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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.

 

F-gas facts

  • 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

F-gas emissions to be cut by two-thirds by 2030

The European Union is therefore taking regulatory action to control F-gases as part of its policy to combat climate change.

A first F-gas Regulation was adopted in 2006 and succeeded in stabilising EU F-gas emissions at 2010 levels.

A new Regulation, which replaces the first and applies from 1 January 2015, strengthens the existing measures and introduces a number of far-reaching changes. By 2030 it will cut the EU’s F-gas emissions by two-thirds compared with 2014 levels.

This represents a fair and cost-efficient contribution by the F-gas sector to the EU's objective of cutting its overall greenhouse gas emissions by 80-95% of 1990 levels by 2050.

The expected cumulative emission savings are 1.5 Gigatonnes of CO2-equivalent by 2030 and 5 Gigatonnes by 2050. The latter number is more than the CO2 produced by a billion return flights from Paris to New York.

The new legislation will stimulate innovation and green growth and jobs by encouraging the use of green technologies based on less climate-harmful alternatives. It should also improve prospects for a future global agreement to phase down the use of F-gases under the Montreal Protocol on the protection of the ozone layer.

What F-gases are used for

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.

The availability of climate-friendly alternatives to F-gases has been thoroughly assessed in studies carried out for the Commission and other bodies.