Development of HFCs and HFOs

Fluorocarbons CFC 11 & CFC 12 were originally developed in the late 1920s to resolve the major difficulties and the risks from using toxic or highly flammable refrigerants. Later on, when it was discovered that CFCs and HCFCs had adverse ozone layer impacts, HFCs were developed. Fluorocarbons producers funded cooperative international programmes called PAFT (Program for Alternative Fluorocarbon Testing -for extensive toxicity testing) and AFEAS (Alternative Fluorocarbon Environmental Acceptability Study – for environmental impact research). These programmes needed to ensure that the candidate HFCs’ properties and impacts were completely understood, taking into account short term and long term issues.

The currently most widely used HFCs were back then shown to be non-flammable and of low toxicity. Their environmental impact was fully characterized. When HFC-134a was introduced, no other industrial product had been so extensively tested. HFCs are hydrocarbons containing fluorine atoms that give them their exceptional properties. Their common names consist of the abbreviation HFC (hydrofluorocarbon),a number and some letters which reveal the exact molecular structure. For more details, reference is made to the EFCTC Learn about … (H)(C)FC and HFO Nomenclature – basic principles.

The range of available HFCs, used pure or blended, allows the design of “tailor-made” systems for specific application sectors, delivering higher performances. Their wide field of application covers:

  • Preserving food and medicines in refrigeration appliances.
  • Providing comfortable and safe living via air-conditioning in offices, houses hospitals, and shops.
  • Saving energy as blowing agent for high performance thermal insulation foams.
  • Allowing production of semiconductors and electronics as precision cleaning solvents.
  • Saving lives and goods property as waterless fire extinguishers.
  • Treating asthma as propellants for medical aerosols inhalers (MDIs- metered dose inhalers).
  • Saving our written heritage from self-destruction thanks to a paper de-acidification process.

A new class of fluorocarbons, the HFOs (hydrofluoro-olefins) enables the partial replacement of HFCs further reducing environmental impact (greenhouse gas emissions) and offering similar safety and performance benefits. HFO-1234yf has already been adopted for car air-conditioning as a replacement for HFC-134a, and blends of HFOs with HFCs are being developed offering similar performance to HFCs but with lower GWPs.