NDIR technology.
(b) Gateway for gas detection/concentration reading to the detection system on the cloud akonet.cloud.

AKOGAS can reduce up to 90% of systems’ leaks (90% of the amount of refrigerant leaked). It consequently becomes the best tool to face the tough F-Gas regulation bans on HFC systems, which still constitute the majority of the already installed systems in Europe.

Figure 4: Detection System ob the cloud (akonet.cloud). In this specific system, refrigerant detectors/transmitters are connected to the cloud by means of the Gateway EDGE (Figure 2b).

This highly-accurate leakage information (location, time, and gravity: WWW: Where, When, hoW bad?) enables the installer, in turn, to locate and repair the leak in a very short time, minimising the number of call-outs (as there are no false alarms) and maximising the efficiency of time spent on site.

Figure 5: Detector/transmitter cloud view. The detector is placed in the freezing cold room so-called P030. A leak is detected at 62 ppm on Friday 14thJanuary. The leak is treated and progressively repaired during the following 2 weeks. The most probable moment for leak detection is between 14h and 16h, as shown in the concentration histogram.

Written by: Xavier Albets-Chico, Technical Director

Contact to our expert: xalbets@ako.com