SVK ASF ATF | Swiss Refrigeration Association

This document provides information for plant operators to carefully select refrigerants for their refrigeration systems. It highlights the criticisms of synthetic refrigerants, the rationale for stricter regulations, the potential impact of restrictions and recommendations for system operators who need to procure, renovate or replace refrigeration systems in the near future. The information is provided by the Swiss Refrigeration Association (SVK).

Importance of refrigerant selection

Refrigerants are the “fuel” of cooling systems. In recent decades, synthetic refrigerants have often been used due to their favorable thermodynamic properties. However, these refrigerants also pose certain environmental and climate risks. It is expected that the use of synthetic refrigerants will be significantly reduced in the near future. This fact sheet explains why synthetic refrigerants have been criticized, discusses the potential impact of restricting these substances to end users, and provides recommendations for system operators who need to procure, renovate, or replace refrigeration systems in the near future.

Reasons for stricter regulations

Political pressure against the use of synthetic refrigerants is increasing across Europe for two main reasons:

  1. Climate impact: Many synthetic refrigerants have a high global warming potential and contribute to global warming.
  2. PFAS (per- and polyfluorinated alkyl substances): PFAS is a group of substances used in various products, including refrigerants. PFAS persist in the environment for decades due to their chemical stability and pose a risk to humans and the environment. Removal from water and soil is difficult.

Legal regulations

In the European Union (EU), the use of fluorinated greenhouse gases, which include virtually all synthetic refrigerants, is regulated by the F-Gas Regulation. The production, marketing and use of PFAS is controlled in Europe by the REACH regulation. Both regulations are currently under review and it is very likely that the use of synthetic refrigerants and PFAS will be severely restricted.

In Switzerland, the EU regulations have no legal effect. Instead, restrictions on refrigerants are regulated by the ChemRRV (Chemicals Risk Reduction Ordinance). The ChemRRV is regularly reviewed and adapted taking into account international legal developments, scientific and technical developments. The discussion on the update of the ChemRRV is also influenced by the changing framework conditions in the EU.

Possible effects of a PFAS ban

A ban on PFAS would affect the following HFC refrigerants, HFO refrigerants, and their blends, among others: R125, R-134a, R143a, R-404A, R-410A, R449A, R513A, R452A, R-1234yf, and R-1234ze. A ban on PFAS is expected to take effect in a few years. Existing plants can probably continue to operate with transition periods. However, such a ban may lead to a shortage and increase in the cost of these refrigerants, which would affect maintenance and servicing costs.

Conclusion legal provisions

The aforementioned European regulations have not yet been finalized, and the stakeholders involved are currently negotiating the exact content and timelines. In both the EU and Switzerland, however, significant restrictions on the use of synthetic refrigerants are already on the horizon in the near future. The exact form of these restrictions has not yet been determined.

Position and recommendations of the SVK

There is a clear trend towards natural refrigerants at European and global level. The SVK generally supports this development. However, the Association remains committed to ensuring that restrictions are defensible and economically viable from an environmental, energy, and safety perspective. The developments are only influenced to a limited extent by both the SVK and Switzerland.

SVK recommends:

Natural refrigerants will be permitted and available in the long term. These include R717 (ammonia), R744 (carbon dioxide), R718 (water), R729 (air), R290 (propane), R1270 (propene), R600a (isobutane), R600 (butane) and other hydrocarbons. Refrigeration systems that use natural refrigerants can be operated over the long term without restrictions.

When designing new refrigeration systems, it should be noted that systems using synthetic refrigerants are currently allowed to be built under certain conditions. In the medium term (10-20 years), however, restrictions may occur, e.g. due to shortages or rising costs of refrigerants on the market or due to refill bans at European level. It is important to note that cooling systems using synthetic refrigerants cannot be converted to natural refrigerants.