HANNOVER, Germany - Here's a checklist that should be familiar to North American contractors:

  • Reduce refrigerant emissions.

  • Learn new recovery procedures.

  • Attend training/certification programs.

  • Abide by refrigerant reporting requirements.

  • Abide by use restrictions.

    In fact, the above checklist comprises elements in a European Union (EU) proposal, as many countries try to get on the same page when it comes to how contractors should do their jobs.

    The VDKF (Verband Deutscher Kalte-Klima-Fachbetriebe, or Association of German Cooling-Climate Practioners), an organization of German contractors, reviewed major issues facing its members and contractors throughout Europe in a report issued at the time of the IKK Trade Fair. (Reports on the IKK show will appear in upcoming issues of The News.)

    ‘Strict Maintenance'

    Many of the European contractors' concerns parallel those faced in North America. Refrigerant containment and environmental concerns are being discussed right now, hopefully to temper governmental pressure to impose stricter regulations, including the possible phaseout of an increasing number of refrigerants.

    German contractors may get some help. A government resolution states, "The HFC emissions from refrigeration and air conditioning plants using HFCs as refrigerants can be reduced by extending the compulsory maintenance to include the plants." The key here is "strict maintenance," rather than a phaseout of HFCs.

    According to VDKF, "The aim must be to improve the energy efficiency of plants and systems with a more favorable climate balance in mind. Leak inspections and compulsory maintenance of refrigeration and air conditioning plants, irrespective of the refrigerants they contain, are the right solutions for this."

    The EU proposal, Regulation 2037/2000, focuses on reducing emissions. It calls for "preventing and minimizing leaks, mandatory inspections for leaks, leak detection systems, and keeping logs."

    The recovery component covers familiar ground for North American contractors, since it deals with recovering, recycling, reclaiming and, if necessary, destroying refrigerants. Many countries in Europe have had their own policies on the books regarding this. The latest proposal brings such policies under the umbrella of the EU.

    Certification Program

    The training and certification component represents a newer step for European contractors and technicians. It appears to be heading toward a more governmentally legislated direction that mirrors some aspects of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's certification program.

    At the same time, it seems to have aspects of the voluntary training and certification programs and local licensing requirements found in the United States - but with a lot more teeth.

    According to the EU proposal, "The member states must set up and recognize programs for training and certification of personnel who carry out leak inspections and for personnel carrying out the recovery, recycling, reclaiming, and destruction of fluorinated gases" - nothing very voluntary about that.

    Friedrich Busch, general director of the European Partnership for Energy and the Environment (EPEE), emphasized the importance of the willingness of industry to reduce refrigerant losses.

    "Manufacturers of equipment and products containing these gases will need to take steps to minimize emissions during the manufacturing process and design equipment to be more leak-tight," he said. "Owners of this equipment will need to ensure that equipment is checked for leaks on a regular basis, and the servicing sector will need to ensure that those handling theses gases are trained and certified."

    The organization is calling for a more unified position on the subject, rather than letting individual countries impose more Draconian measures. EPEE was especially critical of Austria and Denmark, where elements are pushing for the phaseout of HFCs.

    "The EPEE complaints against Austria and Denmark have shown that such legislation has a direct impact in the working of the internal market." The position among those seeking to hold on to HFCs is that any efforts to phase out the refrigerant should only be undertaken if a viable alternative is available. Of course, at this point nobody is defining "viable."

    The EU proposal calls for an end to the use of R-134a in automotive air conditioning by 2014. "This is expected to be the most controversial issue of the upcoming regulation," Busch said.

    So, what does all this say to North American contractors and technicians? One aspect might be directed at folks on this side of the pond who feel so buried in confusing governmental regulations that they want to pull up stakes and move somewhere else; someplace where government is not looking over their shoulders and making life way too complicated.

    Good luck finding such a place.

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

    Publication date: 12/01/2003