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)
- 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
- F-gases can remain in the atmosphere for thousands of years
- Equipment and appliances containing F-gases can have long lifetimes of up to 50 years
The European Union has therefore taken action to control F-gases as part of its policy to combat climate change. Legislation was passed in 2006, and in 2012 the European Commission made a proposal to strengthen this in order to cut F-gas emissions by two-thirds of today's levels by 2030.
In December 2013, representatives of the European Parliament and Council agreed on a slightly amended text based on the Commission's proposal. The revision of the F-gas Regulation is now subject to the formal approval of the Parliament and Council.
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.