* F-gases up to 23,000 times more powerful than CO2
* Have risen 60 percent since 1990
* EC says should be banned from new equipment
By Ethan Bilby and Barbara Lewis
BRUSSELS, Nov 7 F-gases, a potent source of global warming used in refrigeration, should be banned from new equipment as part of a progressive phase-out, draft European Commission proposals said.
The draft, published on Wednesday, confirmed comment by Climate Commissioner Connie Hedegaard on Tuesday on the need for a drastic cut.
"Today's proposal introduces a phase-down measure that from 2015 limits the total amount of the most significant group of F-gases - hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) - that can be sold in the EU and reduces this in steps to one fifth of today's sales by 2030," the Commission said in a statement.
It proposed a ban on F-gases in some new equipment, such as refrigerators, where "viable, more climate-friendly alternatives are readily available".
F-gases refer to a group of fluorinated greenhouse gases used in air conditioning and in domestic, supermarket and industrial refrigeration.
Some two decades after international action led to the phase-out of ozone-depleting chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), the Commission is trying to eliminate a new generation of F-gas chemicals.
In contrast to a drop in other emissions, F-gases have risen in the European Union by 60 percent since 1990.
The gases were introduced as a solution easily acceptable to industry, since the production chain to make them was similar to CFCs.
But their global warming potential, up to 23,000 times more than carbon dioxide, has led the Commission to push for natural non-synthetic alternatives such as ammonia or CO2, which can have high cooling properties when used in refrigeration.
The European Union has a binding target to cut carbon emissions by 20 percent by 2020 and non-binding targets to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 80-95 percent by 2050 to limit the extent of global warming.
"A fair and cost-effective contribution by the F-gas sector to this objective would require reducing F-gas emissions in the EU by two-thirds of today's levels by 2030," the Commission said.
Although industry supports the F-gas phase-out, manufacturers are concerned climate-friendly natural refrigerants may not work in countries that are too hot.
"CO2 looks like it's a very good refrigerant, and it's an excellent solution for certain applications under certain situations, but not everywhere," Andrea Voigt, head of industry group EPEE, said.
The European Partnership for Energy and the Environment (EPEE) represents air conditioning and refrigeration manufacturers and installers. Its members include Fujitsu and Honeywell.
EPEE argues CO2-cooling is less effective when used in hotter parts of southern Europe for technical reasons.
F-gas appliances have life-times of up to 50 years, so legislation is needed now to prevent emissions increasing for decades to come, the Commission has said.
The gases leak into the atmosphere from production plants and during the operation and disposal of products and equipment that contains them.
Once officially published, Commission proposals must be debated and adopted by the bloc's member states before taking effect.