PFAS- The Elephant in the room
25th July 2023
The issue of PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) has become a source of polarization within the refrigeration industry. On one hand, there are concerns about the potential risks posed by these chemical compounds to human health and the environment. On the other hand, there is a recognition that a complete prohibition of PFAS substances could significantly impact on the phase down of high GWP of refrigerants, the roll out of heat pumps and restrict the use of essential components in refrigeration systems.
PFAS substances have gained attention due to their persistence in the environment and potential adverse effects on human health. Given these concerns, there have been calls for stricter regulations and even the recent proposal to ban PFAS compounds altogether under the REACH regulations. The aim of which is to protect individuals and the environment from the risks associated with unrestricted use of these chemicals.
However, the proposed regulations can have far-reaching consequences. Ignoring the polarising Natural vs Synthetic refrigerant and TFA debates. A PFAS ban presents an even larger problem for the industry.
The biggest challenge we will find ourselves in if there is a blanket ban on PFAS is component availability. Essential components used in refrigeration systems, such as gaskets, sealing systems, electrical parts, and coatings, often rely on PFAS materials for their effective and safe operation.
PTFE and FKM materials, which are used in seals for compressors, valves, pumps could be at risk of being outlawed. These components are crucial for creating a seal and preventing leakage of refrigerants like HFCs, carbon dioxide, and ammonia. Therefore, these components play a critical role in preventing refrigerant leakage, ensuring energy efficiency, and extending the lifespan of equipment.
The debate needs to revolve around finding a balance between the need to address concerns about PFAS and the practical implications for the RACHP industry. It is important to acknowledge both perspectives to arrive at a balanced and sustainable solution.
It is essential to adopt a pragmatic approach when dealing with these components, considering the industry’s heavy reliance on them. Given their vital role in the functioning of refrigeration systems, it is currently unfeasible for the industry to operate without them. Since these components are not expected to directly break down in the environment, one possible solution could involve imposing disposal restrictions to ensure their safe handling and disposal. By implementing proper disposal regulations, the industry can mitigate any potential environmental risks associated with these components while continuing to benefit from their essential functionalities.
In a statement from Germany’s Research Council for Refrigeration Technology (FKT) said “Many of the materials used before 1950 have unacceptably high leakage rates or are no longer permitted because they do not meet modern safety standards (ie lead, asbestos),” they follow on with “Alternatives to PFAS-containing materials that are capable of meeting the very high performance requirements now required are not available at present.”
Efforts should be made to explore alternatives to PFAS-containing materials that can meet the performance requirements of the refrigeration industry. Research and development should focus on finding suitable replacements that can maintain the safety, efficiency, and longevity of refrigeration systems.
Collaboration between industry stakeholders, research institutions, and regulatory bodies is crucial to addressing this challenge effectively. This collaborative approach can help ensure that any proposed regulations strike a balance between protecting human health and the environment while also maintaining the integrity and functionality of refrigeration systems.
Ultimately, finding a solution to the PFAS issue requires a comprehensive understanding of the potential risks associated with these substances, as well as a commitment to innovation and sustainability. Only through collective efforts can the refrigeration industry navigate the challenges posed by PFAS substances and contribute to a safer and more environmentally friendly future for all.