European Parliament F-gas Bans
Bas Eickhout, Member of Parliament (MEP) and Rapporteur (MEP appointed to report on proceedings) for the Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety (ENVI). Source: Chemical Watch.

Elation at EU Parliament’s F-gas Vote, Along with Pushback on Heat Pumps

NGOs and natural refrigerant equipment suppliers praise the ambitious position taken on f-gas removal, but the EPEE looks for more ‘balance’ in coming negotiations.

“My F-Gas Report Passed!” exulted Bas Eickhout, Member of the Parliament for the Greens/European Free Alliance and a leading negotiator on the F-gas Regulation on Instagram, following the historic vote by the European Parliament on March 30.

The Parliament adopted an aggressive position, guided by Eickhout, on the revision of the EU F-gas Regulation, while largely rejecting a final industry attempt to reduce its ambition. Among 587 voting, 426 were in favor and 109 against with 52 abstentions.

“Today, after months of negotiations, the European Parliament voted on the report to finally phase out F-gases,” he wrote. “In addition, we prohibit the dumping of old equipment containing f-gases to non-European countries.

This is important, he added, “because in case you missed it: f-gases are super greenhouse gases that can be up to 25,000 times more harmful than CO2.”

The March 30 vote addressed the text adopted on March 1 by the European Parliament’s Environment, Public Health and Food Safety (ENVI) Committee, which steered new refrigeration, air-conditioning and heat pump (RACHP) applications away from fluorinated refrigerants, as well as other amendments proposed by political groups aiming essentially at delaying provisions in the ENVI text

The ENVI text was heavily influenced by Eickhout, who managed to maintain the “decoupling provision” separating f-gases from most RACHP (refrigeration, air-conditioning and heat pump) applications.

Eickhout’s positive reaction to the March 30 vote was shared by NGOs and several manufacturers of natural refrigerant-based HVAC&R equipment, though it was critiqued by some industry groups.

Much of the industry pushback relates to concerns over the availability of refrigerants for the rollout of heat pumps in Europe, which has been fast-tracked under the RePowerEU program. But these concerns are misplaced, according to the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA), a London-based NGO.

“We urgently need the heat pump rollout, but it needs to avoid as far as possible the use of HFC refrigerants or it will lock in these super greenhouse gases and their ‘forever chemicals’ emissions far into the future,” said Clare Perry, Climate Campaign Leader for EIA. “The Parliament position supports leading European heat pump manufacturers that are investing in sustainable natural refrigerant technologies.”

To address concerns that an accelerated HFC phase out will jeopardize the rollout of heat pumps under REPowerEU, the European Parliament slightly delayed the EU Commission-proposed bans on new HFC-based heat pumps and increased the HFC quota during the 2027–29 period, with an annual review to ensure compatibility with REPowerEU.

The European Parliament also voted to direct revenues from the new HFC quota price to promote the uptake of heat pumps, “such as upskilling gas boiler installers,” noted EIA. The Parliament has also asked the European Commission to promptly revise standards and allow specific applications to be excluded in case there are market bottlenecks.

Meanwhile, the major provisions of the position approved by Parliament include an HFC phase out by 2050 and multiple bans on fluorinated greenhouse gases (f-gases, both HFCs and HFOs) in applications such as heat pumps and stationary refrigeration.

In particular, in Annex IV – Placing on the market prohibitions on new system – a number of amendments banning f-gases, which were subject to fierce debate among political groups, were adopted. The phase out of HFCs by 2050 takes the phase down of 80% to 85% between 2036 and 2047 in the Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol to a more ambitious level.

Moreover, Amendment 139 to article 35 – Review – strictly binds this legislation to the PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) restriction process that was started last month by the European Chemical Agency (ECHA). ECHA is considering petitions from five European countries to regulate a number of f-gases as PFAS (so-called forever chemicals).

The Parliament also voted to include bans on the use of f-gases in other sectors, such as chillers, foams, transport refrigeration and technical aerosols. It further adopted measures to address illegal HFC trade, require mandatory producer-extended responsibility and raise the quota price to €5 (US$5.42), with periodic increases over time to match the phase-down steps and ensure a constant revenue stream.

The European Parliament will start negotiations with the European Council, which is expected to adopt its general position on the file next week. Following this, the three-way negotiations between the Parliament, the Commission and the Council will begin. An agreement is expected to be reached before this summer.

A win for the climate

One of the NGOs applauding the Parliament’s vote is the Environmental Coalition on Standards (ECOS), which advocates for environmentally friendly technical standards, policies and laws. “We are very happy with the result of the vote, said Carolina KoronenProgramme Manager, ECOS. “It brings us one step closer to ending the era of f-gases. This will be a win for the climate and environment as well as for European innovators in the heating and cooling sector.

Davide Sabbadin, Deputy Policy Manager for Climate at the European Environmental Bureau (EEB), Europe’s largest network of environmental NGOs, said, “Overall we are happy with the results given the strong push from industry, particularly on heat pumps.”

“We, of course, do not favor some delays that were introduced in Annex IV but we still think it is a solid base for discussion in the Council,” continued Sabbadin. “We feel confident that in the Council the progressive industries will make their voice heard at the national level and the argument of dependency on foreign f-gas supply can play a role in having a more progressive attitude from the presidency.”

Added EIA Senior Lawyer & Policy Advisor Tim Grabiel: “The message from Parliament could not be more clear – fluorinated greenhouse gases have no future in a 1.5°C constrained world. Today’s vote is also a vote for European industry, which stands to benefit tremendously from early investment in sustainable natural refrigerant alternatives.”

On the manufacturing side, Menno van der Hoff, the Dutch inventor of the TripleAqua heat pump, was generally very pleased with the vote. “This is where we need to go,” he said. “We can’t afford to go any other way, neither for the planet nor the future generations to come.”

He pointed out that at the recent ISH trade show in Frankfurt, Germany, there were dozens of heat pumps using natural refrigerants – mostly propane, but also CO2 (R744) and a few ammonia (R717) – on display, highlighting the exceptional growth in the natural refrigerant-based heat pump industry for the European market.

However, he cautioned that not all propane heat pump manufacturers are ready today to produce products at the scale needed to meet the growing demand for heat pumps in Europe – though the Parliament’s amendments have “given the transition real extra, additional time and thus it can be done.”

Van der Hoff added that he would like to see ongoing development of safety standards for installation of R290 heat pumps. The industry also needs to ensure that a sufficient number of technicians will be trained in handling natural refrigerant equipment over the next few years, he said; the AREA training association has assured him that there should be enough time to meet that goal.

“Europe sets the example again,” he said. “But if that does not succeed, it will not take off in other continents.”

Another manufacturer supporting the EU Parliament’s vote was Austrian technology startup pbx, which markets the ecos M24 propane-based refrigeration unit in light commercial electric vehicles. “A major step and a strong leadership by the EU-Parliament shown yesterday, 80% voted for banning F-Gases,” said pbx on LinkedIn. “F-Gas free solutions are the only way forward, and that’s why anything else needs to be banned.”

Pushback to the vote came from industry groups, such as the European Partnership for Energy and the Environment (EPEE), which represents manufacturing and research companies and associations. “Our members are fully committed to the phasedown of HFCs, but are gravely concerned that the amendments adopted in the European Parliament today are not affordable for many Europeans, are not technically feasible in all applications, risk the safety and energy efficiency of some equipment, and do not allow enough time to properly train installers and service technicians,” said Russell Patten, Director General of EPEE, in a statement.

“We remain hopeful that we can achieve some balance in this regulation over the coming months,” added Patten. “Today’s plenary vote demonstrated less support for ENVI’s proposals, showing that some of industry’s key messages are being heard. We now look to the Council and member states, and hope industry’s perspective will be considered to develop a more pragmatic and realistic implementation.”

The European Heat Pump Association (EHPA) noted in a statement that the industry has been “gradually moving away from F-gases, due to their impact on global warming, and has been replacing them with refrigerants with low global warming potential (GWP) and non-fluorinated alternatives.” However, added EHPA “ramping up the timeline for phasing out F-gases at the same time as ramping up the targets for heat pumps under REPowerEU is incompatible.”

“We urgently need the heat pump rollout, but it needs to avoid as far as possible the use of HFC refrigerants or it will lock in these super greenhouse gases and their ‘forever chemicals’ emissions far into the future,”

Clare Perry, Climate Campaign Leader for EIA

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