The Montreal Protocol was a success, but led to the use of F-gases which are thousands of times more potent GHG gases than CO2. Now they are being phased out. Shipping is safe, for now
by Craig Eason
Shipping uses a lot of F-gases or HFCs (hydrofluorocarbons), they are the gases that are used in air conditioning and for refrigeration and were introduced as a replacement to CFCs (chlorofluorocarbons) and HCFCs (hydrochlorofluorocarbons) when they were banned due to their role in depleting ozone in the atmosphere.
The reason shipping uses a lot of F-Gases is that they leak from onboard systems. The problem with F-gases is some of them are 24,000 worse greenhouse gases as CO2. There are proposals for them to be banned, or phased out. The Montreal Protocol, which was created in 1987 to ban CFCs has been updated with the Kigali Amendment in 2019. The aim of the amendment is to reduce the use of F-Gases by 80% by 2030.
The European Union has done something similar with its own restrictions on the production and use of F-gases in 2014. And it is now up for strengthening with tighter restrictions being proposed. It is still not a total ban, and current submissions by the European Council are aware that a ban on their use in shipping would be impractical.
“Given the international character of shipping and the high leakage rate of fluorinated greenhouse gases in the shipping sector, it is important that the Member States and the Union within their respective competences work with third countries to ensure that unnecessary emissions of fluorinated greenhouse gases are prevented in this sector, including during installation, maintenance, repair and recovery from refrigeration and air-conditioning equipment on ships”
But as the Kigali Amendment impacts global use and production it will also impact market prices, as will a strengthening of the European position. In shipping the annual refrigerant leakage rate is from 20% to 40%, and it is believed that the annual loss from the global fleet is 18.2m tonnes CO2e (2018) from IMO 4th GHG.
One of shipping’s key global suppliers is Wilhelmsen Ship Services which is on a mission to try and get ship operators and managers to take their use of refrigerants seriously. Many vessels will regularly use many bottles of the gases, with ships service companies like WSS offering bottle exchange programmes in many ports.
WSS VP maintenance solutions Jochen Juttermann, VP Maintenance Solutions says its getting more important for shipping to have a better understanding of their refrigerant leaks and gas usage. One bottle of one F-gas can have the same GHG impact as 38 cars for a year.
There are replacements to the F-Gases being proposed, but those under discussion rather ironically include CO2 and propane, but ammonia is also a known refrigerant.