Christine Luetzkendorf, Deutsche Umwelthilfe presenting on the dangers of using HFOs in refrigeration at the ATMO Network event at Chillventa 2022.
Christine Luetzkendorf, Deutsche Umwelthilfe at the ATMO Network event at Chillventa 2022.

German NGO Describes Use of HFOs as ‘Burden Shifting’

Natural refrigerants are the only future-proof option for refrigeration, says campaigner.

As the world transitions away from ozone-depleting and climate-damaging f-gas refrigerants under the Montreal Protocol and its Kigali Amendment, opting for environment-degrading HFOs is just “burden shifting,” said Christine Luetzkendorf, Program Manager of Fluorinated Greenhouse Gases at German NGO Deutsche Umwelthilfe (Environmental Action Germany).

“We need to stop replacing one problem with the next,” she added. “We do not have time. We already have the natural refrigerant solutions for all technologies, so let’s go natural; they’re the only future-proof option.”

Luetzkendorf delivered these remarks during her presentation at the ATMOsphere Network event at Chillventa 2022 last month. The networking event was hosted by German OEM TEKO at its booth on October 12.

“We need to stop replacing one problem with the next. We do not have time. We already have the natural refrigerant solutions for all technologies, so let’s go natural, they’re the only future-proof option.”

Christine Luetzkendorf, Deutsche Umwelthilfe

Regulation of HFOs

Despite growing concern and evidence around the long-lasting environmental and health impacts of HFOs, there has been an “immense uptake” of HFOs in new technologies, according to Luetzkendorf.

Millions are being spent on the research and development of these chemicals, with their manufacturers falsely promising customers future-proof solutions and downplaying the risks, she added.

While Luetzkendorf is confident that there will be a stop to the use of HFOs, she is concerned about how long it might take the global community to get there.

As HFOs do not currently fall under European f-gas regulations or phasedown plans, the European Chemical Agency (ECHA) is planning in January 2023 to address them under REACH (Registration, Evaluation, Authorization and Restriction of Chemicals).

In particular, five EU member states – Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands, Norway and Sweden – have prepared a proposal for REACH to restrict PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) as a chemical group, which would cover many HFCs and HFOs, as well as HFO degradation product trifluoroacetic acid (TFA).

“REACH is a great regulation, but it’s huge, it will take so much time and it has many loopholes,” she warned. “We don’t have any time to wait for REACH; the precautionary principle must be applied.”

German support for NatRefs

According to Luetzkendorf, strong f-gas regulations would give the signal that the future is with natural refrigerants; “we do not have time to take a detour via HFOs,” she said.

In Germany, in addition to its proposal to restrict PFAS, the government is in support of the EU f-gas proposal, and its environment agency (UBA) is conducting research on the risks of exposure to TFA, she added.

As detailed in Luetzkendorf’s presentation, the German government is also currently revising federal funding for its efficient buildings (BEG) subsidy that is supporting the adoption of heat pumps across the country.

Under current incentives, Germans can receive a 40% subsidy when installing a heat pump, but a possible revision could add a 5% bonus for heat pumps that use natural refrigerants, she explained. Another proposed revision could see the subsidy available only for natural refrigerant-based heat pumps from 2030, with some requirements around energy efficiency.

However, Luetzkendorf said that Deutsche Umwelthilfe is trying to bring this date forward to avoid building up a substantial bank of f-gases in Europe’s heat pumps.

In addition to subsidies to support the adoption of natural refrigerants, Luetzkendorf highlighted the need to end subsidies for technologies that use f-gases.

She also emphasized the importance of training on natural refrigerants, revised standards and “brave frontrunners” to advocate for climate-friendly technologies.

“There is no measure that is too drastic; there is no ambition that is too high in sight of the climate catastrophe,” she said. “It also makes economical business sense to go natural refrigerants.”

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