Skip to the content

Europe makes progress on conflicting PFAS ban and F-Gas phase-out regulations

Proposals for a PFAS ban that conflicts with the finalisation of European Union F-Gas regulations have raised significant concerns among various stakeholders. Current drafts of these regulations pose a threat to global air-conditioning and refrigeration market as it works to integrate new-generation refrigerants and technologies aimed at combating climate change.

PFAS warning sign

The proposed PFAS ban:

Known as ‘forever chemicals’, per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) found in many everyday products, including refrigerants, are facing bans in Europe and elsewhere over environmental and health concerns.

A PFAS ban would affect numerous HFC (hydrofluorocarbon) and HFO (hydrofluoroolefin) refrigerants that fall under the PFAS definition; these include R125, R134a, R143a, R227ea, R245fa, R365mzz, R1234yf, R1234ze, R1336mzz and R1233zd.

PFAS ban progress: 

On January 13, 2023, five EU member states; Germany, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, and Denmark submitted a universal proposal to restrict PFAS to the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA). 

On February 7, 2023, the ECHA announced its proposal to limit PFAS and initiated consultations on the proposals.

On March 22, 2023, the ECHA opened a six-month online consultation to gather a comprehensive understanding of the risks, socio-economic aspects, and alternative substances related to the proposed restriction on PFAS substances.

On April 5, 2023, an online information session conducted by the ECHA explained the restriction process, the proposal’s content, and provided guidance on how to engage in the consultation.

On September 25, 2023, the PFAS consultation closed. More than 4,400 organisations, companies, and individuals provided the ECHA scientific committee with over 5,600 comments. The ECHA insisted that only relevant evidence-based information would be considered in the opinion-making process and that it would remain open to scientific scrutiny.

PFAS warning label

Industry reaction:

In response to the PFAS consultation, the EPEE (European Partnership for Energy and the Environment), which represents the refrigeration, air-conditioning, and heat pump sectors in Europe, requested an exemption for F-Gases and fluoropolymers.

“We requested these time-unlimited derogations to avoid a significant loss of efficiency for key products in heating and cooling,” said EPEE director general Russell Patten. 

“Further restrictions on the use of F-Gases and fluoropolymers would drastically slow the deployment of heat pumps, on which the EU depends to reach independence from Russian fossil fuels and to meet the climate target by 2030.”

EPEE and others agree there are currently no feasible substitutes for fluoropolymers that can match their level of safety and efficiency. EPEE also emphasises the suitability of fluoropolymers for the demanding operating conditions of RACHP (Refrigeration, Air Conditioning, and Heat Pump) equipment. 

These materials are highly valued for their exceptional sealing capabilities, ability to withstand pressure and temperature, long-lasting nature, excellent electrical properties, and low friction characteristics.

“Fluoropolymers offer the safest way to transport refrigerants and avoid leakages of toxic and flammable gases. A ban on their use would mean returning to less efficient, less safe, older alternatives and would impact many European industries beyond the RACHP sector itself,” said EPEE.

The Research Council for Refrigeration Technology (FKT) in Germany issued a position statement that outlined the primary consequences of the proposed PFAS regulations for a range of critical infrastructure applications.

PFAS is widespread in industrial processes

While acknowledging the importance of safeguarding human and environmental health against unrestricted chemical usage, FKT highlighted that a blanket prohibition on the entire PFAS group of substances would have ramifications for the manufacturing industry, including the refrigeration and heat pump sectors. 

“Many of the materials used before 1950 have unacceptably high leakage rates or are no longer permitted because they do not meet modern safety standards (i.e., lead, asbestos). Alternatives to PFAS-containing materials that are capable of meeting the very high performance requirements now required are not available at present. Research to find suitable alternatives and the rigorous laboratory and field testing required to prove their suitability for practical use in refrigeration will take many years,” the FKT said in its statement. 

“Without PFAS-containing materials the achievement of the European Green Deal would be questioned and put at risk.”

With the exception of five fluorinated refrigerants, FKT revealed that the PFAS ban would impact all others, which are already subject to stringent F-Gas regulations and limitations.

Raising concerns in response to the potential impact of the proposed PFAS bans on the use of “natural” refrigerants was the Association of European Refrigeration Component Manufacturers (ASERCOM),

“To progress with decarbonisation efforts within our industry, it is imperative to meticulously manage the entire PFAS dossier,” said ASERCOM president Marco Masini.  “Transitioning to “natural” refrigerants necessitates even more the use of fluoropolymers, which are encompassed in this ban; hence, we are advocating for the introduction of exemptions for such materials.”

ASERCOM said in a statement that its members are actively working with their supply partners to explore alternative substances. However, they too have not yet identified viable solutions that can achieve the same level of performance.

ASERCOM PFAS team leader Heinz Juergensen emphasised that any mandate to replace PFAS elements in refrigerants would necessitate extensive redesigning and testing of compressor parts, as well as other key components and even entire systems.

“Employing alternative substances for different refrigerants would escalate the variety of components managed in production, wholesale, and installation sites,” said Dr Juergensen. “This could elevate the risks of failures and damages arising from improper selections.”

PFAS next steps:

The ECHA committees will meet to formulate a draft version of their opinions, which will be sent to the European Commission.

Although specific dates have not yet been provided, this lengthy process inadvertently offers industry additional time to further engage with policymakers.

Free Industry News

Stay up to date with the latest industry news with our free monthly newsletter!