The EU continues to serve as a model to the world on advancing sustainability with its many ambitious climate and environmental goals outlined in policies such as the EU Green Deal, the REPower EU, the Energy Efficiency Directive and the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive. Such policies have catalyzed further discussion among other major carbon-emitting nations including the United States, which recently adopted new legislation such as the Inflation Reduction Act that is beginning to have a real impact on the country’s ability to reach net zero.
The bold climate goals laid out in the EU’s policies can only be accomplished through the power of chemistry and innovation. They require us to look at the total impact of solutions across their lifecycle. And, they require consumers, companies and governments to have all available tools in their toolbox.
Fluorinated gases (F-gases) are one such solution, which support key EU objectives by moving heating and cooling away from fossil fuel use and toward energy-efficient solutions. F-gases are the superior alternatives for thermal management as they offer a unique combination of sustainability, safety and performance in critical applications.
F-gases continue to underpin our modern world and improve our daily lives while also helping us to meet our climate and sustainability goals to secure a better tomorrow. The number of ways that F-gases add value to society and daily life, while delivering significant contributions to a more sustainable future, are almost too many to name:
• F-gases are ensuring sustainability for the digital transformation. The EU will need improved energy efficiency and low water-use cooling technologies for their next-gen data centers. Low-global warming potential (GWP) F-gases enable new technologies such as two-phase immersion cooling, which can reduce cooling energy use, CO2 emissions, and water consumption of data centers by more than 90 percent, while using a 60 percent smaller footprint compared to traditional air-cooling technology. F-gases are also used when producing semiconductors, one of the key elements of the EU’s digitization.
• F-gases enable energy and resource efficiency in building and renovating and are also critical for heat pumps, which have become an increasingly recognized technology to reduce household emissions while providing a versatile heating and cooling solution. Buildings account for 40 percent of energy consumed in the EU (as well as 39 percent of energy consumed in the U.S.). The EU objective to “leave no one behind” specifies the need to help 50 million consumers in the EU who struggle to keep their homes adequately warm and safe (climate proofing)
• Furthermore, F-gases have been widely used as insulation foam-blowing agents due to their efficiency, technical performance and nonflammability. These products help reduce energy consumption in EU homes, and their very low GWP means that any blowing-agent emissions that occur during the foam-blowing process have an extremely small impact on global warming.
• In an era when effective and efficient cold chains have never been more critical, F-gases contribute to sustainable cold and food value chains to ensure the safe distribution of vaccines and pharmaceuticals, enhanced food security and minimization of food waste. F-gases offer superior temperature stability and transport refrigeration capabilities in comparison to alternatives. This is increasingly critical in a world that will only face the growing likelihood of additional global pandemics and tightening food supply in the years ahead.
Information and education, as well as regulation, play key roles in achieving our climate and environmental goals, guiding the behavior of businesses and consumers. However, without a fact-based, open and transparent debate to drive a coherent regulatory approach, we risk undermining the very purpose for which these flagship policies were conceived. By relying solely on a popular narrative instead of science or data, we may unwittingly limit our ability to draw on some of the very solutions that will be most critical in helping us achieve our biggest environmental goals.
A prime example: some have suggested that so-called ‘natural refrigerants’ — but in reality, industrial gases including propane, ammonia and CO2, among others — are a superior alternative to F-gases from a climate and performance perspective, even suggesting that F-gases should be subject to further regulation or outright bans. However, the facts simply don’t bear this out. For example, the European Commission stated in its own assessment that propane is not a viable replacement due to safety concerns. Using propane also means extending our dependence on fossil fuels and, in general, leads to lower energy efficiency. It also has a real-life impact on the amount of carbon in our atmosphere. Other options, such as ammonia, also present significant health risks — being corrosive to the skin, eyes and lungs. Exposure to a tiny amount is immediately dangerous to life and health, and it’s also flammable in low concentrations by volume in air.
The EU has reached a crossroads and now faces a series of critical decisions that will test whether it can remain a front-runner and leader in the fight against climate change, and in charting a course to a sustainable future for all of its citizens and the generations to come. The road to this sustainable future for the EU, and for the entire world, runs through a science-based, balanced and thoughtful approach to how we choose our most-important climate solutions.