Environment

When evaluating any substance, apart from its technical performance, its safety and environmental impact should be paramount.

Safety issues with common refrigerants in the 1920s lead to the wide scale adoption of CFCs until it was discovered they impacted the ozone layer. A global effort led to CFCs being phased out and the adoption of HFCs in the 1990s, following extensive safety and environmental assessments. It was known that HFCs have high Global Warming Potentials (GWPs), but these are significantly less than for the CFCs. In fact, the phase-out of CFCs and the adoption of HFCs replacement not only contributed to the preservation of the ozone layer, but also made a most significant and positive contribution to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Their reduction represented about four times the objective of the Kyoto Protocol. With an increasing focus on climate change, lower GWP HFCs are being adopted and HFOs/HCFOs were identified as having similar properties to HFCs but with ultralow GWPs.

The environmental advantages of HFOs and HCFOs and lower GWP HFCs

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From CFCs to HFCs

The use of HFCs enabled the replacement of CFCs and HCFCs. Most HFCs have high GWPs (>1000) but have a good balance of safety and technical properties.

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HFOs: Safety & low GWP

HFOs and HCFOs have similar safety and technical properties to the HFCs but have ultra-low or negligible GWPs and very short atmospheric lifetimes measured in days or months. Any emissions have negligible contribution to global warming. They can be used in very energy efficient equipment or provide excellent thermal insulation foam minimising energy consumption.

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Innovation in HFCs

New systems continue to use lower GWP HFCs. For example, HFC-32 has a GWP of 675 and is being widely adopted as a lower GWP alternative to high GWP R-410A in new systems, particularly where HFOs or HCFOs alone do not provide the necessary technical performance. It also has improved energy efficiency, requires reduce refrigerant charge and has a relatively short atmospheric lifetime (5.2 years).

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Montreal Protocol HFC Phase-down

In 2018, HFC consumption was already 46 % below the first limit for the EU under the Montreal Protocol Kigali Amendment (which was to be achieved in 2019). Measuring the progress of this phase-down relies on the metric of ‘consumption’, which is similar, but not identical, to ‘placing on the market’ (POM) used for the EU HFC phase-down. [EEA 2019 F-gas report].

Generations of Refrigerants

Learn more on how and why refrigerants have changed over the years.

Break it down

Why HFOs/HCFOs are designed to break down rapidly in the atmosphere.

Climate Change

Global Warming Potential

Atmospheric lifetimes 

Atmoshperic concentrations

Kigali amendment

Reducing emissions

Hydrocarbon GWPs and indirect GWPs

Energy efficiency

Transition to lower GWP refrigerants

Environmental Impact

Refrigerants compared

TFA

VOCs and POCPs

Other atmospheric breakdown products

Acidification (Acid Rain)

Stratospheric Ozone