Fluorinated greenhouse gases
Fluorinated gases ("F-gases") are a family of man-made gases used in a range of industrial applications. Because they do not damage the atmospheric ozone layer, they are often used as substitutes for ozone-depleting substances. However, F-gases are powerful greenhouse gases, with a global warming effect up to 23 000 times greater than carbon dioxide (CO2), and their emissions are rising strongly.
- The three groups of F-gases are hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), perfluorocarbons (PFCs) and sulphur hexafluoride (SF6). HFCs are by far the most relevant F-gases from a climate perspective
- F-gases account for 2% of the EU's overall greenhouse gas emissions, but F-gas emissions have risen by 60% since 1990 – in contrast to all other greenhouse gases, which have been reduced
- Some F-gases, especially HFCs, are relatively short-lived; others, in particular PFCs and SF6, can remain in the atmosphere for thousands of years
- Equipment or products such as foams containing F-gases can have long lifetimes. Good stewardship, such as maintenance and gas recovery at end of life of the equipment or products, is therefore essential
The European Union has therefore taken action to control F-gases as part of its policy to combat climate change. Legislation was first passed in 2006 and this is currently being strengthened in order to cut F-gas emissions by two-thirds by 2030.
F-gases are used in several types of products and appliances, mainly as substitutes for ozone-depleting substances such as chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs) and halons which are being phased out under the Montreal Protocol and EU legislation.
- Hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) are the most common group of F-gases. They are used in various sectors and applications, such as refrigerants in refrigeration, air-conditioning and heat pump equipment; as blowing agents for foams; as solvents; and in fire extinguishers and aerosols.
- Perfluorocarbons (PFCs) are typically used in the electronics sector (for example for plasma cleaning of silicon wafers) as well as in the cosmetic and pharmaceutical industry. In the past PFCs were also used in fire extinguishers and can still be found in older fire protection systems.
- Sulphur hexafluoride (SF6) is used mainly as an insulating gas, in high voltage switchgear and in the production of magnesium and aluminium.