That screeching sound you are hearing is Europe starting to apply the brakes in its effort to do away with HFCs.

When much of the world settled in on HFCs as long-term alternatives to alleged ozone-depleting refrigerants, some concern was raised in Europe over the global warming impact of HFCs. Denmark’s government was the first to impose specific bans on HFCs in a number of applications. The German government announced plans to restrict the use of HFCs. Austria followed suit with announcement of specific restrictions.

But despite these developments, at the time this column is being written, the situation overseas is not quite that dire for HFCs.

First of all, some folks familiar with the Danish situation contend the government restrictions have enough loopholes to drive several large service vans through.

The German government’s restriction efforts continue to be discussed but with some caveats. The British publication AC&R News (no relation to The News) said late in 2002, “The German Environment Ministry intends to reduce the use of HFCs in those areas where the use of alternatives is technically possible and available.”

In other words, it appears any demise of HFCs will not happen unless almost everybody is comfortable that there are alternatives that have the same refrigeration effectiveness as HFCs.

The story went on to say that the German government has introduced a discussion paper advocating a ban on the use of HFCs in domestic refrigeration and heat pumps. These would be considered smaller applications, and in the case of domestic refrigeration, propane is already considered a legal and acceptable alternative in much of Europe. All of which means that Germany is now just talking about doing away with HFCs, and only in certain smaller applications.

Austria appears to be back-pedaling. Again, from the AC&R News: “Austria has modified the announcement it made in August to ban HFCs. The Austrian change of heart sees the ban on use in air conditioners and non-domestic refrigerators being lifted and the ban on the use of HFCs in large installations being ‘temporarily’ removed. The Austrians will now pursue Dutch-style containment and monitoring policy.”

What does this mean to those of us in the United States? It was Europe that moved away rapidly — and, in some minds, recklessly — in banning CFCs and then HCFCs. The speed and power of the ban steamrolled into the United States, and the U.S. government followed suit in effect because of worldwide pressure to do so.

But in the case of HFCs in Europe, any bans or phaseouts are slow and sputtering, with starts and stops along with some backtracking. There is little unity among countries.

That is not a scenario that’s going to force the United States out of HFC use any time soon.

Peter Powell is refrigeration editor. He can be reached at 847-622-7260, 847-622-7266 (fax), or

Publication date: 02/03/2003