Interview with Thomas Trevisan from Belgian ATMOsphere (formerly shecco) – a global, independent market accelerator with a mission to clean up cooling

In this series, RefNat4LIFE project partners give insight into their motivation to engage in sustainable RACHP. This time, we talked to Thomas Trevisan of the Belgian-headquartered ATMOsphere – a global market accelerator with a mission to promote the transition to more sustainable, natural refrigerant cooling technologies.

Claudia Becker (HEAT GmbH): Thomas, how can relevant actors such as investors, end-users and manufacturers be best supported in the transition to more sustainable cooling technologies?  

Thomas Trevisan (ATMOsphere, Belgium): Thanks for this very important question, Claudia. There is a great need globally to transition away from fluorinated substances in the RACHP sector, as well as to improve the energy performance of equipment. This is crucial for addressing the climate emergency and ensuring a more sustainable future. Luckily, energy-efficient technologies charged with natural refrigerants are already mature and commercially available on the market, so it is really a matter of spreading the word and making interested stakeholders aware of the possibilities and advantages of sustainable cooling.

Choosing sustainable cooling technologies not only supports the fight against climate change and environmental pollution, but also makes economic sense in terms of electricity bill cost savings, amongst other benefits. Considering the particularly high volatility of energy markets today, I believe addressing this problem concerns everyone, especially stakeholders in the RACHP sector, whose appliances are amongst the largest energy consumers in our modern economies.

Additionally, on a more big-picture level, policy measures such as restrictions (sectoral bans) and incentives (subsidies) can also support the transition to a more sustainable future by driving the market in the right direction.

Claudia:   What are the main challenges?

Thomas: With specific concern to the main target groups of this LIFE project, we have found that awareness of sustainable cooling solutions was consistently pinpointed as a decisive challenge to overcome. Specifically, small organic store owners, and even many RACHP technicians too, are often unaware of sustainable cooling alternatives. Unfortunately, these end users often lack the resources to embark on this transition. Here I mention resources as both economic means as well as time/personnel to dedicate to these issues; on top of that, COVID has definitely not helped in supporting this transition. On the other hand, technicians, who are supposed to advise the end users, can lack proper education on sustainable cooling options. With this project, we aim to address these compelling challenges.

Claudia: Which policies support the switch to friendly cooling in Europe?

Thomas:  At the policy level, cooling appliances have been addressed for many years, both at EU and national levels. Generally, these appliances are targeted by energy- and refrigerants-related measures.

The first aspect is related to the amount of energy these appliances consume, which is quite significant, as the sector is one of the most energy intensive ones in our economies. At the EU level, the Ecodesign Directive and Energy Labelling Framework Regulation mainly target this aspect, seeking to establish minimum energy performances level to drive inefficient appliances out of the market.

On the refrigerant side, it is worth highlighting the EU F-Gas Regulation, a piece of legislation tackling the market of fluorinated gases in an effort to reduce their use. Two main regulatory measures used in this regulation are the HFC phase down schedule, which steadily reduces the allowable amount of HFCs produced and consumed on the European market, and sectoral bans on fluorinated refrigerants on the basis of GWP thresholds for specific appliances where alternatives exist.

Another regulatory effort at the EU level that is bound to affect the use of fluorinated refrigerants is building momentum. The Netherlands, Germany, Denmark, Sweden and Norway are jointly preparing a dossier to propose further regulatory measures on per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). These chemicals, also called “forever chemicals”, have been proven harmful to the environment and human health. Fluorinated refrigerants have been included in the scope of this regulatory process, and a first indication of the future regulation is expected by January 2023. International entities are trying to shed some light on the complicated world of PFAS, not least their definition. The OECD/UNEP Global Perfluorinated Chemicals (PFC) Group working on the issue recently released some fact cards on refrigerants considered PFAS, listing some very well-known HFC refrigerants such as R134a and R1234yf. At ATMOsphere, we expect this upcoming regulation to be decisive in the transition towards sustainable cooling solutions with natural refrigerants.

Claudia:  Why has ATMOsphere become a partner in the RefNat4LIFE project?

Thomas: ATMOsphere’s mission is to clean up cooling through the accelerated global uptake of natural refrigerants. We truly believe we can support this EU-wide project which shows great synergies with our mission. In fact, the uptake of natural refrigerants in smaller retail installations is still relatively slow despite their comprising a significant portion of the cooling market. As such, we saw the potential of this project for enhancing the awareness around sustainable cooling solutions already on the market for this sector.

In the fight against climate change and environmental pollution, shared efforts are required, as these are issues affecting us all. Sharing awareness of energy-efficient appliances charged with naturally occurring gases has always been at the core of ATMOsphere’s mission.