EU environment commissioner threatens tougher controls on fluorinated gases implicated in global warming.

Arthur Rogers, Brussels

European Union Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas is threatening tougher controls on use of fluorinated gases implicated in global warming.

Dimas issued the warning on 1 February after environment ministers and members of the European Parliament agreed prohibitions and restrictions on use of 17 hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), seven perfluorocarbons (PFCs) and sulfur hexafluoride (SF6).

Much will depend, said Dimas, on the success of new rules to prevent emissions from sealed systems in which use of fluorinated gases remains permitted. This EU legislation lays down requirements for leak detection equipment in major installations such as cold stores using 300kg or more of fluorinated gases (f-gases) as refrigerants, regular checks by inspectors trained to EU-wide standards, and other rules on containment, reclamation and/or safe destruction of f-gases.

Smaller operations using as little as 3kg of controlled refrigerants face new record-keeping obligations, to enable the EU to monitor   progress toward curbing greenhouse emissions of f-gases covered by the Kyoto protocol.

Uses that lead to uncontrolled emissions will be prohibited, as in tyres, insulating foam and window units. Frivolous applications, notably self-chilling drink cans, ’air technology’ trainer shoes and party aerosols, are also banned.

In the case of the niche application of SF6 in magnesium die-casting - a use which has escaped regulation to date - firms will be limited to 850 kg per year.

While fluorinated gases account for only two per cent of EU greenhouse gas emissions, they have long atmospheric lifetimes and their global warming potential (GWP) is generally thousands of times greater than that of CO2 - SF6 is calculated to have a GWP almost 30 000 times greater.

The new EU controls, which must now be rubber stamped by the European parliament and the 25 EU state governments, aim to reduce EU emissions of f-gases by the equivalent of 23 million tonnes of CO2 by 2020. 

For industry, the new EU legislation will entail a switch to alternatives barely a decade after firms turned to HFCs and PFCs as replacements for chlorofluorocarbons and hydrochlorofluorocarbons banned or restricted under the Montrealprotocol.

Irish MEP Avril Doyle, one of the parliament’s lead negotiators, told Chemistry World, ’The EU is already embarked on its drive to reduce CO2 emissions. The new legislation should ensure that EU emissions of fluorinated gases will be reduced by more than 20 per cent from 1995 levels by 2012.’