The PFAS Ban: How Does it Affect the Refrigerant Industry?

The PFAS Ban: How Does it Affect the  Refrigerant Industry?

At the beginning of the year – 2023, the news of a European PFAS ban proposal hit the headlines. For most industries, this was a shock because it meant that thousands of products would no longer be available, manufactured, or used in Europe if the European Union considers banning these products.

Though the United States has already started banning these chemicals, many people are still wondering what exactly is the proposal about? Why does the European Chemical Agency (ECHA) want to introduce this ban? And does it have an impact on the refrigerant industry if passed?

Our article will cover everything you need to know about the PFAS ban and how it will affect the refrigerant industry.

What are PFAS? (Per – and Polyfluorinated Substances)

PFAS (Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances), also known as “Forever Chemicals,” are synthetic chemicals that have a carbon-fluorine bond. The bond created by these two chemical atoms is very strong, which makes the product resistant to grease, oil, water, and heat. You can find these chemicals in different products, including:

  • Non-stick cookware
  • Firefighting foam
  • Water-resistant fabrics
  • Paints
  • Cleaning products
  • Carpets
  • Cosmetics

Industries such as aerospace, construction, electronics, and automotive spaces also depend on these chemicals for various purposes.

Check out the following video that provides more information about PFAS chemicals:

Why Ban PFAS Chemicals

Five authorities (Norway, Denmark, Germany, Netherlands, and Sweden) sent a PFAS restriction proposal to the European Union via ECHA on banning around 10,000 PFAS.

In the proposal, these authorities state that the restrictions aim at reducing PFAS emission into the environment. Further, it makes products and processes safer for the people. The proposal also states that:

  • Although PFAS are useful in many products around the world, they can harm the environment
  • Around 4.4 million tonnes of PFASs would end up in the environment in the next 30 years if the authorities do not take necessary action

According to the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, these chemicals don’t degrade quickly because of the carbon-fluorine bond. Hence, it can remain in the atmosphere for years. Scientists are yet to know how much time these chemicals remain in the atmosphere.

To confirm the presence of PFAS in the atmosphere, the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention did a study to find out if they could find traces of these chemicals in the human blood serum. They noticed that 97% of the participants had traces of these chemicals in their blood.

Scientists also suggest that high exposure to PFAS can lead to health risks such as cancer, hormonal dysfunction, reproductive toxicity, endocrine disruption, carcinogenicity, and a weak immune system.

Besides that, PFAS:

  • Can contaminate drinking water sources
  • Builds up in fish and wildlife
  • Can affect growth and development
Graphic showing how PFAS moves from many sources into soil and water
Image source: https://theconversation.com/

Does the PFAS Ban Affect the Refrigerant Industry?

Different experts consider the PFAS Ban as one of the “largest ever ban on toxic chemicals” in Europe. But the question that most people in the refrigerant industry have now is, “Does this ban affect refrigerants?”

The Short answer: Unfortunately, the PFAS ban will affect the refrigerant industry. We may never see most of the HFCHFO refrigerants, and their constituent blends that we use today again if the EU accepts the proposal. And that is even if the chemicals have a low global warming potential (GWP).

Let me explain why this is the case.

Although both HFCs and HFOs are different in structure, both contain Fluorine, Carbon, and Hydrogen atoms. When Fluorine and Carbon combine, they form a strong bond, which makes these refrigerants stable. However, the problem is when you release these gases into the air during installation, replacement, or maintenance. They release Trifluoroacetic acid (TFA), a chemical that doesn’t degrade quickly once it gets into the atmosphere. The chemical, eventually, has adverse side effects to terrestrial and the aquatic ecosystem.

Single component refrigerants that may be banned include:

  • R125
  • R134A
  • R143A
  • R1234YF
  • R1234ze(E)
  • R1336mzz(E)
  • R1336mzz(Z)
  • R1224yd
  • R1233 zd(E)

The image below includes some of the refrigerant blends affected by the PFAS Ban.

List of Refrigerant Blends Affected by the PFAS Ban Proposal

On the other hand, the proposal will exempt specific refrigerants from proposed restrictions. These include refrigerants used in:

  • low temperature refrigeration below -500C (6.5 year exemption)
  • laboratory test and equipment (13.5 year exemption)
  • Refrigerated centrifuges (13.5 year exemption)
  • Maintenance and refilling of existing HVACR equipment for which drop-in replacements do not exist (13.5 year exemption)
  • Mobile air-conditioning systems such as vehicles (6.5 year exemption)
  • Transport refrigeration other than in marine applications (6.5 year exemption)
  • HVACR equipment in buildings where national safety standards and building codes prohibit use of other alternatives

A good example of a refrigerant that might survive the ban is R32. The refrigerant, commonly used in small air conditioning systems, may not be banned under these restrictions. However, since it has a high Global Warming Potential of 18,400, it may be banned under the F-gas regulation.

What is Next for the Refrigerant Industry

In a report compiled by Ricardo, an engineering consulting company, the study suggests that the PFAS restriction proposal may have significant impacts on the refrigerant industry if passed. For instance, since most HFC refrigerants may not be in use anymore, refrigerants may be less available, especially since manufacturers are still looking for environmentally friendly options.

They also state that the ban would cause:

  • Increased costs of refrigerants
  • Reduced efficiency since the refrigerant replacements may not be compatible with current systems
  • Increase in illicit trade in non-compliant products

It’s essential for manufacturers to find alternative refrigerant replacement for new heat and cooling systems. One of the most recommended replacements are natural refrigerants such as ammonia. These refrigerants have a very low GWP and do not deplete the ozone layer. Further, these refrigerants have a high efficiency and the cost of production is very low.

Another refrigerant option would be using hydrocarbons, which is a subcategory of natural refrigerants. These refrigerants are environmentally friendly since they have a zero ozone depletion potential and low GWP.

Conclusion

That’s it. As you can see the PFAS ban will have impact the refrigerant industry in a huge way. If passed, most refrigerants we know today may not be usable in HVAC systems. If you have any questions about the PFAS ban or anything to do with the refrigerant market, feel free to reach out.

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