NUREMBERG, Germany - Efforts to ensure that HFC refrigerants have a long future in Europe are being made by a number of manufacturers and trade groups. They are making commitments to refrigerant containment and technician training, and they are monitoring and responding to proposed regulations.

These proposed laws must work their way through a labyrinth of approval processes within the European Union.

A symposium at the International Trade Fair for Refrigeration, Air Conditioning, Ventilation (IKK) hosted by the Association of European Refrigeration Compressor and Controls Manufacturers (ASERCOM) covered these topics and more. The trade association has 19 HVACR manufacturer-members in Europe.

The HFC issue has implications for the North American market; success means refrigerant manufacturers can continue to produce HFCs for use throughout the world. Also, successful efforts to preserve such refrigerants in Europe can crimp efforts to ban HFCs. In the past, bans on CFCs and HCFCs in Europe eventually crossed the Atlantic.

This time, industry forces in Europe seemed determined not to let that happen with HFCs.

The Process

Getting laws on the books in the new European Union (EU) of 25 nations is complicated, said Darcy Nicholle of United Technologies.

The process, he said, involves 25 commissioners ("the politicians of the bureaucracy"), the hundreds of members of the European Parliament (EP), representatives of a Council of Ministers from the 25 nations ("although the real power rests in the capitals because countries don't like to give up control"), and 25 judges in a Court of Justice.

The commission seeks input, then comes up with a proposal for a law. That proposal goes to both the EP and the council, where there are two readings and many changes before they reach a conciliation, which could lead to a third reading.

Adding to the complexity are the classifications of proposals, which end up within certain articles in the law. A proposal can get placed in an article dealing with products, which idealistically is guided by the original intent of the EU (to have a single market legal base among all member countries). Or, the proposal can get into an article dealing with the environment, which Nicholle said is based on the ideal of a single policy, but gives the member nations flexibility interpreting environmental laws.

"Flexibility can turn into green market barriers," he said.

Into The Labyrinth

The European HVACR industry is entering into the fray with a proposal it hopes will demonstrate its commitment to the environment while preserving HFCs.

According to Peter Horrocks of European Commission DG for Environment, there are four main elements:

1. Containment and recovery measures.

2. Training and certification.

3. Data reporting requirements.

4. Marketing and use restrictions.

The first three are similar to regulations that the United States and its Environmental Protection Agency have worked their way through. The last item relates to banning HFCs in areas outside of stationary HVACR, in Europe. (HFC-134a is facing a possible phaseout of use in automotive air conditioning in EU countries. HFC-152a and CO2 are being looked at as possible replacements.)

Horrocks said the goal is to have a legal framework in place by fall 2005.

Containment, Training, And Certification

Containment was discussed by Joop Hoogkamer, an environmental and technology director in the Netherlands. He noted that his country has mandatory technical, operational, and administrative requirements, plus a mandatory license for contractors and technicians.

The mandates have meant that "the quality level of installations and management increased," Hoogkamer said. While there "was a slight cost increase to end users, that was well compensated for by lower associated running costs and fewer system failures."

He claimed that overall leak rates are well under 4.5 percent in the Netherlands, including the supermarket sector.

Training and certification were discussed by Robert Berchmans of the Air Conditioning & Refrigeration European Association (AREA).

He said a survey of 340 technicians in various countries showed that 55 percent had some kind of environmental certification and about 50 percent were working in the field with less than a year of refrigeration training. The certification requirements vary from country to country.

Berchmans said the industry is trying to put standardized training and certification into place. A lot of attention was given to a training program called the Leonardo da Vinci AREA Refrigeration Craftsman. That program has "criteria of qualifications and competence," Berchmans said. Also in the mix is the European Vocational Training Association.

"We will establish a proper system of training and certification in the air conditioning and refrigeration industry that can help meet the containment objectives of the proposal but which is not too constraining or bureaucratic," Berchmans said.

On Their Own

The European situation has yet another element of complexity. At present, both Denmark and Austria have passed laws leading to the banning of HFCs (and other so-called "F" gases, those with fluoride).

The problem, explained Friedrich Busch of the European Partnership For Energy and the Environment (EPEE), is that such bans "prevent the import and use of substances and products lawfully produced and marketed in other member states of the EU."

The EPEE has lodged a legal complaint against the actions.

In the case of Denmark, Busch said the ban "breaches the basic principle of free movement of goods. It is discriminatory. And the ban is unnecessary and disproportionate. It is not justified by imperative requirements in the general interest."

He said that Austria "has failed to give sufficient consideration to the effects of the ban. The ban will result in longer use of and greater emissions from older technologies. And allowing a provincial governor to grant individual [regulations] breaches EC law requirements."

CO2 And Energy

CO2 is talked about most often as a replacement for HFCs. Hermann Renz of Bitzer noted that work with the refrigerant is only in "the test phase or in discussion. There is no final assessment at present."

Issues that need to be dealt with, he said, include feasibility, safety, compressor life span, and energy efficiency. Furthermore, "No single refrigerant (or group) is suitable for all applications due to special requirements and constraints regarding cooling capacity, refrigerant properties, application ranges, safety classifications, and other requirements."

Energy efficiency tends to dominate a lot of industrial discussion in Europe because energy-efficient equipment helps in dealing with global warming.

"Refrigeration has the task to minimize the emissions of so-called greenhouse gases," said Eberhard Wobst, a professor from Dresden, Germany. "The substitution of HFCs only makes sense according to the greenhouse effect."

In other words, if HFCs were to be replaced, it would have to be with something even more energy efficient. That refrigerant, the industry contends, has not yet been found.

Publication date: 11/15/2004