The hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) were developed by the chemical industry as substitutes for chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs), which are extremely damaging to the ozone layer and were eventually banned in 1992 by the Montreal Protocol. Although HFCs are currently commonly used in refrigeration, air conditioning, foam blowing agents, aerosols, fire protection and solvents, they are often misleadingly considered by their manufacturers as environmentally friendly as they do not deplete the ozone layer like CFCs and HCFCs. HFCs are, however, highly potent greenhouse gases and contribute significantly to climate change. The refrigeration and air conditioning sectorin particular is predicted to emit the equivalent of 70 million tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2) by 2030. To address this issue, a 2014 EU Regulation on fluorinated greenhouse gases (EU Regulation No 517/2014) requires a 70% cut in the consumption of HFCs by 2030, weighted by global warming potential (GWP). Within the air conditioning sector alone, the new Regulation makes possible a reduction in fluorinated greenhouse gases of some 46 000 kt CO2 eq. However, it is estimated that there are over 34 million pieces of equipment/systems that must be replaced in order to achieve the goals of the Regulation. This will require a major awareness-raising and training programme targeted at industry.
The overall aim of the REAL Alternatives 4 LIFE project was to facilitate the refrigeration and air conditioning sectors transition towards the use of low GWP refrigerants, in order to reduce its greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Specific objectives included: increasing knowledge among the estimated 228 000 technicians working in the sector on the safe use of low-GWP refrigerants; addressing inconsistencies in skills levels across the EU in handling alternative refrigerants by providing training materials; overcoming equipment user and distributor concerns regarding the safety, reliability, containment, efficiency and standards compliance of low-GWP refrigerants; and supporting the effective implementation of the 2014 Regulations requirements for information to be made available by EU Member States on the impact of low-GWP refrigerant technologies on climate and energy policies.
The REAL Alternatives 4 LIFE project reached many industry professionals, policymakers and other stakeholders with a relatively small budget. It created high-quality training materials that will continue to be used well beyond the project end in EU Member States, and provided a demonstrably proven blended learning training programme.
In particular, the project:
Key project successes included the extensive liaison and dissemination activities, with numerous stakeholders, including technicians, distributors, trade and professional bodies, regulators and policymakers, as well as EU and intergovernmental policymakers and departments.The project created and promoted the uptake of a blended learning training system for low GWP refrigerants, including an e-learning platform and practical face-to-face training for trainers and technicians. All learning materials were provided in multiple languages (17). The training programme provides consistent delivery and standardisation across the EU, with national leads in each Member State and a network of trainers. Training and capacity building impacts included over 4 600 e-learning users engaged, 378 technicians certified, and 105 trainers certified under a train the trainer programme. There is a commitment from the beneficiaries, and a costed after-LIFE strategy including ongoing revenue generation, for project continuation and sustainability.
The main environmental benefits of the project are related to the training and capacity building, which will be fully realised in the long-term as awareness and skill levels increase and training programmes continue to be rolled out. The predicted annual greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions reductions as a result of the roll-out of project outcomes across the RACHP sector were 12.6 MT CO2 eq./annum, and wider energy reduction benefits have also been predicted. In addition, as refrigeration and air conditioning are estimated to account for 17% of the total EU energy consumption, the project's activities to improve knowledge and the efficient operation of these systems are likely to result in a reduction in energy use in the EU.
The project addressed the EU F-gas (fluorinated greenhouse gases) Regulation, to facilitate the transition to low GWP alternative refrigerants. The project supported the European Climate Change Programme, for example, by providing training materials. It also addressed three of the five Europe 2020 targets (improving employability of the RACHP workforce; supporting existing investments in R&D in low-GWP refrigerants; and contributing to achieving climate change and energy sustainability objectives), and contributed to many other EU policies, as well as to national and international agreements.
The main socio-economic benefits were reflected in the key training and capacity building benefits. The training undertaken will ensure that the RACHP workforce operate safely and reliably, enhancing their future employability. In addition, 1 FTE job was created during the project (down to 0.5 FTE after-LIFE). Green procurement in the RACHP sector has been supported by the projects guide to Procurement of Low GWP Refrigeration and Air Conditioning equipment.
Further information on the project can be found in the project's layman report and After-LIFE Communication Plan (see "Read more" section).